Turc Des Affairs Etrangers

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Swimming the Bosphorus in a divided city 0 6 Thousands of Turkish and international athletes ranging took part in an international water sports competition held in İstanbul. (Photo: Today's Zaman, Mehmet Ali Poyraz) 12 July 2013 /REUTERS, AYLA JEAN YACKLEY Few stretches of water in the world can match the mix of physical challenge and sheer emotional exhilaration that the Bosphorus Strait offers to swimmers making the legendary crossing from Asia to Europe. Competitors in İstanbul's annual Bo
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  Swimming the Bosphorus in a divided city  0 6   Thousands of Turkish and international athletes ranging took part in an international water sports competition held in İstanbul. (Photo: Today's Zaman, Mehmet Ali Poyraz)  12 July 2013 /REUTERS, AYLA JEAN YACKLEY   Few stretches of water in the world can match the mix of physical challenge and sheer emotional exhilaration that theBosphorus Strait offers to swimmers making the legendary crossing from Asia to Europe.   Competitors in İstanbul's annual Bosphorus Cross -Continental can ponder stunning Ottoman palaces, modern suspensionbridges and 500-year-old military fortresses as they navigate currents first celebrated in ancient Greek myths.This year, a record 1,500 swimmers aged 14 to 83 who qualified from nearly 50 countries gathered last Sunday for what is stillpredominantly a people's swim for non-professionals rather than a world-class competition.Turkish authorities shut down the strait, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, for three hours to allow swimmers time tomake the 6.5 km (4 miles) crossing. Normally, the only times the Bosphorus closes on a clear day is on the rare occasion atanker's engine fails or it runs aground. The Bosphorus has more curves than a belly dancer as it twists through the heart İstanbul, a city of more than 14 million peo ple.It is a swirl of competing currents, and the race's challenge is not so much its distance as charting a precise course through thetreacherous flow of water.Participants in this year's race could not escape the political turmoil that has rocked Turkey over the past weeks.Some swimmers painted on their bare arms and backs the names of people who died in clashes with police during protests against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's decade - long rule. The protesters say Erdoğan is too authoritarian and illiberal, though he remains popular with Turkey's conservative majority.  Erdoğan, who has overseen unprecedented economic growth in Turkey and the launch of European Union membership talks, accuses the protesters of trying to destabilise the country. Dolphins and jellyfish The protest chants that swimmers had shouted on the boat ride up the strait to the starting point of the race were still ringing inmy ears when I jumped into the cold, brackish waters.The Bosphorus strait features in the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece and itsprehistoric formation may have inspired the Biblical tale of Noah's Ark.The oldest swimmer this year was Levent Aksut, who has competed in all but one of the 25 races since 1989.These days, Aksut swims the backstroke so he can take in the view. The best part is looking at my surroundings and watchingthe seagulls. Sometimes dolphins will join me, tapping me hard and wanting to play, he told me before the race.The race began with a sprint from the seaside village of Kanlica to the middle of the channel in search of the southboundstream. I knew I was on course when I felt the blast of cold Black Sea water on my chest. The powerful current can reach up toseven knots and virtually halves the length of the race.The flow carried me swiftly beneath the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge soaring some 65 metres (yards) above. Looking back over my shoulder at the shrunken trucks and cars zipping across gave me the thrill that I was somewhere I did not belong. Above my right elbow stood the 15th century Rumelian Castle. Built by the Ottomans in under five months, the fortress aimed tochoke off aid to the Byzantines from their Orthodox brethren in Russia. In the end, help never came, and Sultan Mehmet took İstanbul, then known as Constantinople, less than a year l ater.I turned back to the turquoise depths and considered what might lurk as far as 100 metres below.In Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk's novel The Black Book, the protagonist imagines the seabed of a drained Bosphorus. We shall find skeletons of Celts and Ligurians, their mouths gaping open in deference to the unknown gods of prehistory ...amid mussel-encrusted Byzantine treasures, tin and silver knives and forks, 1,000-year-old wine corks and soda bottles, and thesharp-nosed wrecks of galleons, he wrote.Instead, only the occasional jellyfish or stray plastic bag drifted past. Aksut's dolphins were nowhere to be seen. Memories On the Asian side, I spied the Küçüksu beach in Beykoz, where my mother and her sister Nil in the 1940s would fearlessly wadeinto swift-moving waters.Nil's childhood sweetheart Torhan, now her husband of nearly 50 years and a second father to me, can still rattle off the namesof a half-dozen now-vanished swimming points that were pristine in the early days of the Turkish Repub lic, when İstanbul's population numbered fewer than a million.For generations, my family resided on the banks of the Bosphorus. My great-grandmother, the daughter of a pasha, was born atDolmabahce Palace, the resplendent 19th century seat of imperial power on the water's edge. She lived in a succession of waterfront residences until the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 coincided with personal financial ruin. Like many in İstanbul, I feel as though I have a stake in the Bosphorus, and swimming it heighten s the sense of ownership. At the sharp turn at Kandilli, the trick is to stay in the current and avoid getting sucked into bays on either side.  The serpentine strait then widens, and swimmers around me started to disappear. Depending on one's personality, you mightthink you were either in first or last place.When I saw the spires of the Asian side's Kuleli Military Academy, built by the great Armenian architect Garabet Balyan, I turnedabruptly to Europe, realising I was too far out in the channel and risked being swept past the finish line.I outswam the current and climbed with jellied legs onto the pontoon at Kurucesme at the foot of the other Bosphorus bridge andwatched as those who overshot hopelessly struggled back against the current.I've heard of swimmers being fished out of the Sea of Marmara, a fate I was glad to avoid.Despite my slight detour towards Asia, strong southerly winds helped me finish in under an hour, 17 minutes faster than lastyear. I ranked a modest 571st out of 1,398 finishers, in the top third of my age group. A half-hour later, I spotted Aksut. He said he had been drawn into a northbound current but didn't mind. It allowed him to enjoythe water a bit longer. It's not about how you finish but how much you enjoyed it while it lasted, Aksut said.
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