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Shipwreck Brings Friendship

People in Japan and Turkey are looking back 125 years to an event that strengthened ties between their countries. A Turkish naval ship sank off the coast of Japan. And some stranded sailors were rescued by locals. The incident is considered the start of an important friendship.

Now, a Turkish underwater archeologist is honoring that legacy by leading a team of divers excavating the wreck. NHK WORLD's Tetsuro Ishiyama reports.

On a seabed off the coast of the southernmost point of Japan's main island lies the Ertugrul wreckage. It has been resting there for more than a century.

In 1890 the wooden frigate was returning to Turkey after a diplomatic mission to Japan when it got caught in a storm.

Residents of a small village nearby battled the bad weather and rescued 69 people. But more than 500 crew members were killed.

The Japanese have remembered the tragedy. A friendship monument has been erected and people hold a regular memorial service.

Japanese and Turkish divers have been working to recover the remains. Tufan Turanli leads the team.

He's long been fascinated by the story he learned from his friend, and started the underwater excavation project.

"I first met in my original visit in 2004, January 8th (that I met). And the majority of my team is Japanese. And I am grateful to them."
Tufan Turanli / Director, Frigate Ertugrul Expedition

Yosuke Nakamura, a local diver, has become Turanli's trusted buddy. Nakamura knows the currents and geography. Turanli says without him the project wouldn't have been a success.

"In carrying out the project together, Tufan's character has charmed us. That's one of the reasons it's lasting this long."
Yosuke Nakamura / Professional diver

Over the last decade, they've salvaged more than 7,500 pieces from a big cooking pot to a buckle with the Turkish navy emblem.

Each piece is carefully cleaned by his wife Berta and volunteers. In April, some of the items will be exhibited in an Istanbul museum commemorating 125 years since the incident.

The two countries are also working together on a drama about the Ertugrul. They've filmed in Japan with both Japanese and Turkish characters. Some descendants of the villagers are participating. They're capturing how the legacy of the friendship lives on.

Joins us now from the studio in Wakayama, we have Tufan Turanli, Director of Frigate Ertugrul Expedition. You are a prominent nautical researcher. What made you decide to undertake this project?

I worked on ancient shipwrecks all my life. I worked on excavations of ships from Bronze Age, Roman, Byzantine, Greek... from all ages. But, I always wanted to excavate a ship that is special and that is close to my culture, Ottoman Period. During this search, a close friend of mine, who is Japanese, reminded me of Frigate Ertugrul, which, honestly, I had forgotten through the years. After all, it is 10,000 kilometers away. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. Then I took my first trip to Japan in January 2004, and was welcomed with unparalleled hospitality in Kushimoto and decided to start the excavation of Ertugrul. Perhaps for a shorter answer, Can I say, I fell in love with Story of Ertugrul and with Japan?

What are your goals with this excavation?

Frigate Ertugrul was on a very meaningful, noble mission: To bring the good will and friendship of my people to Japan. She did and unfortunately it ended in tragedy. One of my main goals is to keep the memories of those sailors alive. But , the story of Ertugrul is more than that. It is also the story of Oshima villagers who gave all they got to save the survivors. I see Ertugrul also as their story. Story of Ertugrul has always been the cornerstone of Japan and Turkey's ever growing friendship. And I often see myself as yet another Ertugrul sailor, working on the bridge of friendship and culture between our two countries.

You are planning a major exhibition of the recovered items in Istanbul. What would you like people in your country learn from your exhibit?

Since 2010, I have undertaken 7 Frigate Ertugrul exhibits in Turkey and Japan. But, this upcoming exhibit in Istanbul is very special: It is going to be the first exhibit in the city of origin where Ertugrul sailed from.. Frigate Ertugrul's home.

Perhaps I can even describe it as 'Ertugrul is finally coming home... after 125 years' I want this exhibit to be another step in realizing my vision I define under Ertugrul - Bridge of Friendship and Culture. I will share with the visitors my great experience in Kushimoto, where Ertugrul sank, and Japan and try to convince more of my countrymen to come to Japan. I also intend to bring descendants of Oshima sailors to Istanbul and meet with Ertugrul descendants.

I have many other such events planned. In short, I hope and aim for Ertugrul - Bridge of Friendship and culture to bring our two countries closer.

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