Gallipoli under Threat

Things have changed since the early 1980s when Australian film director Peter Weir (Gallipoli) spent two days scampering over the hills of the Gallipoli Peninsula and saw not a living soul. The number of visitors to the area has grown enormously since then. The site remains an ever-popular pilgrimage for Australians and New Zealanders, and also has seen an increase in Turkish visitors. Belediyes (town and city councils) from Edirne to Van send their citizens here by the busload, and tens of thousands of Turkish students arrive between March and September each year due to the government stipulation that every Turkish school student must make at least one organised excursion to the Gallipoli battlefield.

This increased popularity has made conservation of the historic site particularly challenging, and many people feel that the local government and site administrators don’t always handle the situation effectively. In recent years the flow of bus and coach traffic has become extremely heavy, and supposed ‘improvements’ such as car parks and road-widening schemes have caused considerable damage to some areas, especially at Anzac Cove. Other changes are having an effect on the visitor experience, notably at the major Turkish monuments (Chunuk Bair, 57 Alay Cemetery, Çanakkale Şehitleri Anıtı), where snack and souvenir stands promote an atmosphere that is carnival-like rather than contemplative.

Crowds of travellers turn up for the dawn Anzac Day memorial service on 25 April, one of the most popular events in Turkey for foreign visitors, and almost a rite of passage for young Australians in particular. In fact, the service has become so popular that the Turkish and Commonwealth governments were forced to devise a ballot scheme for tickets in 2015, the centenary of the landings.

All of this means that travellers are best to time their visits for dates other than Anzac Day (25 April) or Çanakkale Naval Victory Day (18 March). It’s also sensible to avoid weekends between mid-March and mid-June and again in September, which is when most Turks visit.