By Yesim Dikmen and Mehmet Emin Caliskan
SEDDULBAHIR, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkey’s newest park is an underwater museum of fourteen shipwrecks that lie beneath the waves of the Dardanelles Strait, a glimpse into the fierce battles between Ottoman and Allied forces in World War I.
Turkish photographer Savas Karakas was one of the first to board a motor boat and then dive to the seabed grave when the park opened on Saturday. There, he says, he was able to reconnect with his grandfather who fought in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915.
“My grandfather’s hands were disfigured and burned in action, and I was always scared of them,” said Karakas, who lives in Istanbul and whose given name means “war”, after the battle.
“But when I come to Gallipoli and dive, the rusted metal and steel of the wrecks reminds me of my grandfather’s hands and I hold his hand under the water.”
The Gallipoli Historic Underwater Park opened 106 years after Ottoman and allied German forces halted an invasion by British, French, Australian and New Zealand troops.
The Ottoman resistance remains a point of deep pride in modern Turkey. At the time, it thwarted the Allies’ plan to control the straits connecting the Aegean to the Black Sea, where their Russian naval allies were penned in.
Heavy British losses included the 120-meter HMS Majestic battleship, which is the first stop for divers at a depth of 24 meters off the coast of Seddulbahir.
It and other vessels are largely intact on the sea floor.
“We are a fortunate generation because we … can still visit those monuments,” said Ali Ethem Keskin, another underwater photographer from Istanbul.
“When I started diving … I felt the moment that they were sunk, and I felt the stress of war,” he said. “I sensed the panic they felt at that moment.”
(Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Christina Fincher)