Naci Dinçer’s left-field column, ‘As for Me,’ in one of Fethiye’s local newspapers, ‘The Land of Lights’ has a reputation for sometimes drawing attention things that some may find uncomfortable and others would most likely prefer to hide under the nearest carpet.
His wise, direct words and idiosyncratic writing style makes this man a breath of fresh air but what of the man himself? How did he come to find himself in the Mediterranean town of Fethiye and remain, for more than 20 years, one of the town’s most respected experts and guides on Anatolian history?
During his 53 years, Dinçer has had a wealth of experiences. In fact less than halfway through the interview he pauses during his recollections and says, “Do you know; I have never ever talked like this about my life before? When I think about it, it seems to have been very full.” He is not far off the mark but his surprise at realising this impressive tally of life achievements is symptomatic of his modesty.
Although born in Denizli, where his father had a military posting, Dinçer spent his childhood in Istanbul and Ankara before studying Metallurgical Engineering at Istanbul Technical University. He graduated in 1980 and went to work in Ankara. This all seems fairly conventional and typical of his generation – but he hadn’t taken the hypnotic attraction of Fethiye into account.
So, let’s skip to 1984, when he came to the then small, sleepy Mediterranean town for a summer holiday. He never left – something many reading this will instantly recognise. “There weren’t any opportunities for someone with my background here in Fethiye. In those days it was really just tomatoes: no steel factories or anything.” Fortunately Dinçer had a hobby that he was also very good at – sailing. He took (and passed) his skipper exams and for 2 years worked on bare boats. He then formed his own company in the (then) sleepy fishing village of Göcek.
It was during this time he realised that not only was he acquiring a massive knowledge of local history (Dinçer is a self confessed collector of information) but he also had a gift for imparting this knowledge to others. Using his excellent English, acquired at school and university, together his local knowledge he used these skills to his and his customers best advantage. In 1988 he founded his own tour company, which he ran successfully for 14 years, before selling it. It was during this time (1989-90 to be precise) that he took a 6-month intensive course to become a national guide.
“I was deeply interested in Turkey’s archaeology and history and had met many people who wanted to visit our ancient Anatolian sites. The Ministry of Tourism provided him with this opportunity. I am now one of only 8,000 professional national guides. It is a privilege to be able to share this knowledge and for people to experience our history in the places where it actually happened. ”
He met his wife İlknur (also a professional guide) in 1996 and they married a year later. Having settled in Fethiye he became fascinated by the towns local history. Dinçer explains, “Take, for example, the 1957 earthquake. Nezihi Okuş the town’s mayor had what can only be described as a premonition. He managed raise the alarm and persuaded people to leave their homes. His action saved many people who would otherwise have died.”
He pauses before continuing, accuracy is an important part of his style. He collects his thoughts and continues with his narrative, “I was telling this important piece of our local history to a tour party from Ankara. One woman at the back of the coach fainted while I was talking. I later discovered she was actually Oküş’ widow, who had come on a journey of discovery – to find out more about her late husband’s life. I remember it took a while to bring her round.”
He recalls with a smile the late 1990s, which brought tourists to Fethiye who were genuinely hungry for information and knowledge about the area. “It was a good time for the town. People liked to have an experience of the country they’d come to visit: make contact with the history, culture, food, and music – everything about Turkey. He suspects that the profile of the average tourist coming to Turkey changed after 2001. Tourism is a sophisticated and complex industry. This needs to be understood or we risk losing it altogether.
Take Kayaköy for example: the abandoned town in the mountains above Fethiye. In 1999 he was instrumental in preparing the first restoration project with TURSAB and the Chamber of Architects. A lack of funds prevented this from becoming a reality. In 2000 he began to put into action plans to increase education and awareness of local history and environment. As a result he founded FETAV together with the then Kaymakam, Cengizhan Aksoy.
The chance of a grant to restore Kayaköy and develop a local ‘Eco project’ was finally rejected at government level in 2002, losing a potentially massive opportunity for the area. In 2004 with the support of the Ölüdeniz Rotary Club a new project for a ‘Cultural Museum’ in the town was proposed but 6 years on they are still waiting for a decision from Ankara.
Authors and researchers have tapped his encyclopaedic knowledge. In particular he was a contributor to Rough Guide to Turkey from 1991-2006 when he worked with editor, Mark Dubin. He also worked on the 2004 Fethiye Tourist Guide. He is, without doubt contributing an important legacy to Fethiye and Turkey historical and cultural knowledge base.
Since 2009 Dinçer has been running the Outside Activities Department of Hillside Beach Club and introducing their guests to the amazing, vast and ancient history of Anatolia. He is a veritable mine of information, and Fethiye is indeed fortunate that he chose to make the town his home. He has also recently been appointed the President of the Ölüdeniz Rotary Club and is working on a programme to raise funds to eradicate the devastating childhood disease of Poliomyelitis.