Isparta Province and the area around about has long been a favourite for J and me; we seem to get drawn back to the mountains, valleys, lakes and rivers most years. When journeying back home from wherever we’ll choose to stop-over regardless of the fact that we could be back in Okçular in a few hours.
I remember on our first visit to the province being amazed by the almost cult-like aura that surrounded the name of former President Süleyman Demirel – an Isparta boy made good. As you drive through there can be no doubt that he is revered as you pass the Süleyman Demirel Airport, followed by the Süleyman Demirel Forest on the right and the Süleyman Demirel Botanic Park on the left; the drive into town takes you along Süleyman Demirel Bulvarı where you pass the Süleyman Demirel University and then, on the way out of town, there is the Süleyman Demirel Children’s Clinic; we have often stayed at the Süleyman Demirel University’s Mavi Göl Training Hotel. Around Turkey, including Muğla, there are further roads and hospitals named after him; an astonishing tribute to an astonishing career in civil engineering (he was Director General of DSI, the state water authority, at age 30) and politics (he became Turkey’s second democratically elected and youngest ever Prime Minister at age 40) and served two terms as President. Affectionately known as ‘Baba’ (Father), ‘Çoban Sülü’ (The Shepherd Sülü (Süleyman)) or humorously as ‘Spartacus’ after his city Isparta, he is writ large in Turkish political life.
Anyway, we thought we had clocked every possible permutation with his name attached until, quite by chance on a back road as we passed a small, nondescript and rather shabby village called İslamköy, we spied this sign.
My first, rather cynical thought was that democracy had had its day and had been confined to a dusty display cabinet (or the dustbin of history) in this museum; whatever, we had to find out.
This is the home village of the Demirel family and what we discovered was an astonishing complex of buildings, funded by the Demirel Foundation (Vakıf), that included the Democracy Museum (closed), library (closed), a gift shop and cafeteria (closed), a grand mosque dedicated to Demirel’s grandmother and numerous other buildings, the whole surrounded by a wall with a gateway fit for a chateau; everywhere green lawns, flower beds, magnificent trees and water. The total contrast from the scene outside was staggering with decrepit, tumbledown buildings and dusty streets everywhere you looked.
Pride in the achievements of one of your own sons is commendable but I cannot help but wonder how the quality of the lives of local people might have been enhanced had some or all of the money been spent on social and community projects, in other words on people – after all, isn’t that what ‘democracy’ is supposed to be about?
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü