'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

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