Sarp – on the border between Turkey and the USSR

Sarpi is the main land border crossing between Turkey and Georgia and a major conduit for business travel, especially for Turkish companies doing business in Batumi. Sarpi is located about 12 km south of Batumi and about 20 km northeast of Hopa, Turkey. The local ethnic group are the Laz with their own (but declining) language. The Laz within the USSR were deported to Siberia after WW2.

The Opening of the Border in August 1988

Today the Sarp -Sarpi border crossing between Turkey and Georgia is a modern busy interchange with freight local labour and tourists all using the facility. It is difficult to visualise the border as it was. The Soviet Union closed the border in 1938 and it remained so until 1987. Families were divided and there was no contact, the area was compared to the Berlin Wall. During that period a long journey via Kars was necessary to travel the few kilometres up the coast.

Border layout in 2020
Military Zone – the poles on the beach mark the border. Note the USSR watchtower.

In 1983 whilst travelling in Eastern Turkey I visited this area on the off chance. It was a restricted military zone and the border forces were surprised any UK tourist would suddenly appear. Photography was not allowed and I discovered later that very few people were allowed to visit. I ended up having tea with the border officers in the building with red pillars. Very close to the border at that point. The was no border crossing just a small bridge across the river to enable discussions to occur. The road and crossing point was another 5 years away.

When leaving I quickly took the above photo and have discovered from Turkish border enthusiasts that very few photos from this era exist.

The Border Crossing Today

Georgian Border Control Facilities
Turkish Border Control Facilities

References:

  1. Cut Off When Soviets Closed Border in ’38 : Turkish Families: So Close, Yet So Far LA Times (1985) article
  2. “For 70 years you couldn’t even look in that direction” – the tragedy that divided villages between Turkey and Georgia JAM News (2020) article
  3. Crossing Georgia and Turkey border at Sarp Town Alis Monte (2019) article

Date of Visit: August 1983

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