The Man is Always at Loss by Emina Hasanagiç

Emina Hasanagiç from Bosnia-Herzegovina took the second place in the “Gallipoli: 100 Years Stories of Humanity” International Essay Competition organized by ICYF-DC. Here is her essay with her unedited personal views.


The Man is Always at Loss

Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem

In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate

By (the Token of) time,

Indeed, mankind is at loss,

Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds

and advised each other to truth

and advised each other to patience.[1]


In the dawn of April the 17th 1915, just before the fajr adhan[2], a boy named Osman woke up in Istanbul. His eyes are a freckled tone of brown, his complexion dark. The hair is a charcoal mess of curls. He got up from bed, careful not to wake up his two older brothers, and rushed towards the garden behind their house. Last night, his father left them. He didn’t leave Osman, his mother and brothers for another family, or for another woman. He left them for war.

Osman raises his head and gazes to the East, facing the rising sun. Last night, before they left, he heard his father saying that the sun is not going to rise for a long time in the Empire, so he didn’t let his eyes drift away into the void of sweet sleep, but waited for the morning, his head engaged in images of an eternal dark. But as fajr approached, the skies became clear and Osman finally understood – the night his father spoke of had nothing to do with the dark in the skies, it had to do with the dark in the souls of people. It had to do with the clear waters of sea mixed with rivers and rivers of blood.

His mother stood by the window and sighed looking at him, her face a Nubian kind of beautiful and her hijab colorful. Normally she would give him a hard time because he’d been roaming around in the dead of the night again, but not today. Today she can only pray. Her eyes go misty as she remembers her wedding day. Who would have known they would end up here? Khartoum is so far away, she thinks. Bring him, bring Ahmad back safe and sound, ya Rabb.

In Canakkale, men are pouring towards the camps and trenches in groups of ten. Dozens of languages, garments, skin colors can be distinguished through the rainy spring morning. In what should normally be a regular army are boys and grown men, the elderly and the wounded, the Africans and the Balkanians and the Asians, all together. It’s April the 18th, and bombing sounds can be heard since the early morning. Ahmad squeezes the note that his wife wrote to him last night. Sewn into his shirt is a photo of his wife and him, smiling to the camera as they held their three little boys. He is not sure whether he will see them ever again. His eyes go misty as he remembers their wedding day. Who would have known he would end up here, miles away from home, fighting in a war nobody could have foreseen? Khartoum is so far away, he thinks. Let them be well, ya Rabb.

Writing of war is never easy. Words come out faint and as many of them we may know, it is never enough to explain the dark cloud that sets over ourselves as we try to turn raw pain into ink. If the topic is Gallipoli, then it becomes a lot harder. Why so?, you may ask. The answer is simple: because Gallipoli is not only a war, it is a hundred wars in one, it is the beginning and the end of an epoch, it is an open wound in the heart of dozens of countries. It was not a war among two states or two blocks. It was a war of everybody against everybody, the sea against the soil and the sun against the moon. Most importantly, it was a war against youth.  The century was young, the countries were young, their weapons and their soldiers were young. Young men, boys almost, died. Not hundreds, not thousands, but hundreds of thousands of them. Some of them married with children and some of them just out of their first job, and some of them just out of their school desks. The smallest coffins are always the heaviest and the blood of an Australian is no different from the blood of an Albanian or a Turk. In the end, they were all embraced by the same soil.

Thinking about all the sacrifice involved into a war, one cant help but wonder: is it really worth it? Do we ever actually win?

Our world has seen so much loss since Gallipoli that, if we wanted to, we could make every day a day or mourning. There is always someone dying, there is always someone fighting. We went through so much pain and grief, we cried rivers of tears for our fallen heroes and yet, we are still witnessing the same mistake being repeated day after day, year after year by different actors. If it’s not a young Australian or Albanian, it is a young American or Chechen, leaving his youth behind and going to fight. How could we let this happen?

A few days ago I was scrolling through a website and I saw an article about the Bosnian soldiers in the battle of Gallipoli. As I zoomed through the article, I saw my mother’s maiden name. As it is a rather rare one without a specific meaning in any language, it drew my attention and I knew it had to be about the one uncle of my grandfather that everybody in the village remembers every bayram. As far back as I can remember, the family gathers and they speak about their old ones – this one went there and this one did that. They say the uncle sent them a letter after the war, urging them not to come to Turkey. “Stay in Bosnia” he said. “The grass is greener there and the water is colder and at least you left the war behind. Here, it will never end.” How wrong he was. My grandfather fought in World War Two, his father in World War One. My family and I, we fled Bosnia and the horror of war in the early ’90s to come to Turkey – the same Turkey my grandfather’s uncle advised his family not to come to. This time, Turkey was a safe harbor, in good relations with their old enemies and looking only forward and never back.

Nobody ever wins a war, nobody ever wins a battle. At the end of the day, thinking about warfare, I realize a hundred years later that a big number of things about the act of war do not even matter. The background problem doesn’t matter, the conflict doesn’t matter. Imperialism and liberation are only words on paper. Not even the land matters – countries always find a way to agree about it after everything is done. The only thing that is important in the end of the day are the human lives and the time that was lost, because those are the only two things that we can never gain back. The motherless and fatherless children, the wounded and the hurt, the families left without sons – can we look into their eyes and still speak about ”objectives”, ”aims” and ”political theory” and how ”some things just have to be done”?

Gallipoli taught us so much individually, but we could not reflect that knowledge to the rest of our world. War, in the case of Turkey, Australia and New Zealand turned out to be like those moments when you repeat a word for too many times and then it loses meaning. ”Enemy, enemy, enemy, enemy, enemy… Wait, who is the enemy? Why are we fighting?”. It seems that an attack, a bombing, a fight has to be repeated until it has killed millions of people for us to understand how meaningless it is. It seems that, as much as we want to, we could never show the world how much our soul hurts facing our losses. It seems we couldn’t, because were we able to make them feel our pain, they would never fight again. This is why we need to speak. A hundred is just another small number considering how many more years we have. We need to speak about Gallipoli and we need to show that it is possible to come clean and move on, but never forget or undermine the victims of war. We need to show everybody else that, being united in grief is the only way to prove that victims didn’t fall in vain – that something actually changed for the better.

In the dawn of April the 17th 2015, a young student in his early 20s woke up for fajr in Ankara. He sits in front of his dormitory and talks to his girlfriend. “Oh my God Osman, not everything is about communism!” she proclaims loudly, looking rather annoyed. He managed to get her angry once again with his theories of how politics should work. The 100th anniversary of Gallipoli is approaching and they were talking about how sad it is. Just a few hundred kilometers to the south, Syria is burning, crying tears of blood trying to overcome a conflict that started hundreds of years ago. “Some countries just need to actually fight their battles to learn”, she says, gazing to the rising sun. “God is great, he will outlive us all. We need to believe and advise each other to do righteous deeds and to be honest and to be patient. After that, it will all come to its place. And we should never forget to treat our enemies with respect – God told us to do so. ” He smiles, thinking about how he better not say anything against her ideas, but his eyes go misty as he recalls his grandfather. He told him how his grandfather fought in Canakkale, how that was the reason they left Sudan in the first place. Khartoum seemed so far away. “Let us be well, ya Rabb.” he thinks as yet another day rises over their heads, celebrating peace for the hundredth year.


[1]The Noble Qur’an , Surat 103 “Al Asr”.

[2]The morning call for prayer in Islam

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