Yuvarlakçay – Two Years On

Yuvarlakçay was not just a battle against corporate greed and bureaucratic bullying; it was above all a battle for the rights of people. The right of local people to have their needs factored into decisions being made in the plush boardrooms of İstanbul and the less-than-connected offices of the faceless pen-pushers in Ankara.

Lokma and Çay being prepared

Yuvarlakçay brought together villagers who are subsistence farmers and business owners; it brought together foreign residents and Turks in a ‘coalition of the willing’ prepared to turn out at any hour of the day or night to face down the authorities who were backed by the Jandarma and the power of the state.
This coalition came together to protect the environment of the Yuvarlakçay River and the water rights of the villagers whose livelihoods depended on the continued free flowing of this, one of the purest water sources in Turkey. Villagers defied the authorities and occupied the site; protecting it day and night through the coldest and wettest part of the Winter of 2009-2010.
To keep spirits up and the media interested a dedicated group set about organising everything from classical and folk concerts to my favorite, a barby, followed by midnight march of flaming torches along the river to the protest encampment on New Years Eve 2009. It was like a scene from the ‘Lord Of The Rings’! For me it is a magical memory and a confirmation in my belief in the innate ability of people everywhere to cooperate and work together for the common good.

United We Stand (thanks Co & Maria for this one)

Today, Sunday 11th December J and I joined a group who retraced the river walk to the site of ‘Occupy Yuvarlakçay’ to commemorate the start of the campaign that led to the people’s victory in securing the river and its environment and water rights for all and not the profit of the few. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful day and we shared in the sense of achievement, comradeship and community as well as the tea and lokma supplied by our Brothers and Sisters in Arms from Pinarköy.
Yuvarlakçay was a catalyst that bred, through hardship and threats against the property of villagers, a species new to this part of the world – the ‘Lionesses of Pinarköy’ and here, by way of tribute is an unedited piece of video of the Lionesses in action sending a message to the then governor of Muğla Province – ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ‘Şalvar Rappers’.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Yuvarlakcay Salvar Rap – original 1st performance from Alan Fenn on Vimeo.

Yuvarlakçay – Two Years On

Friends and Neighbours

J and I love to get out and about our area. We are privileged to live in a little, horse-shoe shaped valley at the foot of Kösten Dağ. This mountain has formed the backbone to many of the walks described in my two books; ‘Okçular Village a Guide’ and ‘Backways & Trackways’.

Kösten is a walking, cycling and nature lover’s paradise with small villages clustered around the foot and isolated farmsteads and one village scattered over the massif. It is a living, breathing thing in every sense.

Much of it is forested and here in Turkey the Orman Bakanlığı (Ministry of Forests (and much else)) has responsibility and control.

About eleven or twelve years ago J and I were much disturbed by the arrival of work gangs of men and women with chain saws, trucks, JCBs and lots of tea making equipment who proceeded to start cutting down great swathes of pine trees near our house. We were truly dismayed to observe young trees cut along with mature ones in an apparently indiscriminate way.

Determined to do something about this ‘vandalism’ I wrote a dilekçi or petition to our local kaymakam (governor) demanding an explanation. Five days later a great, grey 4×4 arrived at our gate and the ‘suits’ got out – I thought they were here to deport me!

Instead, they proved to be the local regional forestry manager and his staff armed not with a writ but a box-load of maps and files and bucket-loads of charm!

Over copious glasses of tea they patiently explained their policy and plans – we learned an enormous amount and rapidly gained an enormous respect for these true professionals and guardians of this particular part of Turkey’s heritage. They have 5, 10, 15, 20 even 50 year plans. Their maps are amazing and beautiful – printed in full colour on linen! Their approach to the harvesting and protection of various species is thorough and very professional.

They explained why they clear-cut the species around our house –‘Komando Çam!’ they exclaimed, ‘tough as old boots’ (or words to that effect). Why they leave all the cones covered by layers of bark and trimmings to protect the new seedlings from the sun after natural germination takes place. 18 months later, totally unbid and unannounced, they sent one of their staff to take me and show me how effective the method is. As I said; professional.

Did you realise that the Orman is a totally self-sustaining organisation? We didn’t. Did you realise that there are whole areas, particularly around the coastline, where nothing is ever cut, fallen trees and dead wood is left to decay naturally, nothing is disturbed so that wildlife can thrive? We didn’t. Did you realise that this ministry is responsible for erosion control, wildlife protection and the establishment of special reserves for flora and fauna? We didn’t.

