All posts by Cansu Erdogan

Be connected… (to nature)

image (1)This day was one of the most interesting days not only of our trip, but also my entire life. I visited a wooden house built by Birol Topaloğlu in Arhavi totally made out of chestnut wood and brought there from Çamlıhemşin; secondly I saw my first beginning of a HES Project, first tea field, and then met Mehmet Gürkan and Hüseyin Acar from ‘’Brotherhood of Rivers’.’ Afterwards I met a village representative who lived in the States for eleven years, and finally heard about Uğur Biryol’s venture.  Each and every one of these interviews was very special and inspiring to me… Additionally, I witnessed that here, people’s way of resistance, converting, changing society is completely different from each other and most importantly, not centralized.

Ezmoce (dream)  is the name of the house built by Birol Topaloğlu and even though we couldn’t have chance to talk to Mr. Topaloğlu, our guide, Uğur Biryol told us the history of this dream house which is used not only as a pension and/or café, but also used as a gathering place for the enlightened people of this region. We learned that Mr. Topaloğlu’s aim was to revitalize Laz culture through music. He built this house not only for business purposes, but also to represent Laz culture and to meet other people who  migrated back like him. We can say that this place helps them to create a new but closed community. In that sense, it reminded us of Latife Tekin’s Gümüşlük Academy. Like that closed, ‘’anti-social’’ community, this community is also created from people who have similar motives to come here, I would say. He has produced five music albums and makes contributions to the Yayla (plateau) Festival to raise awareness about Laz culture. Even though this created community seems to be so closed, I appreciated his effort put on this project and built an informal cultural center there.


Our second meeting, with Mehmet Gürkan and Hüseyin Acar, started very unusual because, it took a while to convince especially Hüseyin Acar that we are there just for our field school and independent from any organization and institution. Even though, firstly I found his approach strange, then I decided to evaluate, study this as a part of their story. He stated that, when the government can’t enter a place, they send some people there to pass through the ‘’enemy-line’’, so it was the reason why he found us ‘’suspicious’’ but just because we were Uğur’s guests it didn’t take long for him to believe in us. During the meeting, according to them, the crucial questions that should be asked were following: Do we really need this energy, if not, for whom this energy is getting produced and aren’t there any other options for saving energy through like ecofriendly lamp balls. They claimed that, it is so obvious that HES Projects in Turkey that dry up rivers and damage the ecosystem were built to meet EU’s energy supply requirement and export energy to certain countries. For example, even though France gave up building nuclear centrals on its own land, it invested in the construction of the nuclear power plant in Turkey. Moreover, on 2,000 rivers 4,000 dams are scheduled to be built and it is also because of the tendency of the government to make money out of selling the right to use water to certain companies, countries. Not to mention, it should be made clear that one can’t decide on how to use water and to whom to sell it because the water doesn’t belong only to people, but also to plants and animals. It was also so interesting to me when they said that they don’t let in any workers, military policeor non-locals to start construction on hydroelectric power plants and it is a matter of life or death for them. In addition to that, he said people can get united when they feel that their way of life is threatened and I think that it must be one of the most daunting tasks, especially in a country that uses bribes and creates extremely biased educational materials on the topic of energy.  In primary school, building dams and HES projects are portrayed as a positive and alternative way to use and produce energy in a proper way… For instance, even wind energy and sun panels that are very positively portrayed in books also destroy, damage the natural ecosystem in a way that changes birds’ migration routes with the wind energy and replace plants with sun panels. To be honest, I didn’t think about these ‘’alternative’’ energy types that were taught in primary schools as being positive, so it was a new thing for me to think about. They were also complaining about people who came there, to Fındıklı and made a documentary about their resistance without including an objective view of the reason for their resistance.  I want to end this paragraph with two striking sentences:

‘’One should admit that the nature doesn’t belong to him but he is only a part of the nature.’’

