'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

What You Do Speaks So Loudly . .

. . that what you say I cannot hear! A variation on ‘Deeds speak louder than words!’

Here in Turkey I am lucky enough to live in a country that is so enthusiastic about protecting its natural environment that it has probably signed up to more treaties, conventions, agreements and memorandums of understanding than any other on the planet. Turkey ‘Talks the Talk’ like few others. The obverse of the coin, ‘Walking the Walk’ leaves something to be desired!

It would be more accurate to say that ‘Money Talks and Walks the Walk’ – in 16 years of living here I have seen example after example. I want to stress that Turkey is no better and no worse than most other countries around the world – greed, ‘primitive accumulation’ lies at the heart of the economic system; a system that commodifies everything – including the environment! If tiresome protection laws get in the way of the ‘fast buck’ then they are to be ignored, rescinded or bribed away.

The small town of Dalyan is a case in point; it sits at the heart of Turkey’s very first Specially Protected Area – the setting is stunning! Carian tombs, mountain views, amazing beach and Loggerhead Turtles, the potential for exploitation was enormous and so exploited it was!

These days the attractive old houses have been demolished and replaced by concrete.

the last of its kind, Omer’s ‘Old Turkish House’ bar in Dalyan – demolished and replaced by a row of concrete shops

Great swathes of once beautiful countryside are covered in villas that stand empty much of the year. Unregulated development means an excess of hotels, pansions, restaurants, fashion shops, boats on the river, etc., all chasing too few customers to make a decent living. The once magnificent reed beds of the Dalyan canal and delta are gone, replaced by sedge due to salination because of excessive fresh water extraction. Inadequate infrastructure means some parts of the town stink of raw sewage in the summer.

 

all that remains of old Dalyan’s charm

Tourists are now guaranteed to see endangered Caretta caretta turtles as the captains have taken to baiting them with kitchen scraps on fishing lines so they hang around instead of going off and living a natural life. Many are injured or killed by boat propellers, some have bitten tourists and had to go for ‘rehabilitation’. Much of what once drew visitors to the town has now gone – exploited away, and no amount of fancy floodlight illumination of the Carian Tombs or plastic turtles in the park will bring it back.

baiting endangered Caretta with endangered Blue Crab at Dalyan (travbuddy.com) and below the consequences

. . and one of the consequences (igougo.com)

Another case in point is the Lycian Way – Turkey’s first long distance walking route.

my copies of Clow’s books

Pioneered by Kate Clow, the route begins at Hisarönü near Fethiye in the west and ends, 500kms later, at Hisarçandır 25kms short of Antalya in the east. In between lies some of the most beautiful, rugged and unspoilt countryside to be found anywhere along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast – but, for how long? Truth be told, Turkey gets a lot of prestige but very little money out of the Lycian Way. The Lycian Way will never really be an income generating asset – unless that is it can be turned into a commodity!

Lycian Way above Ölüdeniz (anadolujet.com)

Lycian Way near Mt Olympus (lycianadventures.com)

‘Tadaaaa!’ Welcome to the future as Ölüdeniz Belediyesi (local council) blithely drives the thin end of a very big wedge under its end of this world famous, world class walk. How? By granting permission, admittedly together with the Environmental Agency for hotel development on the first few hundred metres of the route, and then allowing the bulldozing of the ancient path to make way for the standard, 7mt wide, access road.

getting it wrong – the future for the Lycian Way

. . is that the rustle of leaves or banknotes I hear?

It won’t stop there of course, it never does. There will be others anxious to give tourists access to this most beautiful, rugged and unspoilt path by building hotels, swimming pools and restaurants (whilst making a little honest income, of course). And they’ll be ready to grease the odd palm to do so! Just as has happened at Hasankeyf and so many other places money will trump ÇET (environmental impact) reports and the earth-moving machines will be in before you can organise a protest group. The damage will be done, shoulders will be shrugged and the wedge will get another surreptitious tap or two from the bulldozer.

