July 1, 2013

The Keeper of Memory

"My name is Kenan. It's easy to remember, it's like the camera, Canon. It's just not written the same."

Oh, God, I thought. I wasn't overly excited to be on a bus tour to start with, now I'm almost regretting it. I'm surrounded with various kinds of tourists, none seeming too interested with what our guide was about to say. However, standing alone under the blasting sun of Turkey's summer, talking with a soft voice, the man seemed unfazed.

My Belle and I had gotten to Eceabat, the gateway village to Gallipoli, not an hour before. Both interested with the history of this legendary First-World-War battlefield, we quickly realized there was no other way for us to visit it than to get on a tour bus, something I honestly dread.

"I have been a guide to many visitors over the last 27 years", he said, listing various high-ranking officials from all over the world. "I have been a university professor here in Turkey and I spent almost all my life researching and reading about Gallipoli."

Now here's someone who knows his subject, I reflected. But before I could start really fathoming what it means to dedicate one's lifetime to a place and time in History, Kenan started telling an epic tale that would last - and keep me captivated - for a full 5 hours.

With a calm, yet confident voice, he resumed the world's history of the early 1900's and the politics of the times. Insisting only on key events and actors, he managed to link together dozens of political, historical, geographical and tactical notions that shed a clear light on why this faraway Turkish peninsula was so important and coveted by the many powers of the world.

I was spellbound. Fascinated. Knowing how easy it is to get lost in details, I couldn't help but be amazed at the ease with which the man was going forward, back and sideways in History to guide a bunch of ignorants through one of the most important events of the last century.

When it got down to the fighting accounts, it became evident to me that I was having the privilege of being taught by a true scholar, a man of immense knowledge who never lost sight of the genuine human meaning of the events he is explaining.

Never glorifiying battle, he went on to describe the tragedy, the horrible loss of life on both sides, the abysmal misery that prevailed during the siege and the birth of both the Turkish legend Ataturk and the first sense of Australia's national identity through its military involvement.

As the story unfolded, Kenan made sure to highlight the utmost important aspect of Gallipoli's somber history; shining beacons of light at the worst hours of darkness, acts of profound humanity in the middle of hellish nonsense.

He told the story of an unknown "Johnny Turk" who got out of his own trench, deadly bullets flying everywhere, to pick up an agonizing enemy and carry him back to his side, then returning to his own trench. He told another story of a an Allied soldier who started singing in the trenches every night, stopping only to let a Turk from the other side, mere meters away, offer songs of his own for nights in a row until he got killed and all trenches became silent.

Tales of acts not of military bravery, but of deep humanity and kinship that instilled an unheard attitude of respect on both sides, even as the fiercest, cruelest of battles raged on for months.

As we visited a memorial cemetary called Lone Pine, the visitors spread out to take pictures and walk around a little bit. I sat down on a rock wall next to my guide and spent some silent, contemplating moments in his company, then I turned to him and bowed my head.

"You are a Keeper of Knowledge. What you do is very important." He humbly smiled and nodded. "I wanted to thank you for sharing your knowledge with me." Nothing more was said.

When the time came to leave, he gave me a gentle pat on the shoulder, pointed his head to another hill and simply said "Let's go."

The rest of the day went on, with Kenan calmly explaining the unfolding of one of the worst military endeavours in modern history, always giving emphasis to the importance for Humanity to learn the crucial lessons this event held for the future.

Through war, the man was giving a lesson of peace. Through tales of international significance, he was shedding light on the unwavering flame of humanity that lives inside the humblest of individuals, no matter how dark the hour. Through knowledge, he was acting as a barrier of wisdom to prevent anyone visiting this site from being engulfed into military rhetoric or the false prides of national heroism.

On our last stop, he told a quick tale about a trench runner, an unarmed soldier whose responsibility was to carry messages to and from the trenches. As the tourists were spreading out to take their last pictures before day's end, I went to Kenan and asked about the runners again.

"That's what I do, you know. Run."

"Hmmm. Very good. I used to be a shot putter when I was younger. Very active", he replied.

"Ah, a strong body AND  a strong mind", I said, smiling.

He looked at me with a tender smile, yet straight in the eyes. Like he needed to remind me of something of extreme importance. As gently as always, he came closer to me, marked a pause and gave me my final lesson for the day.

"That's what Hitler said."

This post is an homage to Mr Kenan Çelik, whom you can find most every day at Hotel "Crowded House" in Eceabat,  Turkey.


  1. :) Not a day you will soon forget! Especially that last comment. Have a great rest of your trip!

  2. Teaching about history is telling stories that help people make connections. Sounds like he was exceptional at that. I hope I can do that for my middle school students. Thanks for sharing Flint. :-)