So much we didn’t know.

Apart from their permanent staff of thousands they employ vast numbers of villagers all over Turkey for thinning, planting, cutting – you name it, with a huge impact on the local economy and well-being of families living at subsistence levels. They are also carrying out reforestation at an amazing rate (20,703,122 hectares in 1997 to 21,188,747 hectares in 2008) in addition to replanting where cropping has occured. Is everything rosy? No! But credit where it is due.

‘Çay içermisin?’ ‘Would you like tea?’

Anyway, enough of that; back to Kösten Dağ and our wandering about just recently – we were amazed but not surprised to find a veritable army of villagers beavering away clearing, cutting and stacking vast quantities of wood along existing as well as some newly made tracks through parts of Kösten’s forest. Knowing what I know now I am no longer dismayed – I understand that timber is a crop and I know that re-planting will be under way soon enough. Meanwhile, a whole array of new or previously unspotted plants, birds, animals and insects will populate the changed landscape providing plenty of opportunity for observation and study.

Having wandered these forests and mountains for fifteen years now, we have become identified as ‘locals’ and it is one of our pleasures to find ourselves hailed and summoned to take tea or break bread with those we consider our arkadaşlar (friends) and komşular (neighbours).

As an aside to this; whilst the suits were explaining their stuff, our neighbour and illicit local odun man, Halil, arrived with his donkey and proceeded to unload the first installment of our winter firewood supply. J and I wanted to die but the suits could barely suppress their splutters of laughter – Halil hadn’t even noticed the 4×4 with ‘Orman’ plastered all over it.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Friends and Neighbours

Driving The ‘Evil-Doers’ Out Of Paradise

Alkanna mughlae (not a rose by any other name!)

This is the story of a ‘Wallflower'; a ‘Shrinking Violet’ so retiring in nature as to be overlooked and passed by ever since clever people began giving things names and fitting them into ‘boxes’.

Kocadere Valley - unique!

This is the story of a plant; an insignificant member of the Borage family which has over 2000 species. A plant with relatives that have wonderful names; names like ‘Viper’s Bugloss’, ‘Patterson’s Curse’, ‘Hound’s Tongue’, ‘Fiddleneck’, ‘Geiger Tree’, ‘Lungwort’ and ‘Forget-Me-Not’. Names that conjure up phantasmagorical images and have you wondering how such a monika could come about.

This is the story of a plant that doesn’t have a fancy or poetic name; a plant so secretive that it only came to the attention of science just over 10 years ago, in 1998. A plant so rare that it was known to exist in only two isolated and deliberately unpublicised places on Planet Earth; both of them in Muğla Province, here in Turkey. Isolated, that is, until I ‘discovered’ and photographed it growing in Kocadere Valley, Okçular.

‘Discovered’? Huh! What a joke that is. In order to discover something you have to have some idea that it is there to be discovered; that what you are looking at is new to science or to an area – it certainly has to be new to something! As far as I was concerned it was just one of several hundred different flowering plants I’d photographed around Okçular with my new digital camera toy. The camera was my obsession of the moment, not wading through my shelves of reference books looking for labels. I was collecting pics of flowers like little boys used to collect stamps, some ‘twitchers’ log birds in a book and traffic wardens collect car numbers! It was not a scientific exercise. Anyway, this plant was not that much to look at when lined up along side so many other beauties.

a lot of professors

When outsiders threatened to turn Kocadere Valley into a quarry and cement works; destroying its unrivaled flora and fauna, I sent CDs of every species I had to whoever I thought might be able to help. Within a few days, to my utter amazement, we had professors and students from İstanbul, Bolu and Ankara universities hammering at our door, all demanding to know one thing – ‘Where is this plant?’ ‘Why?’ asked I. ‘Because this is Alkanna mughlae – one of the rarest plants on earth!’ ‘Come with me’ I said, ‘but it can’t be that rare, it’s growing all over the place in Kocadere!’