One day those who jumped on the bandwagon will wake up and realise that the very things that drew visitors to the area have disappeared along with the visitors. There will be much wringing of hands and midnight flits; the once snazzy ‘butik’ hotels will become sleezy flop-houses as overheads outstrip income. I predict that the ‘patient’ will straight-line within a few years. The Lycian Way, one of Turkey’s genuine, long-term assets will have been ‘Dalyanised’ and no amount of green fluorescent strip lighting or plastic palm trees will bring it back.

armageddonMass tourism, that ‘pile-it-high flog-it-cheap’ commodity has had its day and is declining rapidly. Unless the politicos, local and national, wake up to the real worth of this beautiful, historic country that they have inherited, and start to protect and defend that worth then sustainable tourism is finished. Not in my lifetime, it’s too late for people my age, but what about your grandchildren Başkan – don’t they deserve something better than the ‘fast buck’ you are offering now?

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Wanderings

The South East; the story begins

I’ve already said that this blog will be a bit like tripping in the ‘Tardis'; time and space (and sometimes a few memories) warped as we zip backwards and forwards. Here we go on the first of those journeys; back two years to April 2009 . . .

So, here we are; April 1st and day 3 of this trip. We’ve arrived in Mardin, our base for the next couple of days. The town is quite a sight as you drive in perched, as it is, high on its pinnacle of rock (1325 mts) and crowned by its mighty fortress. The fortress would be a great place to view the surrounding countryside; except you can’t because the military use the place to keep an eye on us (and the Syrians who are just a few miles away!).

We’ve found one of those wonderful butik, as we say in Turkey, hotels; this one has also had Prince Charles as a guest but that hasn’t stopped the fixtures falling off the walls or the shower from flooding the toilet/bathroom! The building is a really nice restoration of a very typical Mardin stone house; all tunnels, arched ceilings and cast iron window grills. The porter is an enormously tall fellow whose “uniform” is the local men’s fashion – baggy trousers that friend Gordon once irreverently described as . . .  (nope, I’m not going there!), waistcoat with the whole topped off with one of those very Turkish peaked caps. And the place has wi-fi!

This evening we had an aimless wander about, as you do when you’re a tourist, “Ohhing” and “Ahhing” at the sights and views and attracting the attention of all the school kids who want to practice their English. Later, sitting in a tea garden taking in the

magical minaret

view towards Syria through the dust clouds and watching the antics of the Tumbler Pigeons and thousands of swallows as the sun set behind one of the most beautiful carved stone minarets you can imagine was memorable.

Janet’s just sent for the man to come and mop out the toilet!

Turkey is the Land of Unbelievable Coincidences, but let’s see if you can top this; on our wander about we were looking for a likely place to eat and there was another wonderful restoration that was a hotel that advertised its restaurant. We decided to give it a whirl and were led down steps and along (arched) passageways to the restaurant that was in what was probably the cellars of the old house – very tasteful, very nice! Our young waiter

who's following whom?

settled us in and then summoned his colleague who could speak English. He, of course, wanted to know where we came from, “Muğla” said we, “do you know it?” “Of course,” said he “where in Muğla?” “Near Ortaca, do you know Ortaca?” “Of course,” said he “I worked at the Ley Ley restaurant, do you know it?” Can you believe this? I’m not making it up! We’ve just traveled 1340 odd kilometers, picked a restaurant at random and the waiter (eventually) remembers me as the guy who spends 2/3rds of his life hunched over his computer using the Ley Ley Restaurant’s free wi-fi! Naughty weekend? Forget it!

Anyway, back to the bit about getting here; the first stage was to Alanya where we stayed in a modern hotel overlooking the harbour in the old part of town. Modern Alanya is ghastly but the old part around the castle is much more attractive. We had hoped to stay at a restoration up in the castle but that place wasn’t open and didn’t look as though it would. A great shame as it really is grand up there. Day two found us in Gaziantep having driven some of the finest coastal cum mountain roads in Turkey; the views were stunning! It made crawling along behind giant trucks a real pleasure. Eventually we forsook the normal roads for the motorway (the object being to get over here reasonably quickly and then do the meandering on the way back). For those of you not familiar with Turkish Otoyols let me tell you, they are fantastic! I mean really fantastic!They are engineering marvels of the highest order; they are cheap to use and they are largely empty – so empty that one

a crowded motorway in SW Turkey

wonders what induces anyone to continue building them. Be that as it may, they are a drivers delight although sharp wits and constant concentration are required. Why is that, I hear you ask, if they do be empty? Well, it goes like this; you are bombing along for mile after empty mile at a legal 120 or so kph. In the distance you perceive a couple of trucks, you move into the middle lane in good time. Just as you come up to the lumbering behemoths the back one pulls out, without warning, to overtake. Now, no truck driver in Turkey worth his salt is going to take up just one lane and no Turk with Istanbul number plates on his black Merc or BMW is going to drop his speed from 200+kph as he screams up the outside lane; these guys know that putting their headlights on clears any passage, they certainly cleared mine a few times I can tell you!

