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A sunken warship off Kemer
2002 / FEBRUARY

In the spring of 1995 fishermen fishing off Kemer west of Antalya on Turkey's Mediterranean coast found that their nets had become caught up on something on the seabed. Unable to free them, divers were called in, and so our story begins. When the divers descended they were amazed to find a warship, still loaded with unused ammunition, lying on the seabed at 30 metres. When I made my first dive to see the ship I was filled with excitement and curiosity. What was the story of this ship? Its name, the Paris II, its load of ammunition, and its guns showed it to be French. It must have sunk in one of the two world wars, but which I had no idea. Determined to discover more I began my search for information on the Internet, looking through the web sites of libraries and every other source I could think of, but to no avail. The Paris II appeared to have gone down without a trace. I had begun to lose hope when I came across a book of memoirs about Antalya by Dr Burhanettin Onat. In it was a paragraph that revived the excitement of my first dive to the Paris II in all its intensity:

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A sunken warship off Kemer
2002 / FEBRUARY

'Antalya's population was declining daily. That ill-omened World War I had dealt the city a bitter blow. Never mind coffee or tea, even sugar, paraffin and soap were impossible to find in either the city or nearby towns. As if this were not enough, the enmy'sh navy had blockaded the entire Antalya coast from Fethiye to Kaladran. Two cruisers constantly patrolled the coast, capturing even the smallest boat they came across, confiscating all the food they contained, and then sinking them.' One of Antalya's finest natural harbours and beaches is situated near the headland of Kalinburun or Agva Burnu at Kemer, 18 miles from the city. As I read on, I discovered that the two cruisers were named the Paris II and the Alexandrea, and that they had frequently anchored in this harbour. An incident which raised the hopes of local people at that time was the arrival in Kemer of Mustafa Ertugrul Bey, commander of a gun battery that had sunk an aircraft carrier and two destroyers near the island of Meis, which was under British occupation.

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A sunken warship off Kemer
2002 / FEBRUARY
Dr Onat gives the following account of those days: 'Ertugrul had marched as far as Kas and sunk the aircraft carrier and two destroyers, and now led his battery along tracks that everyone assumed to be impassable, installing his guns on Agva Burnu on 13 December 1917. Before long the two cruisers appeared. At that moment the battery burst into action and sunk one of them.'
One of the sailors on the French ship was the nephew of the French poet Pierre Loti, who later wrote an article for a French newspaper, quoting from the first-hand account of what happened next as related by his nephew: 'We had arrived off Agva Bay. Since our excellent maps showed that it was impossible to get field guns onto the headland, we never even considered the possibility of being fired on from there. Suddenly there were flashes like lightning above the ship and three shells fell into the sea with an enormous explosion. Our ship was only shaken by these, but the fourth shell entered one of the portholes and hit the engine room, killing the men there.
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A sunken warship off Kemer
2002 / FEBRUARY

The battery had been well camouflaged, and none of the shells we fired had any effect. The distance was short and the Turks were good shots, so before long our ship was riddled with holes. Any hope of escape was lost, and we gave the order to abandon ship. Since we were already exhausted, there was nothing we could do but submit to our fate and swim for shore. When we were 40 or 50 metres away, we saw people rushing out of trenches, and some of them jumping in the sea and swimming towards us. Was there going to be a fight in the water? We had no strength left for that. But our fears were soon allayed. The people who swam out to us and those waiting on the beach embraced us compassionately and lifting us into their arms carried us out of the water. We all lay on the sand. First they attended to the wounded. Turkish soldiers unstitched their first-aid packages from the hems of their capes and dressed our wounds. One of them ripped a length of material from his shirt and bandaged my wound. Neither I nor any of the Frenchmen who witnessed this moving scene could hold back our tears.

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A sunken warship off Kemer
2002 / FEBRUARY
They brought us water and food, and offered us a delicious smelling hot drink prepared like tea but sweetened with raisins in place of sugar.'
Pierre Loti ended his article with these words: 'After the battle the battery went to Antalya, where celebrations took place, and medals and gifts were distributed. I wish to add that the prisoners of war were included in these festivities.'
When we had inspected the ship on the seabed, it had been obvious from the damage to the deck that the ship had been sunk by gunfire. The story of the Paris II revealed by Dr Onat's book had proved more interesting than I could ever have anticipated. But it also prompted new questions that remained to be answered. What had been the fate of the second cruiser, the Alexandrea? She too had been sunk, but how and where was still a mystery.



* Levent Konuk is a photographer and freelance writer.
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