‘’While I was studying in the college, I ended my school in a dark room because there were no electricity and it didn’t take me away from studying, I found my way and graduated from the college!’’

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Our last meeting was with Uğur Biryol who owns a café named Livera in Çamlıhemşin and migrated to his hometown from Ankara, so it was not usual for me because the notion of migration always reminds me of people who move from rural to urban to study, work or for another reasons. While we were talking to him, he showed as his books, so he is a writer, also a journalist and the owner of this café that can be also considered as a ‘’culture center’’. According to him, the concept of his café is very new and rare for this region, because Livera is also a book and music store in which Black Sea Culture can be experienced very well through meals, music and books that are sold there. He has three books, one of them is Kaçkarlar’da Bulut Olsam that reads the geography and culture of the region, second one is Hemşinliler, Göç ve Pastacılık: Gurbet Pastası  which deals with the worker migration from Black Sea to Russia, Poland and the workers’ getting experts of bakery in these countries and their coming back to town. The last one is Karardı Karadeniz)and it includes eight articles that were compiled by him, so, one of the reasons he came back Çamlıhemşin was his willingness to write about this region by living within this environment, feeling it by heart. Furthermore, I learned from him that Hemşin people are originally Armenian and they used to be Christian and Laz people who are members of another ethnic group migrated here from Caucasia. Afterwards, we talked about that there are no maps of natural parks, tracking roads or information centers in Black Sea and actually it is not specific with this region, all over Turkey we don’t have a proper map of even Efes which is world-wide famous touristic place. According to him, Turkey doesn’t use its potential for tourism and in general, Turkish people and the government don’t approach the nature as something that should be preserved, but, instead, the government is always eager  to make money out of it.


While we were talking to him, a man came in the café and Uğur introduced the representative of Hilal village in Hemşin and he also came here from a big city, İstanbul and lived in the States for eleven years. His story amazed me because after living in such big cities, daring to live in a village with the population of maximum 100 in summer time when everyone is in the village. Even though, he didn’t exactly tell us the reason why he migrated here, he pointed out that living here and dealing with people, the nature is not that realistic and, of course, it is not easy. It took him eight years to get used to the way that people speak, ‘’curse’’ each other in their daily lives and also it took the villagers approximately 5 years to accept him in this community, because there was a rumor that he came here to escape because he killed a man in the States. I suppose this statement  clearly shows how much harder it is to get included in a community as a foreigner, even though this place is your hometown. He stated also that women in the villages don’t want to marry men there, because they know that tasks here are labor intensive, so they choose to marry men from big cities or, if possible, abroad, so this is one of the aspects which trigger migration. In addition to  this, he said that it took him 5 years to teach men to do the tasks that women do, because the tradition and knowledge about planting, working on the field and harvesting shouldn’t be lost, so he one of his concerns was that and I appreciate his effort. This man showed me how a person can adapt in a community, how to change people’s life there as a representative of the village in a world that the representatives mostly work for the constructions of new roads etc… He also put forward that he needs young people to settle there, in Hilal Vilage because he needs labor force and develop the village. His final words are like the summary of the entire interviews we have done:

‘’Be connected to nature and just respect it!’’

The Circle is Tightening…


Today, instead of writing things about what  I observed in beautiful Ihlara Vadisi, Kapadokya , I would like to write my thoughts about  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s case against Attila Durak.  In the exhibition ‘’Bu Daha Başlangıç’’, which Attila curated, there was a photo of a graffitied message that read ‘’Faşist Tayyip’’ (Fascist Tayyip). Attila, along with photographer Kemal Aslan and the staff of the hosting venue are being accused of ruining and provoking democracy. While learning about this case I questioned again the definition of democracy which seems to vary according to different situations.


