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History in the depths of the Dardanelles
2003 / March

I was standing right on the headland watching the sea. A violent southwest wind was throwing up angry waves that crashed down on the rocks. The sun was setting behind Seddülbahir Lighthouse to my right, and on my left the Çanakkale Memorial was nearly invisible in the falling dusk. As I stood at the mouth of Çanakkale Strait, the ancient Dardanelles, linking the Aegean to the Marmara Sea, I remembered past times and those to whom we owed these lands. Çanakkale is a region where legends were born, full of memories and monuments. The Gelibolu (Gallipoli) Peninsular has played a prominent role in world history, mythology and ancient civilisation. Known as Khersonnesos in antiquity, the peninsular is mentioned by Herodotus and by Homer in his Iliad in connection with the ten year war sparked off by the abduction of Helen. Whether associated with love or politics, Gelibolu has been a stage for world history for nearly three thousand years.

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History in the depths of the Dardanelles
2003 / March

The Gallipoli Campaign was fought on this peninsular, which in 1973 was proclaimed a national park with the object of impressing upon future generations the value of peace and the cost of war. Memorials here to the British, French, New Zealand, Australian and Turkish soldiers who lost their lives in the campaign overwhelm those who see them with sadness. Between February 1915 and January 1916 the Ottoman Turkish army defended the peninsular and strait against a joint British and French attack during World War I aimed at capturing the Çanakkale Strait and occupying Istanbul. The campaign is a fascinating episode in both Turkish and world history. In order to relieve pressure on the Russian army on the Caucasian front, the British government decided to put on a show of strength against Ottoman Turkey. With the support of Winston Churchill, who was then Lord of the Admiralty, the Çanakkale Strait was chosen as the most appropriate point for the attack.

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History in the depths of the Dardanelles
2003 / March
On Sunday 26 December 1914, a British B-11 submarine entered the strait and sank the Mesudiye battleship in just ten minutes. Encouraged by this, Churchill made a persuasive speech to the British Cabinet, and when Greece announced its willingness to put its forces at the command of the British, a large naval fleet was formed, consisting of 28 large battleships, including the Triumph, Inflexible, Queen Elizabeth, Irresistible, Ocean, Bouvet, Majestic and Agamemnon. When this Allied fleet failed in its attempt to enter the strait on 18 March, British land and naval forces commenced landings at Seddülbahir at 04.30 in the morning on 25 April 1915, while simultaneously Australian and New Zealand (Anzak) forces landed at Arıburnu (Anzak Cove) on the western coast of the peninsular, and a French brigade made landings at Kumkale at the southern mouth of the strait. The Allied forces failed to breach Turkish defences, and suffered huge losses of men on the beaches and ships at sea.
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History in the depths of the Dardanelles
2003 / March

One of the ships that went down in the campaign was the oldest British warship, the Majestic, which sank off Morto Bay just east of the fort of Seddülbahir. When planning the Gallipoli campaign, Churchill had argued that the Majestic was too old, but confident that the fleet would easily force its way through the strait and take Istanbul, his colleagues insisted on the ship being allowed to accompany the fleet. We were excited to be diving to this ship, which had participated in the naval attack on 18 March 1915 and shared the fate of its companions. Particularly after seeing a black and white photograph of the ship we were more keen than ever to see it for ourselves. For several days the expedition proved impossible on account of strong winds blowing down the strait. When the wind finally dropped, we anchored over the spot corresponding to the coordinates of the Majestic. Because of the powerful current we descended by the rope of the buoy. Twelve metres below the surface the silhouette of the ship became visible. The great Majestic had been reduced to smithereens.

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History in the depths of the Dardanelles
2003 / March

Little was recognisable except a few unexploded shells, gun turrets, funnels, and lookout tower, all steeped in melancholy memories of heroism. Conger eels which had made their home amongst the funnels and akya fish (Lichia amia) flitting over our heads watched us in amazement while we filmed them. It was not easy to enter the ship; or rather, there was nowhere left to enter. Anyway the large conger eels did not seem to have any intention of letting us into the heap of scrap. We retrieved a stick of gunpowder from the wreck and were astounded to find that it still burned after so many years beneath the sea. That afternoon we made a second dive to the wrecks of three landing craft off Seddülbahir Lighthouse. Two of these lay at a depth of 42 metres and the third at just 3 metres. These 30 metre long ships were now home to diverse species of fish.

* Y. Fehmi Senok is a photographer and writer

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