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Part 8: Hopa: A Little Berlin

Hopa artvin travel laz people georgian border turkey sarp


At Hopa, the transit highway turns inland to negotiate the majestic Cankurtaran Pass on the way to Artvin. The 21 kilometers of coastline that remains between Hopa and the Sarp border gate is a very scenic stretch of deserted beaches, roadside waterfalls and tea fields. Until 1988 this was a restricted military zone. With glasnost, it has now been opened to passenger traffic.

Hopa artvin travel tips


Sarp is a tiny Laz village of maybe 600 souls, clinging to a steep hillside engulfed in tea fields on the shores of a small bay. In 1921 an agreement between the revolutionary governments of Ankara and Moscow set the frontier between the two countries at the little stream that traverses the village. At first the division did not affect Sarp very much. By the 30s border crossings were made harder; by the 50s, when Turkey and the USSR found themselves in opposite trenches of the Cold War, they were banned altogether. A visit to Uncle Temel down the street now required a 3000-mile journey through Ankara and Moscow. Prohibitions were issued against shouting messages and even staring too long across the stream. A special inflection in the müezzin's call to prayer or a discreet whistle informed the other side of a birth, marriage or death in the family.
An agreement was reached in 1974 to reopen the border. The Soviets even built a frontier trading area and a new luxury hotel in Batumi in anticipation of fat capitalists who were expected to pour in. But politics intervened, things got delayed and it was only in August 1988 that, finally, the border was officially opened to the accompaniment of great enthusiasm on both sides.
A survey of opinions on the Turkish side of the fence during the run-up to the big "Opening" found everyone between Samsun and Artvin excited about the prospects. The Black Sea region would cease to be a dead end. Both Turkish and European tourists would come through on their way to see Russia. One day, God willing, Russian tourists might be allowed to visit Turkey and shop there. Bilateral trade would burgeon as in the days when grandfather went to market in Batumi and Sochi. One worry was voiced in Hopa: the town had flourished briefly as a transit point during the early years of the Iran-Iraq war when Iran imported a lot of western goods through this port. Would Batumi snatch the prize with its much bigger port and lower port fees, now that Iran was expected to be back in the market? This apart, history seemed to lend support to great hopes: the eastern Black Sea had always prospered in periods of increased northern and eastern trade. What had happened in antiquity, in the 13th century and in the decades before World War I could happen again.
Not much has happened yet. A few visas were granted for family visits and transit trucks. Several tour operators began organizing cross border trips in 1989, though individual ad hoc travel was still discouraged by the requirement for Soviet visas which could only be obtained in
Istanbul or Ankara.
The visaless visitor can still make a quick visit to the western half of the little Berlin that is Sarp and imagine the romance that the hills across the bay hide from view. The Caucasus, some say, is the most fantastic part of the Soviet Union to travel in, and Tbilisi its most charming city. Closer to Turkey, Batumi is said to offer a genteel 19th century ambience and Gagra, some 250 kilometers further north, is one of the world's biggest modern beach resorts. And what seasoned traveler could resist the prospect of a complete Black Sea tour through Sebastopol, Yalta and Odessa? So apply for your visas and persevere.

 

 

Free Travel Guide of Turkey Pontic coast: East of Trabzon - Trebizond

 Part 1: Tea Plants
Part 2:
Markets
Part 3:
Sürmene
Part 4:
A Muslim Redoubt
Part 5:
A Lakeside Eden
Part 6:
Rize and Environs
Part 7:
Lazland
Part 8:
A Little Berlin

Part 9: Bull wrestling in Artvin

 


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