As you may know, this course is all about experiencing social change and adventures of change makers by visiting and talking to them, so in order to understand this process in a comprehensive way, we are traveling through Turkey and experiencing it.  Now, I see clearly that change making is not always easy and perceived positively by some people, even the government, and I would like to mention some cases. On June 2013, during the Gezi Protests, Mehmet Ali Alabora who is a Turkish actor spoke to CNN and explained the world that this protest is not just because of the demolishing the park and cutting the trees, this fight, this revolt is because of the government’s arbitrary legislations and/or applications. After this speech, he was accused for armed insurgency against the Republic and the government is demanding 20 years of imprisonment, if he will be found guilty.  In addition to these cases, in Gümüşlük, Bodrum me and my friends heard the Academy’s history in details from Latife Tekin. Jandarma (the detective force in rural areas and suburbs) were sent by the municipality to examine each and every inch of the academy because they were accused of trafficking in drugs and women trade. The accusation was an excuse to raid the academy to intimidate people. In Turkey, the enlightened are always potential criminals who would challenge the government, for that reason, before a ‘disaster’ happens, the government wants to keep them in control. We also saw that even preserving nature is a challenge in Turkey, because the government works like a business. In order to make much more profit, they destroy nature. Yet, if you defy the government by trying to preserve nature, like the Gezi protesters, you are named as terrorist, as if you are the slayer, destroyer…


Getting back to the subject, the exhibition ‘’Bu Daha Başlangıç’’ is a milestone for me as being the first exhibition about the Gezi Protest and I believe that it helps keep the resistance spirit alive.  I clearly remember that, after I got out of the exhibition, the things I saw it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was sickened that those eight people had to die and felt such anger towards those who are responsible for these deaths. As a participant of the Gezi Protest, I appreciate all of the people who made this beautiful project come true.  At that point, I didn’t even think that Attila Durak, Kemal Aslan and the others from Nazım Hikmet Culture Center and Nilüfer Municipality would end up getting sued.

Unfortunately, day by day I realize that our freedom of speech, protest and even living are getting taken from us and the circle is tightening… Maybe, I will be the next, who knows?

In short, I want to scream that;

We won’t give up the fight!

We won’t forget that the government turns its back to the enlightened!

And without you we are not completed!

Get involved, be the part of the change!


Happy goats, under the microscope.


At 11 am we had a meeting at Mutlu Keçi (happy goats) Primary School. We departed from Gümüşlük Academy in Bodrum to the school to meet teachers. We were so lucky to have parents, children and teachers all together there because it was the last day of the school year, so we found a chance to talk to both children and parents in addition to the teachers. The first student from the first grade told me that they can take drama classes, plant vegetables and explore animal species. Actually, before visiting the school I heard so many positive commentaries from Nick from Ashoka, and Lisa because she met one of the founders of the school. Nick told us in our meeting that in this school the most important thing is children’s wishes, creativity and the school is based on ideals such as democracy, human rights, independent financing and alternative education.  As we got there I was staring at the building, plants, children to confirm the reputation of this utopic place. Two children told us that the school that they were transferred from wasn’t like that and according to them, it was so boring to sit in the classroom, not to have drama, music and painting classes in their former schools. I don’t think actually that they didn’t have music and painting classes, but maybe the quality of these classes weren’t as high as they have here. Then again, that’s what they said.

After talking to kids for a while, we wanted to have a look at the classrooms and talked to two teachers. We saw there a banner like ‘’Private Yahşi Primary School’’ and asked if we know the school’s name correctly and the response was that ‘’Happy Goats’’ didn’t get recognized by the Ministry of Education because of goats’ being stubborn and getting perceived negatively in the society. As we stepped in the building, a billboard caught my attention on which teachers and children write their opinions, wishes and/or complaints and on the other side there was another board on which children write which classes they want to attend other than compulsory lessons such as Mathematics, Turkish, English etc. Up until that time all the positive signs were overlapping with what I heard about this place. We went upstairs to look at the classrooms. Even though the classroom were not well designed, I first attributed it to being the last day of the school.  After seeing other rooms I changed my mind and decided that they didn’t give much importance to design. Furthermore, we were told that the restrooms are gender neutral. At first I liked that idea but after discussing this with my friends I came to the conclusion that separate restrooms may make both women and men much more comfortable. Nevertheless, I saw their point to teach students gender equality. Not to mention, before visiting the school we all learned that one of the teachers that we would be meeting is transgendered and it sounded great to me because since I had never seen any transgender person as a teacher. The teacher acknowledged that in one meeting the manager of the school said that children learn in their daily lives that gender is something that can be changed but this sounded to me that having a transgender teacher is something to promote. He told us that he and his colleague are opposing something with the school management  such as teaching children songs that promoting militarism, nationalism, and traditional gender roles.