And so here we are, back where I started; tomorrow the pace of things moves down a gear or two. We will probably take a run over to Hasankeyf which is about two hours from here in a roughly Northeasterly direction and lies on the banks of the mighty Euphrates River – I’ll tell you about that another day.

Addendum

One thing I can say about this “Butik Otel”, the bed is very nice; I’m not sure what Janet thinks yet, she’s still waiting for the warm water to come through for her shower! In the two previous places the beds were like lying on planks and watching me getting out of them in the morning was (Janet is happy this morning; she’s just done a rendition of “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life – de dum – de dum de dum de dum”) Geriatric Ward the Sequel!

Gaziantep old town is very nice and well worth a bit more time; the magnificent castle was closed because of the renovations which are on a vast scale and very well carried out. All around the castle the area has been restored (there’s still much to do) and little businesses

Usta Metal-Basher

Wanderings

The South East Days 4 & 5

A pleasant and relaxing sojourn to Hasankeyf about 2 hours away through this remarkable geology; so dry and dusty and crumbly yet there are loads of areas of bright green and fruit/nut tree orchards galore. There are plenty of river valleys supplying water the most expansive of which is the Tigris where Hasankeyf is situated. It’s a remarkable site spread out over a large area; there is evidence of thousands of cave houses (and that’s

Hasankeyf from the other side

only those that are left in evidence after much of the facades have collapsed over time). Picture in your mind a deep cleft running back from the huge valley of the Tigris; the sides are inundated with cave houses and once great buildings are dotted around the cliff tops. Under the castle are dozens of huge water cisterns and secret tunnels and stairways to escape/hide from assailants. There are two wonderfully carved stone minarets and some odds and sods remain of the palace. The whole of this remarkable site, like many others in Turkey and around the world, is under threat from yet another discredited dam. Anyone who takes the time to find out knows that rivers carry sediment (especially those like the Tigris) and dams stop water flow and allow sediment to settle out. Sediment relentlessly fills up dam and in short order dam is useless. People are displaced, good farm land destroyed but money is in the pockets of the greedy and selfish. The huge Seven Gorges Dam project in China is already in trouble before it is fully functional with cracks and collapses – how many millions displaced and for what?

Hasankeyf town is a pretty depressing place generally with a large concrete bridge to carry the main road over the Tigris. Having seen the underside of the bridge close up, how bits of the supporting structure moved and opened up, I was not feeling 100% confident as we crossed over to get a view from the other side. On the upside the government is building a wide new road into the place, no doubt with the intent to facilitate evacuation when the time comes!!

On the drive back we diverted away from the more commonly used roads to find the little town of Savur; it was worth it with loads of fine traditional stone house alongside some beautifully built “reproductions” – there were also plenty of concrete nasties but enough of those. We squeezed the car up some pretty precipitous and narrow lanes before parking up and climbing up to what remains of the castle. We enjoyed the view as our brains were slowly fried by the micro waves from the Turk Telekom communication towers! On the way up we found white violets! Don’t yet know if that is a ‘Eureka!’ moment as my ref books are in the car and I’m not getting dressed to fetch them. We’ve had a few fine “spots” of flowering plants along the route today; some will no doubt get a label but with the limited range of my ref books many will remain just beautiful photos to be enjoyed.

Found a truly fantastic place to eat this evening; simple food prepared and presented so well that it really deserves to be described as exceptional, this was some of the finest food either of us have ever tasted. And no touristic prices to take the edge off the experience!

Tomorrow we head back to Şanliurfa; Urfa, the birthplace of Abraham and site of numerous miracles if the stories are to be believed; there is even a cave under the castle that claims to have a hair from the Prophet so something for everyone of you believers out there. We also have some fish to feed, of which more later.

