Turkey’s evolution to global powerhouse
The first landmark that attracted my attention in Istanbul was the Bosphorus Bridge. The 1,074-meter-long (3,500-feet-long) suspension bridge stretches over the Bosphorus strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara with Asia on right side of the bridge and Europe on the left. For me, the highlight of a tour of Istanbul is a cruise that goes under the bridge and sails along the Bosphorus, which is lined with luxury mansions. What makes Istanbul so romantic is the exotic charm of East meeting West.
Many Istanbul residents live on the Asian side and work on the European side of the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus Bridge is always busy during rush hour, so the Turkish government is currently building tunnels under the strait to accommodate the traffic. An undersea railway tunnel is currently under construction by a Japanese company, and a Korean builder has been chosen to construct a motorway tunnel.
The Bosphorus was a hot potato in international politics during the 19th century because Russia wanted to advance to the Mediterranean Sea via the Black Sea and Great Britain responded with a blockade. The Bosphorus strait became an international territory after World War I, which means that ships of any country may pass through it freely. Because the volume of shipping traffic is now very heavy, the straight is constantly congested, so the Turkish government plans to build Canal Istanbul, an artificial sea-level waterway going through the city.
Turkey’s position between Europe and Asia has elevated its strategic importance and international status. With democratization spreading around the Middle East and North Africa, Turkey has also been in the spotlight as a model of an Islamic democracy. Its economy, too, is going strong, having attained 10 percent economic growth in the first half of 2011, which had made Turkish citizens increasingly less enthusiastic about joining the EU. Romantic Istanbul is evolving into a charming and powerful international city.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Bae Myung-bok