One of the teachers we talked to was complaining about not being able to keep up with the syllabus because some people consider being in this school as a leisure time activity but after her talking to the children about this problem, all the students put more effort on homework and class assignments but according to her, the problem is even the teachers’ not knowing the concept and mission of the school because they are only told what this school’ missions are not, but not what the mission is. It reminded me the definition of orientalism according to Edward Said that is the West’s defining itself as an opposition of the East. The teacher also acknowledged that one of the school’s five founding ideals is human rights and how it’s something not to single out out of because it is actually essential for every institution. Finally, I want to mention that teachers think that the seminars they were sent to was not enough for their orientation, because all of them were theoretic but all they need is something to show them how to apply the thing they have learned and heard. At the end of our interviews they told us that the managers will open three more ‘’Happy Goat’’ schools in İzmir, Bursa and Ankara but I am not sure if this beneficial or not because as we observed there are some conflicts, problems and confusion about this new system and it would have been better when the managers carry on by being sure that all the problems are solved and the system is ready to get spread to other cities in Turkey.

After visiting this school, I found out that everything is not as it seems and Mutlu Keçiler didn’t fit into the model I created in light of what I heard from others, especially the person  from Ashoka.  For that reason,  I would  suggest people to measure the impact of the projects to be more skeptical about social entrepreneurship and the change making process and detect the current situation by talking to different stakeholders associated with the venture. For instance,  almost everyone we talked for our field school mentioned about çöp(m)adam and how this project changes women’s lives, affects the entire society and the environment, and I didn’t get disappointed when I visited the atelier after talking to local residents, atelier workers and the founder because what was happening on the ground matched the way people described what was happening on the ground. Lastly, when doing research about a social venture, it is important to survey its entire map of influence to understand what kind of change is being effected.

Demonstration in Zeytinli Village


Today I woke up at 7:30 am and went to the hamam in the farm and had a shower. When I got there, I appreciated again the people who built this farm because by using only natural products they made an artwork which also can be seen from every part of the farm. Afterwards, after having breakfast, we went to Zeytinli for a demonstration against dams planned to be built in this village.Before going there, actually I was expecting to encounter several police forces (jandarma), so much local people from different age ranges to participate but I never expected  to see trade unions there and got surprised when I saw them there demonstrating because after the mine incident in Soma, Turkey, I lost my faith in them for not getting involved as much as they should. Seeing them there together with people that also came from other villages was a very good example of solidarity for me. Not to mention, it was very tragic for me to think firstly about police forces when it comes to talk about demonstrations. Finally, we gathered with others in a small home-like olive press store and thought that in Istanbul one of the healthiest things for me is olive oil but after seeing this kind of production style, I got alienated from the industrialized foods in big cities.

After meeting people there and joining in a big group of people in the village, we started to walk to the Kaz Mountain and while walking there I met one of my high school teachers and this was of course what I didn’t expect, so I was amazed. By the way, people came there really liked our banners and I was very proud of holding this in front of which people got taken photo. During the demonstration I talked to two men and the first one told me that in last 100 km they have already 3 dams and this village is self-sufficient in terms of having water. Yet, the Turkish state has been justifying this upcoming dam in the village by saying that the villagers don’t have enough water. At that time I recalled Levent Soysal who told us about ‘’ecologic justifications’’ of the state. The man who I interviewed said that they didn’t get informed about this issue well and one day workers came and gave a start to this project by putting maps and signs in the middle of a land in that village. He continued, stating that  most of the people in that village are very aware of this threat and actually do respect nature.