Alkanna mughlae (critically endangered endemic)

And so it came to pass that a modest beauty queen of exceptional rarity joined forces with a few activists and a lot of very determined villagers and cast down the idol to Mammon and drove his ‘evil-doers’ out of our village and out of the biologically unique paradise that is Kocadere Valley – forever! Kocadere and Princess Alkanna of Muğla are safe and ready to welcome those who cherish modesty, beauty and the treasures that are our birthright.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Driving The ‘Evil-Doers’ Out Of Paradise

Under Attack!

Our local English language newspaper, Land of Lights, is reporting yet another contentious Hydro-electric Scheme (HES Hydro-Elektrik Santral), this time on the river at Yanıklar near Fethiye. Yet again, with little or no consultation with local people, with no (or forged) Environmental Impact Reports (ÇET) licenses have been granted and tree cutting started. The policy seems to be to inflict enough damage on the environment before protests can be organised that the will to resist is squashed.

The tragedy for Turkey is that there is not a single river system in this country that is not under threat – not one! Where there is serious local resistance people have succeeded in stopping these diabolical resource-stealing scams; and make no mistake, that is what they are. Despite what everyone is told it is not about generating electricity, it is all about stealing and commoditising the people’s water.

How can I claim that? When these thieves tried to pull this scam at Yuvarlakçay, the following information was obtained: based on current prices for electricity; assuming that the generating plant ran at full capacity 24/7, 365 days a year and making no allowances for down-time, wages, etc, it would have taken 42 YEARS to break even on construction costs! Do you know of any business that would make that sort of investment? Not one of these mini-schemes is viable unless you take the value of the water into account. At Yuvarlakçay the operating company would have ‘owned’ the water for 48 years with an option on 48 more! Five villages depend on the Yuvarlakçay for their existence. Villagers were told they could expect no more than 1/3 of what they presently use.

J and I were involved in the Yuvarlakçay campaign, near Köyceğiz, from the very beginning. We were not organisers; that was in far more competent and energetic hands. It was also in the ownership (to use a social psycho-babble term) of the villagers of Pinar Köyü and they were critical in stopping the eco-criminals.

In defiance of government, kaymakam, jandarma, forestry management and construction company the villagers occupied the site day and night for more than three cold, wet, winter months and faught off all attempts to evict them. The women, in particular, were like lions – being associated with them and their resistance was a real priviledge.

If there are people near you who are resisting the theft of their birthright, be it water, trees, land, in fact anything – I urge you to get out there and give them support. Being part of these community battles can be uncomfortable; it can also be inspiring and a lot of fun. As evidence of this, I offer the following tribute to the ‘Lions of Pinar Köyü’ as they perform their ‘Şalvar Rap’.

Yuvarlakcay Salvar Rap – original 1st performance from Alan Fenn on Vimeo.

My own uncut, unedited video of the original first performance, followed by some village music and dancing.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Under Attack!

Stalking the Storks

With the threat that this might be our last season with a view over Black Lake and its wonderful variety of wildlife, (http://archersofokcular.com/2011/04/29/a-black-year-for-black-lake/) J and I have spent a lot more time just liggin’ about and soaking up the view. If our farming neighbours go ahead and put in the drainage pipes then next year might well be very different. There’s a chance that it might not be as well because pretty much every drainage pipe, of whatever size, that I’ve seen installed over the past 14 years has simply disappeared and within no time at all has become a misty memory. They disappear because of the sheer volume of water in the winter time and the rocks and debris that get swept in and over them. About 7 years ago our former muhtar and his crew arrived and laid some enormous concrete pipes across the road near our house in order to divert the course of a, mostly dry, stream bed that becomes a raging torrent when it rains. We ended up with a humped-back bridge that had the virtue of slowing down the turbo tractors and their 7 year-old drivers! Within a year the hump had disappeared along with the concrete pipes and to finish the whole thing off, 2 years ago the road was asphalted; plus we have a new muhtar – ‘Pipes? What pipes?’

Anyway, back to our story which is not about pipes – this spring has seen a huge increase in the numbers of birds on Black Lake. It’s as though they know this might be their last banquet and that next year they’ll have to work a bit harder for their meals. That’s because this shallow, seasonal, patch of water is home to countless millions of frogs and dragonfly larvae at just the right time for breeding and chick-raising. The storks mostly nest down at the famous Ley Ley Restaurant where there are suitable trees and special nesting poles. The owners and staff at the restaurant provide care and a permanent home for those birds that get injured by falling from the nests so it is a great place to visit because the ‘permanent staff’ get so used to people that they will feed from your hand. It really is amazing how precise and gentle they are with those enormous and powerful beaks.

