Australian Ambassador James Larsen and Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, whose countries' armies fought each other in World War I, on Sunday issued a message that foes can become friends and that peace is achievable in the region.
Their mutual declaration was conveyed at separate ceremonies held within minutes of each other to mark the 92nd anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, in which the Turks were defeated by the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade.
At the Australian service of remembrance held at Beersheba's Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, diplomatic and military representatives of countries that fought with and against each other in both the First and the Second World Wars placed wreaths on the catafalque, as did representatives of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO).
Countries represented included Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, South Africa, the United States and Israel.
The crushing defeat that the ANZACs had suffered in Gallipoli brought the charge by the 4th Light Horse Brigade into sharp relief, said Larsen.
In paying tribute to all the soldiers who had been killed or wounded and had been willing to make a sacrifice so far from home, Larsen said, "Yesterday's foe can be today's true ally. We are joined by representatives of nations whom we fought, who are today friends and who lost many of their own soldiers."
Just as Celikkol had laid a wreath in memory of Australian soldiers who fought and died in the Battle of Beersheba a few minutes later at the nearby Turkish obelisk in Mustafa Kamel Ataturk plaza, Larsen was among the diplomats and military attaches who placed wreaths to salute the heroism of Turkish soldiers who fell in battle.
Celikkol, speaking of all the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Beersheba said, "We remember their bravery and dedication and their unconditional love for their countries. Because of their sacrifice, the generations that followed learned of the destruction, horror and meaning of war and of the need for peace. The fact that we are here together to salute our fallen soldiers shows it can be done."
The two ceremonies were preceded by the unveiling at the nearby Park of the Australian Soldier of a plaque memorializing Australian philanthropist Richard Pratt, who initiated and funded the construction of the park which was built specifically with special-needs children in mind.
Pratt and his wife Jeanne came to Israel in April 2008 with a large entourage, including then-Australian governor-general Maj.-Gen. Michael Jefferey, who officially opened the park together with President Shimon Peres.
Pratt, who through the Pratt Foundation was an extremely generous contributor to numerous projects in Beersheba, especially to Ben-Gurion University's water research and environmental projects, died exactly one year later, this past April 28, after a courageous battle with cancer. The Hebrew calendar date was 5 Iyar, the 61st anniversary of Israel's independence.
Pratt's love of Israel was reflected in the 350-plus diverse projects covering almost every facet of Israeli society and in all parts of the country that were supported by the Pratt Foundation.
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