For many Anzac Days, John Eren, the Turkish-born Veterans’ Affairs Minister, searched in the shadows for clues about his famous Turkish grandfather. But he is determined that this Anzac Day will be different.
Mr Eren, the Member for Lara, was given the name of his late grandfather, Hamdi, who served at Gallipoli under the chief command of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Family folklore suggests Hamdi developed a friendship with Atatürk, who went on to become the Turkish Republic’s first president.
But as a migrant in 1970s Melbourne, Mr Eren’s connection with Gallipoli was not so honoured.
“Kids at school would say things like, ‘We killed you’ or ‘you killed us’ or ‘go back to where you came from’ or ‘you dirty Turk’, and in some instances it came to push and shove. But things changed in the ’90s,” Mr Eren said.
For as long as Mr Eren can remember, friends and family have called him “John” and he kept “Hamdi” as his middle name. But exploring those connections was complicated as his father – Hamdi’s son – died when Mr Eren was three. He never met Hamdi, and has no photographs of him, only the vivid image he had painted in his mind from hearing family stories.
Mr Eren hopes to make some inquiries and trace records of his grandfather’s war service when he returns to Turkey for the Gallipoli centenary. He also plans to visit Foca, his grandfather’s village, to pay his respects.
What Mr Eren does know is that his grandfather was stationed on the heights of Anzac Cove. He believes that if Hamdi had been so close to Atatürk, Hamdi would have played a key role on the peninsula.
“This trip will be a very emotional time. Not only will I be there as a Turkish-born Australian citizen, but also as an MP,’’ he said.
“Who would have thought that after 100 years, a Turkish-born person would be in Australia, become a member of parliament and then become the Minister for Veteran’s Affairs. It’s just amazing and shows what a wonderful nation we are that this could happen.
“History books still show that out of the war at Gallipoli came such a friendship, such a bond and such respect. It says a lot for both nations and their character.”
Originally published at Geelong Advertiser.