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Tagging along with Anatolian nomads
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 21 Jun 2008 Sat 09:03 pm

An Anatolian nomad woman ready to go on a long journey, packing her belongings in order to find suitable grazing land for their livestock. Women carrying rifles is a common tradition among nomads.
The Anatolian nomads of the sun, mountains and endless winds of the plateaus agreed to let us accompany them for a small part of their journey.

The three days we spent in and around the Aydın and Gülnar districts of Mersin proved insufficient to truly get to know them, but this period was long enough for us to learn to love these people, who are not tainted by obsessions with the trappings of modern life.

Turkish nomads in Anatolia are known as yörüks, and they claim that they continue to migrate in order to find suitable grazing land for their livestock, but could the truth actually be that they enjoy migrating, as suggested by their rush to dismantle their tents before dawn? They set off as if it is their first time on the road, and the journey continues from where it left off the previous evening.

The yörüks of Sarıkeçili, a village in Adana's Ceyhan district, have learned of the many risks of migration. For instance, they may be fined for passing through certain districts in which goat herding is illegal. They are well aware of the risk and have decided to take their chances this year, but what about next year? "Migrating -- we are terribly disheartened by the many risks, but settling is so much more difficult!" one yörük from Ceyhan told us.

It's Monday, when are we migrating?

We were still trying to shake off our drowsiness in the small concrete building in which we spent the night, as we were expecting to set off with the yörük group that would leave before dawn. One of the last April showers was falling. This raised two questions in our minds -- do yörüks set off in rain, and what if they don't and this rain continues for days?

Fortunately, the sun was quick to reveal itself, and we were finally given the good news that we would be hosted in one of the yörük's goat-hair tents. After a mildly tiring trudge up the hill, the tent of Kerim Karadayı's family appeared amidst the trees. The owners were waiting for us in front of the tent. We exchanged smiles from afar, and although everything seemed to be going along just fine, a voice inside of me questioned: "At most, you are going to observe these people and all you will be doing is surveying everything with a curious gaze and trying to attach meaning even to where things are placed in the tent. Your eyes will alight upon everything that seems strange to you and you will never stop asking questions; but will you have understood anything at all about these people in the end?"

The tent had no doors, but there appeared to be room for everyone. In all yörük tents, there are two teapots -- one for boiling water and the other for brewing fresh tea. The one used to boil water is sooty in the bottom due to being placed over the fire all the time, not on a burner as we are used to. The other teapot is about the same size, but it is always kept a little farther from the fire. Once inside, we didn't really want to leave the tent, as it offered an unfamiliar sense of sincerity and warmth. Another reason we were unwilling to leave was our hosts' reluctance to set out on their journey. The reluctance of a yörük to set off on his path is not considered a good sign. It's like goats that stop jumping and running and instead sit lethargically on the ground all day. A yörük should always be on the move.

But what if some officials had outlawed their migration and fined them at every stop of the way for one thing or another? We later found out that the tent hosting us should have been dismantled and loaded on the camels a long time ago, but that Kerim and his family were not sure about migrating this time because of new laws that had been passed on the practice. As we spoke to Kerim, we sensed that he was very pessimistic about the whole thing; he seemed to be seesawing between migrating and settling down, which, of course, both have their pros and cons.

"This entire yörük thing is now a thing of the past. If you ask people what being a yörük means, most will give you incorrect answers. They consider us obsolete now. It's sad but true; this has become our reality," laments Kerim.

"When were these new laws passed?" we asked him curiously, at a loss to understand why anybody would want to change the harmless lifestyle of these people. The yörük tradition is an extension of the millennia-old tradition of migrating. Kerim, just like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather is part of this tradition, but wonders whether it will end with him. With a slightly hesitant look on his face, he finally revealed his real thoughts. "Well, I can't hold it back any longer; since this government came to power, we have been flat broke. Before, people did not blink an eye when we passed by and we did not have any problems," Kerim said. The family doesn't encounter any problems while spending the winter in Mersin, but once they set out for the places where they will spend the summer, such as Karaman, Beyşehir and Seydişehir, they begin to come across gendarmes who are overly eager to enforce the recently passed laws. They are fined YTL 16 for each goat seen near trees; their goats allegedly damage the forest, but according to the Sarıkeçili yörüks, "Our goats have never been observed destroying a forest." Last year, the family paid a total of YTL 3,000 in fines and now feels very frustrated over the laws. "If the owners of this incomprehensibly repressive mindset give us full-time jobs and houses, we will throw away the tents," Kerim remarked.

During one part of the journey last year, they covered a normally seven-hour distance in 14 hours in their attempts to stay clear of gendarmes. This year, they wanted to play it safe. Imagine having to listen for every single engine sound that draws near and fleeing into the hills to avoid security forces, in which case the journey becomes longer and longer. The migration has become so difficult in the recent years that Kerim is seriously considering a settled life. "We are tired of running from security forces," he said. Yet they have many misgivings over changing their way of life.

"If they put us in a cage [he refers to a small house], we will simply die there. They should give us houses with porches in the Konya basin. My trade is not dealing with greenhouses. If they give us livestock, we could do okay," stated Kerim.

"These small houses, they are like boxes. Not a house, a box! They don't even have gardens. They only have a few saplings. How can people live so out of touch with the earth?" he questioned.

And we ask about the finances of the Karadayı family, making the heedless mistake of asking them what function money could have in the mountains as we know that they don't pay utility bills.


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