Personal geography: Gallipoli

Diyarbakırlı Tahsin Bey,  Sinking of Battleship Bouvet

Diyarbakırlı Tahsin Bey, Sinking of Battleship Bouvet

Walking on the east shore of the Dardanelles allows me time to see, and then to feel, more of what is going on around me, even though that walking may seem aimless and slow. I become aware of the Gallipoli battle, even though it happened over 99 years ago. I can begin to imagine the fighting that resulted in over 100,000 deaths and even more wounded.

Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart Üniversitesi (ÇOMÜ) is named for March 18, 1915, when three battleships were sunk during a failed naval attack on the Dardanelles. Russia’s allies Britain and France had the aim of capturing the Ottoman capital of what is now İstanbul. That was only the first part of a major Allied failure in WWI and one of the greatest Ottoman victories during the war, which set the stage for modern Turkey.

After the failed assault on the Dardanelles, the Allies launched an amphibious landing on the Gallipoli peninsula. The beginning of that campaign, April 25, 1915 is now celebrated in Çanakkale as Anzac Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Day). After eight months of fighting, with many casualties on both sides, the land campaign also failed (January 9, 1916). When you look across the Dardanelles today, you can see Çanakkale Şehitleri Anıtı (the Çanakkale Martyrs Memorial), but otherwise the peninsula looks much as it must have in 1915. Walking alongside, one can sense the strategic importance of the straits and the peninsula, and also the challenge of conquering it.

Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial

Çanakkale Martyrs’ Memorial

I don’t think about Gallipoli very much in my day to day life. And even when I rode the inter-city bus from İstanbul along the Sea of Marmara, then onto the peninsula, I didn’t think much about its history. To the extent that I did it was more of a brief, “Oh! We’re coming to the great Gallipoli battlefield!” kind of response.

However, as a walker, I have time to ponder how that land and the sea around it shaped our history. I feel free to imagine events without having them delivered in a pre-packaged tour guide or video. I experience the same sun, wind, tides, rocks, hills, plants, and birds that the Ottomans and the Allies encountered. I feel that I get to know the territory in a deeper and more personal way.

To be continued…

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