I discovered historic Çanakkale with my student Selen. We rode the bus all night, sighing and telling stories of how we feel cursed against finding love. We arrived there in the morning. After breakfast at a seaside café, we took the ferry across the Marmara Sea to the site of the old fort and castle. Davut (my Turkish soldier friend) had told me the story of the War of Perseverance and Technology, of how the Turks held off the British fleet at the narrow point of Çanakkale during World War I, thus changing the course of modern history. The mighty British wanted to go through Turkish seaways to the Black Sea and Russia, but they were stopped by the stubborn, low-tech Turks. Many soldiers on both sides died, many ships were sunk by mines and canons, but the medieval castle built long ago by a great sultan held its place on the Marmara shores.
I have always loved the old stone walls of castles. I explored them in England, Scotland, and Ireland. I paid to tour some in the Highlands, others were abandoned and free to explore in Irish fields, and one lay ruined by the sea. History caught in stone can draw me, and there’s nothing like climbing tall stone steps to the top of a turret wall and tower. Selen and I climbed all those steps through the castle at Çanakkale, and I took photos of each angle. A breathless height with view of distant water, an arch, an empty window, a cave-like room, a courtyard garden—all these filled our eyes beneath the hot Aegean sun, beside the wildflowers, painted wooden boats, and sea—where colors glowed against the shadow.
I bought brass bullets of remembrance, sat on the castle steps, and unscrewed their tops. I filled them with a little sand I gathered from the stone beneath my feet. A part of history, a part of lives lost here, of blood soaked to the ground, of souls. The museum curator had shown us a box of freshly discovered human skulls—some Turk, some English. Were these fallen soldiers my ancestors? Were they caught within this sand I hold in my small hand? How are we humans all connected?
They say the Turkish soldiers’ blood ran so thick at Çanakkale that observers saw the crescent moon and one bright star reflected in it, and that’s how the Turkish flag was born.
From my book “Fire and Ice.” Find it as a paperback or Kindle eBook: