Thursday, September 03, 2015

Aylan Kurdi - Lest We Forget

"I wished there was no problem in their country, that they hadn’t left it and hadn't tried to leave Turkey and that I hadn’t taken this photograph, But as I found them dead, all I could do was take these pictures to be their voice." - Nilufer Demir, photographer, Bodrum Turkey, September 2 2015
"But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again" - from "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda", Eric Bogle 1971

The beaches of Gallipoli (Gelibolu) are etched in the collective memory of many older Australians. Every year on the 25th April Australians celebrate "Anzac Day" - the anniversary of a battle that  is believed by some to represent the birth of our nation.   In 1915 8,000 Australians died on the beaches of the Turkish peninsular of Gallipoli -  men and boys of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs),  in  their first ever campaign. The first time we made world news as a nation separate from England.

Most of us older Australians  have seen the movie "Gallipoli" -  which was also part of the marking and making of our nation. Released in 1981 by Australian director Peter Weir, it helped put the Australian film industry on the map. A film about several young men from rural Western Australia who enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War and who are sent to fight the Turks on the peninsula of Gallipoli. Sent to die.

Australian expats are moved almost to the tears when hearing Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda",  a song which describes war as futile and gruesome. War seen through the eyes of a young Australian soldier who is maimed at the Battle of Gallipoli.

Was it the fact that the dead child in the photo was washed up on a Turkish beach that got to me yesterday? Beyond tears. Was it the association with the memories of the young Australian soldiers  running from the Turkish beach to their deaths one hundred years ago that sickened me so?

Or was it because of the way he was lying. As the CNN reporter put it, "face down, his head to one side with his bottom slightly up -- the way toddlers like to sleep"? My children slept like that.

Or what he was wearing, his red top and blue shorts and little shoes with Velcro straps? That I could imagine his mother dressing him in that morning? Too close, too personal.

"This picture is so desperately sad", posted a friend on Facebook. I could bear it no more. I closed the iPad, turned off the TV, and  slept the sleep of the dead.

I awoke today with that feeling you get when you know that something is wrong. In between sleep and full consciousness - usually it's something like how the dishwasher is broken; or that I lost my iPhone the day before. Something trivial, but something that tells you that today is not just another day.

I don't normally wake up with that "what's wrong" feeling related to world events. Even when George W as elected way back when, I woke up as per normal. The Chile earthquake. The bushfires. The Japanese tsunami. World events don't overly affect me. At my age I'm a seasoned traveler of  life.

Last time I woke up with a feeling of something being wrong -  a something that wasn't affecting my personal life - was on 12th September 2001. The day after 9/11.

Today I woke up with that feeling. That something-is-wrong-in the-state-of-Denmark feeling. And it wasn't  about something personal. What had changed?

As consciousness dawned I remembered. The toddler on the Turkish beach.

I know that children die every day. Of disease and starvation,  from war, by infanticide. But this one did me in. Has done me in. Little Aylan Kurdi, whose family had fled through three countries in search of safety.

Fleeing ISIS. What parents wouldn't?

As we say at the dawn service on ANZAC Day in Australia, remembering the young men who died on another Turkish beach," Lest We Forget".