Defending the homeland
As you sit at one of the many quayside restaurants of Çanakkale sipping your çay (Turkish tea), great ships glide past you like ducks in a funfair shooting gallery. With binoculars you can easily see people moving about on the decks. The waterway is aptly named ‘The Narrows’ for less than 1500 metres separate Çanakkale from the other shore. This thin stretch of sea is but the narrowest section of the Dardanelles Straits, a 66-kilometre blue thread that divides Europe and Asia. Your restaurant table is in Asia, yet, as you gaze across the Narrows, you stare into Europe. The ship you watch is perhaps only 800 metres away. If it is steaming up the straits towards Istanbul, it must advance against the strong current sweeping down from the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean. An even better view of the ship can be obtained from the European side where rugged, barren cliffs rise up practically out of the sea to provide panoramic views up and down the waterway. These three factors–the narrowness of the waterway, the strong south-flowing current and the rugged European coastline–make the Dardanelles a formidable natural barrier at the southern gateway to Turkey.
This waterway has for centuries been seen by foreigners as the door through which Anatolia could be invaded and conquered. Generations of Turks had built a series of defences to make sure the door remained firmly shut. By 1914, these defences were a strange assortment of the old and the new. The entrance to the straits was guarded by four forts, two on each shore, with massive stone walls built up to 250 years earlier by Ottoman sultans anxious to keep out unwanted ships. Seventeen kilometres up the straits was another series of forts