The year 2015 is of great importance as it is the Centennial of the Gallipoli Wars and the 125th anniversary of the sinking of the Ertuğrul Frigate. We remember and describe the Gallipoli Wars. But how much do we really know about the Ertuğrul Frigate tragedy? In my opinion, the Ertuğrul tragedy is proof of the fact that the Turks were a seafaring nation. The Japanese, who erected a monument and a museum at the site where the frigate sank, are now filming a movie about Ertuğrul. Let us brainstorm an idea for the 125th anniversary too. For instance, let this year be a milestone and let us film a movie about Ertuğrul in Turkey. We ought to at least attempt to undertake such a project. However, what is more important is that we should create public opinion in erecting the same monument built in Japan to be built in Istanbul where the Ertuğrul Frigate had set off to sail.
Let us remember the incident of the SinErtuğrul
Frigate. In 1887, Meiji, the Japanese Emperor, sends gifts to the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II. This was the initial step of establishing relations in history between the Japanese and Turks. The Ottomans believed that this friendship will be beneficial. Thus, it is decided to respond to their gesture as soon as possible. However, a ship is needed for this very long and difficult journey. Despite the existence of the modern armoured ships like Mesudiye, Orhaniye, Mahmudiye and Aziziye that were built in British or French shipyards for the Ottoman Navy, Ertuğrul Frigate is chosen to the astonishment of many. The reason for this was that they wanted to send a Turkish ship to the Japanese. This frigate, which had been built at the Kasımpaşa Shipyard, was able to sail with the use of coal and windpower.
In July 1889, the Ertuğrul Frigate is prepared to set sail from Istanbul with more than 600 officers and soldiers on board. The sounds rising from the military band, the thousands of Istanbulians waving, the prayers, songs and poems sang out loud for the frigate, sets off from the Golden Horn towards Sarayburnu and onto the Marmara Sea. The frigate endures many difficulties throughout its journey. It is swamped by rats, and due to needs and repairs has to wait for many weeks at various ports. Ertuğrul reaches Singapore in November. The frigate is taken into reparations at this port as it is decided that it must wait until June, when the southern winds will set in.
The stem post and the broken wales, which was corroded by the waters of the Indian Ocean, were all repaired by the carpenters, drillers and caulkers onboard. Throughout this period, many of the publications, ‘Ceride-i Bahriye’ amongst them, write glorifying articles about this deep sea voyage that has been undertaken for the first time since the establishment of the Ottoman State. However, the incidents taking place on the frigate are not so positive. As the frigate does not possess tableware, it is not possible to invite captains of other foreign ships it encounters at the ports. However, what is much worse is the cholera danger they face in Japan. The epidemic that appears at the Yokohama Port kills 13 Turkish mariners on board.
A POET ON THE ERTUĞRUL
Behçet Necatigil (1916-1979), a prominent poet in Turkish literature, draws attention to another tragedy in his six episode radio play titled ‘The Ertuğrul Tragedy’. The tragedy he speaks of Poet Ali Ruhi Bey. Ali Ruhi, who was a naive spirited Istanbulian, was a 19th century poet. He was appointed with the duty of keeping the books of the journey and sail on the Ertuğrul frigate. The young poet falls ill in Singapore and is taken ashore. He is taken to a hospital in Singapore. Unfortunately, the efforts are useless and he becomes one of the 13 Turkish mariners who fall victim to the cholera epidemic. There are some reports that tell that he drowned with the sinking of the frigate. Apart from the poet´s religious poems, quatrains and historical poems, he also has a poetry book titled ‘Lemeat’ (The Glitterings) that includes 34 odes.
AN OTTOMAN IN JAPAN
Despite everything, the mission of thousands of miles is accomplished successfully. The Japanese welcome the heroic travellers of Ertuğrul in great joy and express their impressions of the Turks to be that of great seafarers. The decoration and gifts sent by Sultan Abdulhamid are taken to the Japanese palace in Tokyo and presented to the emperor. The joyful days all come to an end eventually when it is time to leave.
The Japanese are aware that Ertuğrul setting sail without thorough maintenance will have dangerous consequences. They advise the Turkish convoy to wait for two months until the storms settle. Captain Ali Bey feels uneasy as the 11 month journey was too long and the money and food stock for the return trip is limited. Ali Bey calls upon the crew in order to evaluate the situation. One of the seaman asks permission to speak. The officer says, ¨Let us borrow money from the Japanese and stand by. Upon our arrival to Istanbul, we will pay back our debt.¨ The Captain responds to this idea: ¨Son! What you say is more difficult than what awaits us in the ocean. I did not come all this way to beg for money. This nation will never be remembered as beggars. I will not allow it. Inform everyone. We will set sail in the morning. Those who wish to stay may get off now…¨. The next morning, Ali Bey comes to the wheel house before sunrise and asks: ¨How many are we missing?¨. The answer is: ¨We are all onboard Captain!¨ It is because of this reason that the Japanese never forget Ertuğrul. So much so that even today some babies that are born in Kushimoto are given Turkish names like Ali, Osman and Murat.
Ertuğrul, which departs from Japan, sets off at a distance due to good weather. However, on the fourth day it is caught in the midst of a storm. With nightfall, the waves become more fierce. It drags the ship to the rocks under the Kashinozaki Lighthouse located on the eastern side of the Oshima Island. If they had been able to pass the cape, where the lighthouse was located, they would have been able to seek refuge in a safe port. However, the efforts of emptying the waters that flooded the ship were to no avail. Although Ertuğrul is anchored, the strong winds drag the ship and crash it into the rocks. Efforts of rescue are undertaken by the residents of the village of Kashino until early morning hours and under adverse circumstances. Only 69 individuals survive. No one ever hears any news from the 502 individuals who go down with Ertuğrul. The newspapers, with witness reports, write that Captain Ali Bey along with many of his officers, did not desert the sinking ship.