Russian warships and naval assets sailing through Bosphorus strait has Turkey frightened
Laura Pitel, The Independent, March 5, 2016
He has been watching boats on the Bosphorus strait for two decades; but, until recently, it had been years since Serhat Guvenc had glimpsed a Russian warship. Common in the Cold War era and again during the Balkans conflict, they had become a rare sight on the mighty waterway that transects the ancient city of Istanbul and separates Europe from Asia.
Now, barely a day goes by when the academic and amateur ship-spotter fails to catch sight of a Russian missile cruiser, landing ship or submarine. They goad Turkey by sailing through the heart of its biggest city to supply the conflict in Syria. “It’s like rubbing salt on an open wound,” Mr Guvenc says.
Turkey and Russia have supported opposing sides in the Syrian conflict since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011. Since November, when Turkey shot down a Russian Sukhoi-24 jet, the relationship has teetered on the brink of all-out war. But thanks to a 1930s treaty, in peace time foreign states “enjoy the freedom” to send military and commercial ships from the Black Sea down to the Mediterranean.
For Mr Guvenc, 51, and a group of four friends, the parade of military hardware through their city is irresistible. Sipping coffee from a stunning balcony with a panoramic view of the channel, they explain that the photographs they share online are pored over by military strategists and analysts around the world.
“Usually these ships are out of sight. We don’t know what they are doing,” explains Devrim Yaylali, 45, an economist who has been spotting ships for nearly 30 years. “The Bosphorus or the port is the only place you can see them.”
His friend Yoruk Isik, 45, an international affairs consultant, chips in: “Here, you can be in Starbucks with an espresso and a ship is literally 250 metres away.” The sharp bends and strong currents in the channel means that the boats must slow right down to manoeuvre, making them easy to photograph. “There’s no other place on earth where you can capture them so well.”