After the demonstration, we visited a farmer who grows so many different vegetables. We bought what we needed from there  for that night’s dinner. I felt there the joy of experiencing slow food and I thought that I wish I could have a field like this. This night, the table was set really nice because of the birthday of Attila and the most interesting, enjoyable part of the dinner was talking about our experiences here and comparing Dedetepe with Istanbul. I talked about my first experience washing dishes during which I got the feeling that the dishes couldn’t get clean because of the detergent I used and the delicious, organic plums I ate which symbolizes the natural life that offers me healthy and delicious fruits.

Juxtaposition between Bebek & Balat

photoOn Tuesday (06.03.2014) we were assigned to go to the field and explore Bebek and Balat. As a Turkish girl, I already had expectations in my mind about both places. In Bebek I was expecting to see luxurious restaurants, fancy cars, and well-dressed people in addition to people who jog on the boardwalk. Several months ago I watched a movie called ”Bir Küçük Eylül Meselesi” and the main actress’ well-being was represented with the setting in which there is a very popular restaurant Lucca, a sports car in front of it and  a good-looking, chic woman. Actually my expectation about Bebek was no different than that, but after a while, I found out that I was mistaken. After seeing the ”bright side” of Bebek, I got involved in three conversations with local people who are street vendors. The first man was a simit seller and he told me that he was not happy with new Bebek all the restaurants, bars, and fancy cars in it and he continued saying that there are only five or ten people in Bebek who are originally from Bebek. According to him, people are here just to show their wealth and as far as I understood from this speech he thinks that people behave here just like they are on a catwalk. The second man was an ice cream seller. He had a small store and he told me that he is really content with the population in Bebek and the crowd that makes him earn much more than before, so even though there were twenty inches between the two sellers, they had totally different opinions. The last man, a flower seller, was the one who complained the most about Bebek and told me that people are no longer noble and generous like before.  They will pay $50 for a hamburger menu but won’t even buy a bouquet of flowers for $5. Additionally, he mentioned also about not making money like ten, fifteen years, so also according to him people choose this place just to pose and impress the crowd or just the person they’re with.  It was actually not the thing I was expecting before coming to Bebek, because I have never been into the other side, which is the side of the street vendors. Two vendors showed me how this life affected them in a bad way and how depressing their situation was because there is a huge wage and class differential  between those who want to make money and compete with the restaurants or other luxurious places. These short interviews showed me how  a municipality can actually be a heterogeneous place because when people talk about Bebek, the first thing comes to people’s mind is wealth and welfare. In reality, it is not applicable for everyone.

Afterwards we went to Balat, which is also near the sea, and had our lunch there. During our lunch we had a conversation with the owner of the restaurant who is 85 years old. He told us his story. And this was the thing I don’t think we can experience in restaurants in Bebek because usually everyone is in a hurry.  They just  do their jobs and don’t even get involved in conversation because time is money.  After having lunch we went to Çarşamba, where Greek Orthodox churches and mosques are located.  Actually, this neighborhood is known for its residents’ religiosity and there I had a chance to interview two men with one of my friends. In the first conversation the man didn’t even look at my face. He talked to my guy friend and I wanted him to acknowledge me and wished that I worn something much more modest. Even though I felt that I didn’t belong to this life style, what I experienced there was real. I didn’t feel like I was surrounded by catwalk models and fancy cars. After this trip, I came up with the idea that the West’s definition of the East can’t be applicable to every land because even in Istanbul people’s way of living, dressing are completely different from each other. We can’t base our definitions on stereotypes which are extremely biased. And you can only recognize the biases by being there.