A Peace Journey of WILPF women
from Australia and
13 to 21 April 2015
Day 9 - 21 April 2015: The Last Post
The Australian and New Zealand soldiers walked blindly into another country's land and culture in that Northern Spring of 1915, full of the joy of life and looking forward to a great adventure. So too we, a group of Australian and Aotearoa/NZ women, looked forward to our journey as we set out to travel from Istanbul to the WILPF Centeneary Congress in Den Haag in the Northern Spring of 2015 as a way to honour the journeys that many women must make on their way to find peace.
Our Indigenous people have taught us the importance of respecting the land on which we walk. And just as our soldiers wrote home to their families of the marvellous and strange things that they saw and experienced in foreign lands, so too did we, the women, write home to try to explain our experiences of our journey.
Unfortunately, our soldiers were about to enter the gates of Hell when they landed on the Gelibolu Peninsula on April 25th. Their commanders thought that it would be a quick invasion that would take less than an day - and that they would be in Istanbul for dinner.
Istanbul, that marvellous city, the New Rome, the Queen City, that for nearly 2,000 years has given some much to civilisation, had a surprise in store for our unwary young men. War is not all glamour, ease, victory. As they lay dying of their wounds, the nurses reported that they called for their mothers, and pleaded for the women to do something to stop the madness.
One hundred years ago, women from across Europe and North America heard this call from the dying and wounded soldiers and from the wounded and grieving mothers and families and gathered at Den Haag to establish the first international women's peace organisation - WILPF. They called for women's organisations around the world to align with them and peace minded women from Australia and Aotearoa/NZ joined them.
One hundred years later, a group of WILPF Australia and Aotearoa/NZ women decided to take a deliberate journey to celebrate the 100 years of WILPF's work to stop war.
As we journeyed through the countries that were the winners and losers of the First World War and the Second World War, we found that all lands and all people did not benefit from war. We met many people in these lands and everywhere we went people welcomed us heartily to their countries and expressed a great wish for peace to us. We met some amazing men and women in our journey.
As we entered the last leg of our journey, the ticket auditor on the Dutch train to Den Haag sat and talked with us when we explained our journey to him. He shared his story with us - he was born in Holland but his parents were from Morocco. He told us of his hardships as a first generation migrant from a different culture and his hopes (and difficulties) to find a better job. He even showed us his most precious possession which he had with him, carefully wrapped in his backpack - a very ornately bound copy of the Koran. We appreciated his trust and his friendship to share this with us.
So our journey ended. The love and friendship that we found in our journey proved to us that all people want peace and that women must continue to work to stop war. This is the best way to honour all those men, women and children who have died or been injured in war.
journey's end - june, stella, karen, ruth R, Del, Leonnie, Janette, Ruth C, Del R, Trish
Day 8 - 20 April 2015
This morning we were hosted by the Hungarian WILPF members at the Budapest Vigado Concert Hall, the venue for the seventh conference of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance in 1913.
Iren, Judit and Rita - hungarian WILPF members
The conference was attended by many of the world’s leading feminists – Jane Addams, Carrie Chapman Catt, Anita Augspurg - including the prominent Australian author, (Stella) Miles Franklin, who was working at that time with the women’s union movement in Chicago.
Judit pointing out hungarian women at the conference
The conference was the first international feminist conference in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was actively supported by the Budapest government. Hungarian women gain the vote in 1918 but their voting rights were restricted a few years later on the grounds that so many men had been killed in the war that there would be an “imbalance”.
The suffrage movement became one of the casualties of the war, with women from the various countries having to decide whether to support nationalist war efforts to demonstrate that women were equal to men or to commit to an internationalist peace movement – later known as WILPF. Miles Franklin came down on the side of showing equality with men, and joined the Scottish Women’s Hospital in Serbia set up by feminists with an all women staff.
Day 7 - 19 April 2015
A long day on the train from Bucharest to Budapest - but not as long as the women took in 1915!
The best part was the joyful welcome we received from the three WILPF members in Hungary - Rita, Iren, and Judith.
Day 6 - 18 April 2015
Driving in from the airport in Bucharest the evening before, we had glimpsed this large poster which with the dove and "World Peace" seemed an auspicious sign.
Advertising a model united nations conference at the university
Then three encounters gave further hope:
Firstly, we ten WILPF women from Australia and New Zealand gathered for our first meal altogether on our peace journey from Istanbul to Den Hague. As we paused for a photo, with the New Zealanders’ sign, " Women Say No To War”", we were asked by a man at a nearby table if he could take the group photo on his phone too, because "women in Israel say no to war, too."
back row - trish, our supporter moshe from israel, karen, june stella. seated - janette, del C, Ruth R, Ruth C. Del R behind the camera as usual
Secondly, Trish met three Londoners, told them (of course) about the Peace Journey and WILPF, to discover that the woman had heard of WILPF at a talk at her local Women’s Institute about WILPF, the Centenary Conference and the "Women’s power to stop war" campaign. One of the men with her added, with emphasis, "Men want to stop war, too!".