What I didn’t mention was the state of the road from Şanliurfa to Mardin; most of you know that Janet and I push our faithful Doblo (with an accent) up and down all sorts of mountain tracks and goat paths so when I tell you that this has to be the very worst road in Turkey you know I mean the worst! After juddering along for half an hour everyone becomes convinced that the road is better on the other side, so we all move over which leads to some pretty spectacular driving antics when something comes the other way or a bit of overtaking is undertaken!! Tomorrow we have all this to look forward to in reverse (dis)order.

Day 5

As it happened, the other side of the road was better and the powers that be had been out filling in a lot of the potholes and there seemed to be less traffic going back, which begs the question; if it’s all going and not coming – where has it all gone?

There has been a lot of police and jandarma about because of some heavy violence following the local elections; we stopped for petrol near a small town and chatted to the guys there who told us that four people had been murdered there. Beggers belief! Having said that we have only been stopped once so far which was today; there was a great deal of headlight flashing going on and suddenly we were hauled over with a whole bunch of other drivers under the menace of two eight-wheeled armoured vehicles armed with 14.5mm heavy machine guns and surrounded by loads of tooled-up jandarma. We’re lucky, I s’pose, because we stick out like sore thumbs; we seem to have a big neon sign on our heads saying “Yabanci”and a nice young regular soldier was soon at our window practicing his English and then sending us on our way rejoicing.

Our copies of Lonely Planet and Rough Guide are about 12-15 years out of date and Urfa has grown a tad since they rolled off the press. We eventually found our way around the

The Old Vali's Konak Hotel - very nice!

road system and are ensconced in what was once the provincial governor’s mansion; it is a beautiful stone “palace”, beautifully restored and furnished with a beautiful price tag, but hey! how many times do we live? Anyway, as socialists we believe in doing away with money so we’re setting an example and starting with ours!

Just want to backtrack for a moment; before we left Mardin we had a wander around a different part of the old town and found a newly restored mosque and medrassa. Our luck was good because just as we turned up so did the guardian, a youngish chap who was happy to give us a personal tour. He was a mine of information and sound philosophy as he waxed lyrical about the beauty of Islamic art and design, mathematics and the diversity of faiths in the area (Islam, Orthodox, Catholic, etc). As we arrived at the prayer rooms he indicated for us to remove our shoes and the tour and our education continued. Part way round I noticed the butt of a 9mm automatic sticking out of his waistband which caused me to reflect upon a culture that has you take your shoes off at the door but isn’t bothered about firearms. But then what do we know of the dangers of being a mosque guardian in a place like Mardin?

Christ! Our hotel has a live folk music evening; it feels like we’re sharing the platform with them!

After a light vegetarian lunch to help purge some of the Class 1 protein from our systems we set out to find the world renowned Pool of Abraham. It was just a few hundred mts from our hotel and is quite a sight/site. There are several very old mosques and medrassas and acres of connected pools the whole set in beautifully kept gardens. The area bulged with visitors and the pools bulged with millions (not joking) of very large carp that assume that anyone who happens by is going to feed

gagging for it!

them and follow you thrashing about at the surface with their great gaping mouths opening and closing. I think that if you fell in you’d likely be gummed to death!

This is such a culturally diverse place; the mixture of Turkish with Arabic and a little modern Western dress is something to behold. People speak Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic or a combination. The ladies in particular are very colourful.

The covered bazaar is extensive and a normal working as opposed to a touristic place. Janet bought a few of the local purple scarves that are worn by men and women alike.

The castle here is also under restoration but we determined to climb up there for the view; having puffed our way up the restored stairway to the restored gatehouse we were confronted by the pay kiosk and a “Jobsworth”. The sign said entrance was free to over 65s and Janet is ever one to save a few lira; out came her ikamet which gives her age. Jobsworth was not impressed; “It’s only for Turks” he said, “And this is an official Turkish identity card. I want my free admission.” She got it! I can’t wait to be an Old Aged Pensioner too so I can get my free admissions.

Blimey the music is loud but seriously good. That zourna gets right into your guts.

Tomorrow we head out for Harrun near the Syrian border which promises to be very interesting. It’s incredibly ancient with beehive shaped mud houses. Speaking of ancient, Urfa claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited place on the planet. “Not many people know that.” says Michael Caine, or was that Michael Able?

It’s been very interesting sitting with young Kurds and talking politics – local and global, over a glass of tea. The differences between people are so superficial yet they cause many problems when left to the machinations of the powerful elites.