CANAKKALE (Turkey): A diver examines the wreckage of a warship that sank during World War I.—AFP
CANAKKALE (Turkey): A diver examines the wreckage of a warship that sank during World War I.—AFP

GALLIPOLI: Hulking hulls of mighty warships greet divers off Turkey’s western shore, testament to a World War I battle that gave birth to nations and is now an underwater museum.

The British Royal Navy’s “HMS Majestic” is just one of 14 shipwrecks at Gallipoli, a peninsula that has been the graveyard of navies stretching back to ancient times.

The last great battle for its adjoining Dardanelles Strait leading from the Mediterranean towards Russia was a fiasco for British and French forces, who beat a retreat after months of fighting that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

And while the Allies eventually won the war, their sacrifices in the 1915 battle were a touchstone moment in the formation of national consciousness in modern Turkey, Australia and New Zealand.

Now Turkey, where history and politics seem inextricably interlinked, is opening the site up to the world’s divers — just in time for the country’s centenary celebrations in 2023.

“It’s like a time machine that takes you back to 1915 and World War I,” says Savas Karakas, a diver and documentary maker who was one of the first to inspect the wrecks when they opened to the public this month.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to remember our past,” says professional underwater photographer Ethem Keskin of the wrecks, some lying just a few metres under the sea and others up to 80 metres. “I thought about the moment they sank and you feel the stress of war.”

Turkey wants Gallipoli to be the new go-to destination for divers looking to connect with events that shaped the present world.

Other hotspots include the Chuuk Lagoon in Papua New Guinea — famous for its World War II wrecks — and the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, which still suffers the ills of US nuclear testing in the 1940s and 50s.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2021

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