Why am I telling you about this? Because I don’t know for how much longer we will be privileged to have these beautiful and graceful creatures around. I understand why my lovely farming neighbours need to be able to make use of their land for more profitable crops; at the same time I’m a bit of a ‘NIMBY’ about my view and the wildlife it attracts. I know that the new environment will attract new and different creatures and my beautiful storks love to forage around in fields anyway, so I do expect them to come back. And the various herons and egrets? Well, they’re a different matter so I’ve been spending much more time than usual stalking the storks and liggin’ about watching them in the reflections on Black Lake. Ahhh! Another beautiful day in Turkey!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Stalking the Storks

Holy Week in Okçular

J and I went on a pilgrimage today to the ‘Shrine of Kocadere’. Actually, we tend to go there quite a lot at different times throughout the year because it’s a very special place. There is an intimacy as well as a grandeur about this cleft carved through the limestone by the forces of nature. Here I can sit or walk and actually hear myself think! No traffic noise, no music and usually, no other people; just the gentle sounds of our other, non-human neighbours that we share this corner of the world with.

Once, long ago the waters of an un-named little river in what today is Okçular discovered a fissure in the bed of the stream and began to bore its way through the soft limestone, ‘zigging’ and ‘zagging’ until, eventually, it burst back into the light of day some 5kms from where it had gone underground. Millennia passed and the relentless flow of water dissolved away the rock until a vast cavern had been hollowed out. I like to believe that this great gateway to the Underworld would have held very special significance for the early inhabitants of this area and this accounts for the affinity that I experience whenever I go there. A hydrologist whom I took there described it as a ‘bridged canyon’ which would have been open at both ends.

Today Kocadere is bridged no more because, based on best estimates, an earthquake about 2000 years ago caused the roof to crash down. What you see today as you walk into the valley proper are great vertical walls of limestone with many, many rocks and huge boulders littering the valley floor. It takes very little imagination to picture the area as it once was.

If you are reasonably fit and sensibly shod, you can traverse the valley from end to end, although there are no footpaths to ease your way. This very inaccessibility has led to a distribution of flora and fauna that, whilst not totally unique, is nearly so.

Critically endangered species like the endemic Fire Salamander Lyciasalmandra fazliae or Alkanna mughlae, a member of the Borage family of herbs, abound. The Alkanna was only known to exist at two sites in the world, both in Muğla Province after which it is named. When I happened upon it, and drew it to the attention of one of Turkey’s eminent environmentalists, Okçular was inundated with professors and students. Kocadere is, today, the most important site known for this species.

The sheer number of different species to be found around Okçular and Kocadere has astounded biologists. One example is orchids; to date I have recorded 27 species and one of these was my reason for going to the valley today – the beautifully delicate Holy Orchid Orchis sancta. Here you can enjoy a photograph; to see one in the ‘flesh’ in the supreme setting of Kocadere, you will need to be quick – they will only be flowering for the next few weeks. Give your senses a treat and come and visit, ‘We are waiting you’.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Holy Week in Okçular

The South East Day 9

So then, here we are; the end of a relaxing day of just ambling about the area. We started by going to visit what is claimed to be the very first Christian church, a cave not very far from here, where St Peter is supposed to have been so dismayed by the excesses and moral turpitude of the locals he thought he’d better set about giving them a few hang-ups and guilt complexes. When you think about it, he did that all right! Anyway, we got to the site, which is in fact a place of regular weekly worship and pilgrimage only to be confronted by three security guards and an entrance fee of TL8 each. Seems that the Turks have gone back to their old practice of excusing Christians, Jews and sundry assorted Atheists (I insist on having a capital too) from military service but then screwing a bit of extra tax out of them for the national coffers. And what a scam the place is as well, little more than scrape in the cliff face; the trickle of holy water that (they say) once ran into a baptismal pool (hole in the floor about the size of a pudding basin) has dried up because of an earthquake (Oh yeah!). On the upside there was the “Throne of St Peter” (circa 1923) and we were given three free leaflets. Oh! and Janet found a very nice Roman Snail that happily posed on her hand for a photo.

From here we drove around the back of the mountain and through the road works up to the top for  some spectacular views of the city and several vast mountain removal projects that pass as quarries. Again there is a positive side to that, there are a couple of villages in the next valley that are going to have a great view at some stage!

