Meryem Balıkçı, Ümmügülsüm Çelik and Ramazan Kıvrak all live in Fethiye and, to anyone who doesn’t know them, they seem to be ordinary residents of this Mediterranean town, as indeed they are.
But when they talk about their lives, a very different picture emerges, one that is shared by a decreasing percentage of Fethiye’s population: They are Yörük.
The word Yörük, is derived from the Turkish verb “yürümek” meaning to walk – a fitting name given the group’s traditional annual treks to the highlands.
But the word is frequently translated as ‘nomad’. This is not really accurate, although accepted even in official titles.
In fact the Yörük lifestyle is transhumance: the seasonal movement of people and livestock with fixed summer and winter bases.
One of the crafts of the Yörük that has continued to flourish, despite the disappearing Yörük culture, is that of dying, spinning and weaving sheep’s wool into colorful kilims.
This is a skill in which all Yörük women take great pride.
Balıkçı and Çelik are experts of this ancient art and are delighted to share their knowledge.
“Yörük have their own unique methods for making the colours and making them into patterns that each symbolize different tribes. Nowadays kilims have commercial value, but originally they were for making our tents warm and comfortable.”
“The black goat hair created the outer shell of the tents. Inside the walls were lined with felt, something that was also used to make warm coats for the shepherds, being highly insulating and waterproof. After all, these were our homes for up to six months and Yörük women are as house-proud as any other Turkish woman,” said Çelik.
All natural weaving
This colourful weaving was also used to make saddlebags and even slings for strapping babies onto their mothers’ backs.
Balıkçı explains how some of the remarkable colours used in the kilims were achieved.
“All our dyes are natural and were made with roots and plants. Spurges create the yellow, bitter oranges create the rusty colours, madder root creates the reds from purple to pink.
Brown is made with oak gall and iron filings. The dyes are ancient recipes handed down from mother to daughter.
Every nomadic group had their own recipes for dying the wool and their own patterns for weaving. Woven products were also sold and bartered in the markets”.
It seems that in only one generation the Yörük life had changed forever, with many nomadic families now growing tomatoes in greenhouses they have built on their land in the Patara, Kumluova area.
“I have my land there, but I don’t want to grow tomatoes,” said Balıkçı. “I want to work to keep the Yörük culture alive!”
Introducing tourists to Yörük Culture
There are likeminded entrepreneurs in Fethiye who have made a success of Yörük-inspired venues; there is a folk music bar in a black tent or ‘oba’ on the beach in Çalış and a ‘nomad’ museum
in the village of Kargı. there is also a shop where traditional footwear is being made.
Çelik is happy to see that efforts are being made to introduce tourists and visitors to the Yörük culture.
Keeping Yörük traditions alive in Fethiye
There is an active Türkmen and Nomad society run by Kıvrak*. He organizes Yörük Celebrations for Muğla’s nomads when men and women in traditional clothes come together for an evening of music, song and dance.
Many of Fethiye’s settled Yörük gather to watch and participate, together with hundreds of people from other towns and villages in the provinces, creating a lively atmosphere.
“Of course all of Fethiye’s original families were Yörük. That is how they came here.
But now only about 1,000 families in the Beşkaza area would say that they are still completely true to the culture,” Kıvrak said.
For Kıvrak, the importance of the Yörük culture, the way of life, the music, the crafts and the philosophy should be cherished, nurtured and enjoyed at every available opportunity.
Every now and then he is happy to be asked to participate in TV documentaries.
Through this, we can begin to understand who we really are and where we come from,” he said.
The world of Yörük has changed dramatically over the last four decades but the lifestyle remains an important part of Yörük identity.
Association of Nomadic and Türkmen Tribes
To keep the culture alive, the Association of Nomadic and Türkmen Tribes was set up in 2001; the group became a confederation in 2005, according to General-Secretary Durhasan Koca*.
Its centre is in Ankara but there are now 420 branches throughout Turkey, including one in Fethiye, the Fethiye Yörük ve Türkmenler Kültür Derneği.
With a membership of over 1 million, the confederation is working hard to keep its culture alive.
The president of the confederation is Mustafa Özbek* and the main role of the organization is to encourage and organize festivities, conduct research, collate information about the many different tribes and lend support when possible.
Toros Mountains Nomads and Turkmen Federation
The Toros Mountains Nomads and Turkmen Federation (The Toroslar Yörük Türkmen Federasyonu), encompasses the provinces of Isparta, Konya, Antalya, Burdur and Muğla.
Ramazan Kıvrak is the president of the Fethiye Association of Nomads and Türkmen*(Fethiye Yörük ve Türkmenler Kültür Derneği) and is assisted by secretary Halime Karagöz*.
The branch office was established four years ago and now has a membership of more than 50.
* correct in 2011 when this story was first published.
To read part one of this story click here
To read part two of this story click here