Gallipoli service in Turkey: No alcohol for Australians and New Zealanders
Turkish lawmakers backed a bill banning alcohol for Australians and New Zealanders who come every year to honour those killed in the World War I Gallipoli campaign, a parliamentary source said Thursday.
Thousands of Antipodeans, many of them young backpackers, gather every April at the historic Gallipoli peninsula to honour their ancestors killed in the 1915 battle of Gallipoli, one of the bloodiest of World War I.
A parliamentary committee on Wednesday voted in favour of a bill introduced by the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) that would change the status of the Gallipoli peninsula from a national park to a historical area, where consuming alcoholic drinks is strictly banned.
The bill still needs to be passed by parliament, but the AKP holds a comfortable majority there, the source said.
The dawn ceremony on April 25 marks the first landings of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at the Gallipoli peninsula in the ill-fated Allied campaign to take the Dardanelles Strait from the Ottoman Empire.
In the ensuing eight months of fighting, about 11,500 ANZAC troops were killed, fighting alongside British, Indian and French soldiers.
Close to 4,500 people made the journey this year for the commemorations, with many spending a boozy night on the beach as they waited for the moment the first shots were fired.
The proposed bill imposes a fine of 5,000 Turkish liras ($2,400, 1,750 euros) against offenders who drink alcohol outside licensed venues.
The AKP, which has angered secular Turks by restricting alcohol sales, said the move was in keeping with global standards.
"We just want to follow the international standards in the ceremony, which is attended by the leaders of 39 countries every year," said Culture Minister Omer Celik, without elaborating.
But Ali Saribas, from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), accused the government of not respecting the culture of people "who come all the way from Australia".
"Drinking wine is part of their culture, it's their heritage. But the government has no respect for it. I am sure they can find a way of allowing people to make their commemorations as they want, but I doubt they will," he said.
"These people have been coming here for years and have never bothered the locals. They will either stop coming or try to cover their wine or beer bottles, which will make Turkey look very ridiculous," he said.
In May last year, Turkey's parliament passed legislation curbing alcohol sales and advertising. They were the toughest measures yet in Turkey, a majority Muslim country with a strongly secular constitution.
The restrictions were seen by critics as an ominous sign of creeping religious conservatism by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP, adding to the grievances that fuelled last year's large-scale anti-government protests.