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Dardanelles Strait

The Dardanelles Strait in Turkey is known for its historical events and great strategic importance. It divides the northwestern part of Asia Minor and the Gallipoli Peninsula, connecting the country’s inland sea, the Sea of Marmara, with the Aegean Sea, which turns into the Mediterranean. The length of the strait – 120 km, width – from 1.2 to 27 km.

Natural inconsistency

The Dardanelles is one of the most risky areas for ships to pass through in the world. The reason is its narrowness and the relief of its banks. The riverbed, which was here in ancient times, was flooded as a result of tectonic processes. The salinity of the Sea of Marmara ranges from 22.5 to 38%, in the Aegean Sea the figures are in the range of 37 to 40%, respectively, different density of water surface and layer at depth. This results in currents in different directions, which is characteristic of many straits.

Location of the Dardanelles on the world map

Location of the Dardanelles on the world map

The Dardanelles and Bosporus straits on the map

The Dardanelles and Bosporus straits on the map

History of the name

In ancient times, the strait was called Hellespont, translated from the Greek as “sea of Gella. This name is based on an ancient myth. Atamas the king of Thessaly had a dead wife, Nephele. Soon the king remarried, and the evil stepmother Ino wanted to get rid of the twins Phrix and Gella. Nephela begged the god Hermes to help them. The brother and sister tried to flee by flying away on a golden ram, a divine gift. But during the flight, Gella fell into the sea and drowned, and Phrix was left only to mourn her. Since then, the strait has long been called the “Sea of Gella.

The Dardanelles in TurkeyThe name that is now in use, the strait received because of the ancient city of Dardania, located in the immediate vicinity. However, its existence in antiquity was also based on myths.

Bosporus and Dardanelles

The names of these straits always stand together. The Bosporus separates Europe and Asia Minor, thereby connecting the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. The length is 30 km, width – from 0.7 to 3.7 km. Together with the Dardanelles, the Bosporus is one of the links of the water route that connects the open Mediterranean Sea with the closed Black Sea.

The distance between the straits is 190 km. A ship sailing from the Black Sea first enters the Bosporus, on either side of which is Istanbul. It then crosses the Sea of Marmara, and through the Dardanelles the ship enters the Aegean Sea, which, in turn, is the eastern component of the Mediterranean. Both in ancient times and in the present, this territory is of high importance and has repeatedly been the occasion for large-scale wars.

The Dardanelles and the major battles

The first military operations for this territory date back to the time of the Trojan War (presumably 12th century BC). Its causes are still the subject of debate among historians, and the ruins of the legendary city, located at the entrance to the Dardanelles, attract many tourists.

The Dardanelles strait has survived several wars5th century B.C. is characterized as the period of the Greco-Persian wars. The Persian king Xerxes I took advantage of the narrowness of the Dardanelles to build peculiar bridges of ships. To cross his troops to Greece, 300 ships were lined up in two places in the strait, and Xerxes’ warriors used them to cross over to the land.

In 334 B.C. It was here that Alexander the Great began his famous achievements in Asia, crossing the strait by ship from Greece.

The 15th century saw the fall of the great Byzantine Empire. Beginning in 1453 (the capture of Constantinople – present-day Istanbul), the Ottomans strengthened and a new empire was born. In 1462-1467 two fortresses were built on the banks of the Dardanelles – Cimenlik and Kilitbahir – to repel a possible attack by the Venetians.

In 1833 Russia acted on the side of the Ottoman Empire during the Turkish-Egyptian War. This assistance resulted in the conclusion of the Unkyar-Iskelesi Agreement, which gave Russia the right to pass through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles without hindrance, and to block the passage of ships of other countries from the Mediterranean Sea. In 1841 a convention was signed in London that deprived Russia of this right, only Turkish ships were allowed passage through the Dardanelles. During the First Balkan War the Ottomans were repeatedly defeated near the Straits, but they never lost their advantage thereafter.

The Dardanelles and the major battlesWorld War I once again dragged Turkey into the battles over the Dardanelles. In 1915, the operation to seize the strait was planned personally by British Prime Minister Churchill. He was a brilliant politician and orator, but lacked the talent of a military leader. After the defeat at sea, he decided to land troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula. As a result of protracted battles, the countries participating in the operation (Turkey, Britain, Australia, France) lost over 300,000 men. The Ottoman army won and Churchill was forced to resign.

The Dardanelles also played a role in Russia’s tragic involvement in World War I. Russia dreamed of regaining lost ground, but did not plan to move troops from other directions until 1917. The British authorities promised to give the Russians both the two straits and Istanbul if the operation was successful, thus dragging them into a bloody war.

The Dardanelles Strait today

The Dardanelles and the BosphorusThe Dardanelles Strait looks tiny on a map of Eurasia, but it is still very important. During the lull between the world wars, the Turks initiated an assembly of the leading maritime powers to determine the status of the straits. The city of Montreux, Switzerland, was chosen as the meeting place. As a result, in 1936 a convention with the same name appeared, the main provisions of which can be summarized as follows:

  • Merchant ships of all nations are permitted passage both in peacetime and under martial law.
  • Black Sea countries can pass on military ships of any class, other countries can pass only on small surface ships.
  • In the event that Turkey enters into war, it is given priority to decide whether to allow combat ships of any country in the world to pass through.
  • At the outbreak of hostilities, without Turkey’s participation, it is obliged to close both strategic straits to military vessels.

Dardanelles StraitToday the straits are used primarily for trade and economic purposes. This is how Russia exports petroleum products. The daily capacity of the straits is more than 130 ships, a quarter of them are tankers. Nevertheless, the military significance of the straits still comes first. NATO member states regularly violate the permitted time limits for staying in the straits during exercises under the pretext of ship breakdowns. The U.S. is actively pursuing Black Sea power status through the possible lease of ports from a country in the region. The Montreux Convention can be violated at any time.

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