There’s the remains of a castle up there set amidst the forest with a sea of flowers awash in an ocean of rubbish . . . such a shame. There are rows of rubbish bins but no one bothers to empty them and the wind is strong and perpetual judging by the way the trees are all lying nearly parallel to the ground so the litter is everywhere. Hunting for flowers Janet found some nice fossils of shells and sea urchins. A bit further down I was delighted to find a couple of different Bee Orchids.

We returned to the town to explore the covered bazaar which is ramshackle and chaotic but much more fun than Sainsburys. We had a wonderful lunch in a tiny but very busy “hole-in-the-wall” place down one of the back alleys; the hulking great owners were delighted when Janet complimented them on the food they were making. They set about giving a “How to get more out of chickpeas” presentation that entertained us and the gathering locals who were interested in what the foreigners were interested in. Finally back to the hotel to rediscover what we have both missed so far on this trip . . . an afternoon nap!

Tomorrow we set out for home having covered much of what we wanted to. We’re both looking forward to some familiar ground, the attentions of our faithful animals and we hang on to the hope that there will still be some wisteria blossom left! This may be the last submission in this series depending on how the journey home pans out. (That last a quote from the late Capt. Titus Oates)

The South East Day 9

A Black Year for Black Lake

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to live where I do; Okçular is a delightful place and the locals really took J and me to their hearts. Our home is built on a gentle rise that is surrounded by mixed forest and overlooking a seasonal wetland known locally as Black Lake that is filled with a wonderful array of creatures. Black Lake also lives in the cultural folklore of our village with tales that go back to the time of the War of Independence.

This time of the year the view from my bedroom window is fascinating; there are storks, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Great and Little Egrets, Hooded Crows, Short-toed Eagles, Buzzards and . . and . . and . . I’ve recorded and photographed 26 different dragonflies/damselflies around here, some very rare; (I’ve also been asked to capture a particular variety, pickle it in some sort of stuff and post it off to Japan for genetic analysis – Jeez! I believe in preserving the environment but not that way!). And then there are the frogs; there are millions of them, every one bent on croaking its way into the heart of any other froggit that cares to listen. They are at it (the croaking) 24 hours a day; we’ve had visitors staying here who have seriously considered moving to a hotel a long way away in order to get a nights sleep. J and I are used to it, in fact we love it and sleep like babes dreaming of being kissed by one of the bug-eyed beauties. Well, I do, not sure if it’s the croaking or the rakı!

The sad thing is that all this is about to change; Black Lake is to be drained, soon it will be no more. Some of our farming neighbours need to have access to their land for more than the 6 months that are presently available. Back in the days when the crop was cotton the season was plenty long enough. Then Turkish cotton farming was killed off by US government subsidised cotton; it’s OK for them to subsidise their farmers but not Turks! Cotton was followed by maize and sesame but these require dryer condition so much of Black Lake remained unproductive. Now the crops that yield an income grow on trees – pomegranate is the thing and that means ‘our’ Black Lake will finally wash away down the great drain-hole of progress. It’s a sad end to what was once a huge seasonal lake that covered many square miles around what is now Okçular village. During the 1960s the villagers dug by hand two great drainage canals that enabled them to farm the fertile land and build better lives. Draining the land also helped to eradicate malaria which was endemic until then. What we know today as Black Lake is but a shadow (although a very beautiful shadow) of what was once there.

I can’t find it in my heart to begrudge my delightful neighbours the income that they stand to generate from draining this rump-end lake, life is not easy as a subsistence farmer wherever they might be in the world. I’ll mourn the passing of Black Lake every morning as I gaze out of my bedroom window; over the next few years orchards will flourish and new species will occupy the spaces that will inevitably fall vacant as the present ‘clients’ move off to wetter corners. I hope that the Storks don’t desert the Ley Ley Restaurant once their froggy meal-ticket disappears, and that the many other species that make this small corner of Okçular such a wonderful place to live find some reason to hang around. The lake will be gone but I console myself with the knowledge that the view will still be spectacular – different, but spectacular. I’m really going to miss those frogs, though.

You can learn more about Okçular, its people, history, flora and fauna, walking and cycling as well as books about the village at www.okcular.net

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

A Black Year for Black Lake