12 - Dispatch From the Turks

We depart the Arabian Peninsula and head north, taking the long way around to avoid warring airspace. In Granddad's day, all the lands and seas under our wings, from Africa to the gates of Vienna, were wrapped in Islam's conquest. An aging empire ruled by decree from the throne of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and Caliph of Islam - from our next destination - Istanbul.

The Ottoman Turks have an old but not meaningless history. Their deeds still affect today's news - and one such event so very special to Granddad … and to all Australians - is Gallipoli.

We land in what was the Roman's Byzantium, the Crusader's Constantinople - and now Turkey's Istanbul. We have been here before, from Greece - where old hate warned us against going. "You will be arrested!" "You will be robbed!" "Why would you want to go there?" - all comments made to us by Greeks. I finally answered a girl in the tourist office "Because they shot my Granddad at Gallipoli." "Ahhh!" she said in understanding approval, "Revenge!" Even in San Francisco, her family tradition puts an ugly sneer on a pretty Armenian face as the word "Turk" is spoken.

The Turks at our hotel are not those who did deeds so remembered. They are the kind of people who adopt an old stray dog named "Abreu" - let him sleep on the hotel steps and eat from the hands of the security staff. Turkish doormen guide guests in a wide arc to keep from disturbing Abreu's long naps. Twice a day, Abreu limps across the 8-lane road to a pretty park full of tulips blooming under a huge Turkish flag - and back. He looks both ways and the taxis and busses, driven by busy Turks, stop and watch him pass. I like these Turks. These are the Turks anyone could like.

Serbs still battle the Kosovars over a fight in 1389; Shiite and Sunni kill over blood spilled in 656; Jews claim right of conquest before the year 1 - and we Stewarts are suppose to hate the Campbell Clan for betraying us in 1745. Oh that we all could be as the Turks and the Australians - who once met and fought and killed and died in Turkey - at Gallipoli - and now join together by the thousands each year as friends - to remember and do homage.

This is why we follow Granddad back to Turkey. This is what we have come to see and learn about - to walk the soil of Gallipoli, soil that seeded the roots of the new Australian nation - and still feeds the Australian soul.

- Rooted Rod