Thirdly, four of the group were at Bran Castle asked a couple to take a photo of them with the poster and the kiwi. Again, the man said: we men also don’t like war.
It is heartening to hear this support for our cause and our Peace Journey.
In the English Language newspaper today, the front page article included the following: “Romanian authorities should improve their dialogue with civil society” and “The overall responsibility of the EU and the Romanian government is to provide young people with a vision of peace and prosperity”.
In the centre of the main boulevard is a large neon lit installation of brightly coloured flowers to welcome spring, with the major sculpture celebrating musicians. Tucked away at the side is a single soldier with a gun – quite a contrast to Canberra which has 37 war memorial and no peace monuments.
Day 5 - 17 April 2015
Our last day in Istanbul. We were surprised and disappointed to discover that the WILPF International website and the Centenary Women’s Power to Stop War website are both blocked in Turkey. Some online research [after we left] reveals that internet censorship in Turkey is quite widespread, and increasing in recent years.
This reinforced for us how important it is that WILPF advocates and acts for freedom as well as peace.
The trellis shutters on the windows of these houses allowed the women in the house to look out to the world but not be seen. With censorship of the internet and without access to WILPF International website, it seems to us that the modern women of Turkey are denied this window into the international world of women.
In the evening we were joined by our two WILPF Aotearoa (New Zealand) Peace Journeyers to fly to Bucharest where we met up with the 10th member of the group Leonnie.
Janette, June, Stella, Leonnie, Ruth R, Trish, Ruth C, Karen. Kneeling: our guide Vlad, Del R, Del C.
Day 4 - 16 April 2015
Hagia Irene ... the Byzantine Church of the Divine Peace situated in the Topkapi Palace ... a reminder of the hope of peace as a concept that is present in all the ages of history.
How happy I was to discover that I share an attitude with an ancient ruler of Turkey. The ruling sultan had to live in a high security zone behind the Topkapi Palace walls but the area between the inner and outer walls were filled with green grass, flowering plane trees and perfumed tulips, pansies, and hyacinths. Yes – bringing the natural world into every life was and is so important.
The kitchen area caught my attention – it would have been a hive of activity from sunrise to sunset. Four thousand people had to be fed every day – the sultan and his advisors, his many wives and children, visiting dignitaries, military guards, etc. From the busy kitchen filled with huge metal pots, the food was carried on covered plates by a long line of servers who silently passed the covered trays along from one to another – an historical conveyer belt. Fresh food was seasonal as it was considered essential for good health – another ancient concept that we are slowly rediscovering.
Day 3 - 15 April 2015
A trip to Gelibolu (Gallipoli) for four of us, to mourn the lives lost from 25 April 1915 through till the withdrawal of the allies in December of that year.
Stella, Janette, Del and Trish at one of the cemeteries.
Amazingly, we saw young Turkish teenagers in army uniforms there on the eve of this anniversary. For millennia, the peninsula of Gelibolu has been fought over by competing armies, sitting as it does on a key route between East and West. When will it ever end?
this sentiment has played a large part in the glorification of the gallipoli campaign and the failure to recognise the utter tragedy of war.
The burial place of the youngest Anzac to die at Gallipoli ... at 16, his life stopped before it had a chance to take hold. Too young to vote or drink ... by today's standards ... but not too young to fight and die ...
On my first morning in Istanbul, I was keen to find a local woman to discuss the status of women here. I headed for the magnificant municipal building nearby and was introduced to Fatimah. Fatimah is doing a PhD on Women in the Middle East and political elite. She had heard of the WILPF International Secretary General Madeleine Rees and expressed interest in WILPF.
Day 2 - 14 April 2015
This evening we went from Europe to Asia, where we saw more beggars (with the huge numbers of Syrian refugees in Turkey, restrictions on begging are not being policed for refugees). On "She Tours" for a dinner cruise on the Bosphorus, Stella bridged the gap between Greek and Turkish dancing.
Last week I went to Gallipoli, and I got such a thrill to see a huge banner on the ferry going across, a good start considering I hadn't really wanted to go. As the morning wore on I soon felt so glad I was here. The day was long, It was Saturday so very crowded with locals as well as tourists. It was wonderful to share the day with so many local people, this memorial as important to them as it is to us.
Day 1 - 13 April 2015
The Peace Journey of the WILPF women of the Antipodes begins. We honour the peace journeys made by WILPF women over the past century.
Each day of our journey (where possible), we will bring you a daily reflection from one of the Peace Journeyers.
It seemed to me quite fitting that, after arriving at Istanbul Airport for the start of the Peace Journey and catching the Airport Train, every Istanbul Metro Train Station from the airport to the city had a striking museum poster featuring World War 1 Turkish soldiers.
The exhibition is called “Canakkale 1915”. Canakkale is the Turkish word for the Dardanelles where the Gallipoli Peninsula is located. The museum was closed today – so hopefully we can see the exhibition on Friday on our free day. You can see their website and look at some of the photos of the exhibition.