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Mersin Citrus Festival helps put southern Turkish city on the map

MERSİN - Hürriyet Daily News | 11/30/2010 12:00:00 AM | EMI JOZUKA

Mersin’s first major Citrus Festival proves there is still definitely time for a burst of summer, carnival fun with over 50 different dance troupes, musicians and local groups. The festival, which took place on the weekend, is part of a drive to promote the Mediterranean province to a wider domestic and international audience, its main organizer says

Long overlooked next to the tourism juggernaut of Antalya, the southern province of Mersin has much cultural and agricultural heritage to share with the world, according to the organizer of the city’s first annual Citrus Festival.

“Antalya and Mersin are similar cities, yet tourism is much more developed in the former. Fifteen million tourists go to Antalya each year; Mersin only sees 2 percent of that figure – that's a big difference,” Abdullah Öztürk, the local Commodity Exchange Chairman and brains behind the festival, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Saturday.

The festival, which ran over the weekend, took Mersin’s key agricultural products, oranges and lemons, as its theme and sought to promote the importance of these fruits to a domestic and international audience through a weekend of festivities.

The city’s seafront was aflutter with orange and yellow flags, fruit sculptures and food stores, while the festivities kick-started on Saturday morning with a cortege of over 50 different dance troupes, musicians and local societies. Among the performers in the afternoon show were folkloric dance troupes from Bulgaria, Poland and Russia, capoeira and tango shows by Mersin University students and a special light performance from a Japanese troupe. The performances and distribution of free fruits and beverages continued through Sunday evening.

Conducting research online, Öztürk learned about a citrus festival in Menton, France. After visiting the festival to find out more, he decided that it would be a good idea to organize a similar festival in Mersin to promote more awareness of the region and its citrus fruits.

“I learned that the citrus festival in Menton has been running for over 70 years now. They no longer use their own oranges but import oranges from Spain and make various orange sculptures and hold festivities. I wanted to do something similar in Mersin, as the park and space along the seafront seemed like an ideal location,” he said.

“In Menton, they organize the festival to promote tourism – drawing in visitors from France and Italy,” Öztürk said.

[HH] Trying to improve Mersin’s image

In addition to promoting awareness on the important role that Mersin plays in citrus production, Öztürk also wants to raise Mersin’s profile in the domestic and international arena as an important location for culture and tourism.

“There are many people of Kurdish origin in Mersin and sometimes the city is associated with the conflicts that are ongoing in [the southeastern province of] Diyarbakır,” he said. “Such problems occur in the outskirts of Mersin, not in the city center. Television channels broadcast such events. Here we do not feel like there is such a problem; but people living in Ankara, Istanbul and İzmir relate Mersin with these problems. That’s also another reason why I wanted to organize this festival – to show that Mersin is not like that.”

As well as promoting Mersin's profile as a key producer of citrus fruits, Öztürk said the cultural aspect and enjoyment factor of the festival was important as well.

“For two days, people in Mersin can have fun, see different things and listen to music and dance – it’s so that people can have fun,” he said.

Celebrating its first year in the making, Mersin’s Citrus Festival boasted a thoroughly enjoyable carnival feeling that has not yet been soured by the bittersweet cocktail of business and culture.

[HH] A key citrus producer and exporter

Mersin is a key exporter and producer of citrus fruits in Turkey, accounting for 70 percent of the country’s lemon production and 40 percent of the country’s entire citrus production. It exports its produce to a worldwide market, of which Russia receives the largest share.

Although the region boasts fertile soil and a climate ripe for citrus production, over the years, farmers have had to come to terms with the increasing prices of seeds and fertilizers and the decreasing price of citrus fruit.

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