HDN editor Barçın Yinanç carries Olympic torch in Russia
NIZHNY NOVGOROD – Hürriyet Daily News
Yinanç takes over the Olympic flame from fellow writer Yonca Tokbaş (R).
We journalists live exceptional lives. It’s not always easy.
I recall waiting 10 hours every day for a month in front of the foreign ministry during negotiations between U.S. and Turkish diplomats in 2003 when Washington wanted to open a second front from Turkey to invade Iraq.
But we also witness beautiful moments and watch history being made in front of our eyes. I can’t forget the signing ceremony of peace between Israel and Jordan in 1994 in the middle of the desert.
But in all exceptionally historic moments, as a reporter, I tried to be a neutral observer and keep my emotions out of the way. This time, however; I am at the center stage. I am one of the 14,000 torchbearers that will carry the Olympic flame for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. I am taking part in the torch relay in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s fifth biggest city. But together with Yonca Tokbaş and Ferit Keman, the only participants from Turkey, as well as other torchbearers, we have a mission; we need to transmit the messages of the Olympic spirit to all those waiting for us in the streets.
The torch is being carried more than 65,000 km and will last 123 days, the longest ever by trajectory and duration. The purpose is to for the torch to be seen by as many people as possible, because for some, this is the closest they will get to the Olympic spirit.
But there is a challenge; we will only run for 300 meters and we will be surrounded by security guards.
As a diplomatic reporter, I have some experience on how to handle security guards. But in time, you get to know each other; everybody knows where to stand. In fact, when we would travel abroad with Turkish officials, be it the president or foreign minister, there have been many times where I have been protected by Turkish security guards from the hustle created by the security of the host country.
But this is not going be easy. I know I can’t make them melt with a few smiles. And there is a second challenge. I have been to Russia before. I know it is not that easy to interact with Russian people.
Russians are very warm inside, but at the beginning they wear armor; you need to get through the armor first. I am not going to be modest. I am good at communicating with people. But will I get back some feedback from the locals in Niznhy Novgorod, which was called Gorky (as it was the birth place of the famous Russian writer Maxime Gorky) and where entry by foreigners was forbidden until 1991, the end of cold war? Yet I was positively surprised!
Though, just as I expected, the whole run has been a hustle between me and the main security guard, who wanted to keep me running, while I was slowing down to salute people in the street shouting, (in Russian, by the way, which took me a bit of rehearsal in the morning ) “Hello from Turkey, hello from Istanbul.”
(According to Cheryl Cagle, who has been an organizer for the torch relay since 1994, I have been among some of the most animated torchbearers!)
While the other security guards were having fun, as I could see them smiling, the main guard kept pushing me to run faster. I kept shouting and shouting “hello from Turkey, hello from Istanbul,” many, many times; in Russian the whole time.
I did this because I wanted them to know that I came from Turkey and the Olympic spirit is about making bonds between nations and countries. It is also an opportunity for them to get connected to different cultures. In that sense, I was proud to represent Turkey as a woman, together with another impressive woman Yonca Tokbaş from a predominantly Muslim, yet secular country. Yonca Tokbaş, a columnist for Hürriyet, who participates in charity runs, will be pushing the wheelchair of child who has a cerebral palsy in an Antalya marathon next month. At the end of the relay, while we were being given our certificate, she said “I run for underprivileged children and for their education. Today I run for all their dreams to come true. Dreams come true if you believe in and work for them.”
At that stage, we were surrounded by Russian volunteers, as well as other torchbearers who were mostly from Russia.
I said “I come from a predominantly Muslim, but secular country. I’d like to think that during my run I have also saluted all the women in Turkey, Russia and all over the world that have made efforts for the empowerment of women. Yet, we wouldn’t be anywhere if there were not men supporting us as well, so lots of love from Turkey to the beautiful men and women of Russia!”
Just as I said that, I also had in mind the Circassian women and men in my mind as well. I have not forgotten their suffering and I hope that a successful Olympic organization will provide the necessary incentive for Moscow to make Russia more democratic and take the necessary steps to reconcile with Caucasians.