Saturday, 26 July 2014

Turkish businessman completes marathon swim, shows the world how close Turkey and Cyprus are

Vakkas Altınbaş (right) with his trainer Mert Karabetça during their marathon swim to Cyprus

One of North Cyprus’ most successful businessmen has swum from Mersin to Girne to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Turkey’s peace operation. Vakkas Altınbaş, chairman of Altınbaş Holding – one of Cyprus’ largest corporations – set off at Anamur in Mersin, Turkey, with his trainer Mert Karabetça at 7pm on 18 July to swim the 86km (53.4 miles) to reach Cyprus’ northern shores.

Before he set off, Altınbaş told the media he was confident he would succeed and that the aim of his swim was to draw attention to the close proximity and ties between Turkey and North Cyprus. The businessman felt many potential investors in Turkey were unfamiliar with the opportunities in Cyprus and to remind others that Turkey was committed to maintaining its close ties with the TRNC.

Turkey-Cyprus just 86km away
At the pre-swim press conference Altınbaş said, “Once [piped] water comes to the TRNC [from Turkey], the country will benefit with this additional source of vitality.”  He called on his fellow businessmen from Turkey to invest in Cyprus in sectors such as tourism, education and agriculture, and that “with every stroke” he will take during his marathon swim will highlight the closeness of the two countries.

Altınbaş added, “Peace in Cyprus is inevitable. In such a situation it is vital that the economies of both sides operate under equal conditions. Just as we stepped in to help Cyprus in 1974, now we must do the same again. The youth must have goals. I am 55 years old and through my hobby of swimming I will show Turkey and the world just how close Cyprus is. We need to set examples to our youth. If there is to be an agreement, we should do so without forgetting our martyrs.”

Followed by a host of media, Altınbaş swam the distance in a specially constructed steel cage. Having spread the swim across two days, he reached Girne on Sunday evening some 40 hours later where he was greeted by a hundreds of people.

Altınbaş arrives in Girne some 40 hours later
The 55-year-old businessman thanked Karabetça, whom he had been training with for the past two years and hoped his efforts would be a good example for the younger generation, that whatever they aim to do they can achieve.

The Altınbaş family is originally from Gaziantep in Turkey. They settled in North Cyprus soon after the 1974 War, opening a small jewellery shop in Girne in 1979. Since then the family enterprise has flourished and expanded into multiple business interests on and off the island, including the Altınbaş Jewellery brand, Alpet petrol stations and Creditwest Bank. Having spent their formative years on the island, the family see themselves as ‘North Cypriots’. 

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