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Hitchhikers flock to Turkish wedding, prevent feared low turnout.

Even some travelers with sporting blood hailing from Azerbaijan, Iran and Cyprus ventured to experience this journey of solidarity in order to warm the cockles of the heart of the couple.

Actually, the beginning of the story goes back to early last month, when the bride made a brave call in a Facebook group that she is a member of and requested help from group members to crowd what she had feared would be a quiet wedding ceremony that nobody but immediate family members would attend. I am not sure if you find it strange but I wanna ask in any case. A| We have our wedding ceremony set for the first or the second week of January. But [unfortunately] not many people will attend it since we have too few friends and that makes me pretty sad. It's always been my dream to have a crowded wedding, 25-year-old Muzeyyen Irik wrote, firing the flare of the enthusiastic solidarity campaign.

The Facebook group, named Interrail Turkiye, has around 95,500 members who post daily photos, videos or sometimes just notes to express their feelings during their trips both inside and outside Turkey. Providing a wide network of frequent travelers to its members, the group and its subsidiary Facebook pages serves as a close-knit community that its followers are proud of, voluntarily advertising it everywhere they go. As most of its members are students, hitchhiking has been a common means of travel or a lifestyle for some members, who always encourage people to make use of this mode of transportation for adventure and making new friends.

Ever since Muzeyyen desperately invited people, we group admins gathered and decided to arrange a trip, Bestami Kose, an avid traveler and the founder of the Facebook group, tells Sunday's Zaman.

When the campaign went viral on all affiliated social media pages, the members, one after another, shared posts announcing that they were packing their bags to take to the road from Canakkale, Istanbul, Samsun, Izmir and elsewhere. Not only Turks but Polish, German, French and British tourists that were based in Turkey at the time responded positively to Muzeyyen's call. The numbers of arrivals reached a whopping 700, of whom some 400 are thought to have come by hitchhiking, Muzeyyen wrote to Sunday's Zaman, before adding in frank language: We would have been 25 people at most if they had not shown up.

Others, according to her, reached Mersin by airplane, bus or personal cars. Even the bride managed to meet only 70 percent of the guests.

Tying the knot with her fiance Ersin Genc, who was born to a Turkish family in Germany, Muzeyyen had kept the event secret until the wedding day, fearing that people would fail to make it happen. My family knew it but didn't believe until the last minute that they would appear. I told my husband two days before the wedding but never told my father- and mother-in-law. I thought they would just give me a dig about this unprecedented event, but they liked it and that surprised me, added Muzeyyen.

Meanwhile, the husband says he is still in shock.

Apart from the majority of hitchhikers who were not familiar with each other, guests also included some groups of travelers.

As the campaign snowballed into a social responsibility move in just a few days, locals in Mersin also joined the stream of hospitality.

The owner of a four-story boutique hotel reserved all its rooms for two days for those who attended the wedding for free, while a small pilaf-seller provided food for all-comers without charging any money. A photography studio in the city also assumed the task of taking pictures of the wedding.

The Facebook group already serves as a platform for cooperation in which members who are experienced never abstain from helping amateur travelers. Questions about visa procedures, tariff rates for mobile phones that passengers want to take and what to carry in one's luggage during trips are almost a daily occurrence in the group. Sometimes, a young member in his 20s can offer a hand to an elderly man who is old enough to be his father.

The best thing I liked about the wedding is the gorgeous mosaic that combined people who wore the same casual clothes both while hitchhiking and at the wedding, the guys with dreadlocks, the women with headscarves, the men in suits and those with blue-colored hair. All those people were 'flashpackers' and we all showed our humanitarian side, group leader Kose added.

We set off the road from Ankara to accompany Muzeyyen during her wedding. We arrived there after hitchhiking for some 1,000 kilometers. We grew up more as we met the nicest people in our country, was a personal memory Burcin Tarhan wrote in his notebook.

Some of the people even took the driver of the car they hitchhiked in to the wedding, Kose said, describing the ever-enlarged chain of cooperation. Kose takes pride in similar aid campaigns his group has carried out, among which are sending aid to a primary school in southern Turkey and donating a battery-operated car to a child who was suffering from a muscular disease.

As for the jewelry, guests pinned several presents, apart from money, to the couple, including two round-trip inter rail tickets, baby shoes and a piece of a cigarette.

Asked if she has ever had a go at hitchhiking, the bride says no but adds right after, I always heaved a sigh when I saw pictures from people during hitchhiking in the group.

My first plan is to use these inter rail tickets with my husband as soon as possible, she wished in her final comments.
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Publication:Today's Zaman (Istanbul, Turkey)
Date:Jan 16, 2016
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