Changing sheepskin into fur in eastern province
Wilco van HERPEN Hürriyet Daily News
In Şanlıurfa, there were at least 120 workplaces that were preparing the sheepskin for clothes, carpets, etc. Nowadays, of all those places just four remain.Şanlıurfa is a place that, like Istanbul and some other Turkish places, plays with your fantasy. Wandering around it feels like you become a part of a fairytale in the 1001 nights. The old center of Şanlıurfa is a mixture of wide-open spaces, narrow streets and countless hans. The city tells you its story as you walk around. In the covered market, the street signs tell you what kind of professions were to be found there. There is a copper street where people are still decorating the copper with different motifs. The sound of the hammer beating and shaping the copper trays, working on the cezve for making Turkish coffee, is like music to me. In one of the workshops a fire is burning. A man takes a plate, puts it on the simmering hot coals and, once the plate is hot enough, puts on a little bit of tin to protect the copper. With a cloth he smears the hot tin over the plate and dips the sizzling hot plate in cold water.
In another street, side-by-side, little tailor shops make jackets, shirts or trousers. Young children, old man; everybody kicks their sewing machines. Some of the boys are not more than 10 years old and I think about my child. I personally am not in favor of child labor but this is such an easy thing to say, being in the position I am in. When I ask them if they attend school most of them reply that they do. In the morning, or afternoon, they go to school and the rest of the day they work.
The economy of Turkey has grown rapidly the last couple of years and the middle class has also grown. But for the under layer of society sometimes not so much has changed. Life is expensive and with a salary of 800 Turkish Liras a month it is hard to survive. So in a way I can understand that those people send their children out to work although I feel sorry for those children.
While walking through the old center of Şanlıurfa, I suddenly see an inner yard. In a corner of the inner yard I see a big pile of sheepskin. I climb the stairs I see and when I get to the first floor a man appears in the doorway. I greet him and when I ask him what he is doing he tells me that he is changing sheepskin into fur. Imam Paradas started as a young child to earn some money for the family. His father died when he was seven years old and there was no money to send Imam to school.
Instead he had to work. Imam found a job as an apprentice starting at the bottom of the powerful hierarchy of the fur makers. He had to clean the floor, hand over the tools, wash the sheepskin and slowly was allowed to start cleaning the sheepskins himself. Years later after his master decided to resign, he took over the business. Now, at the age of 53, he is not very optimistic about the future of his profession. When he started working, there were at least 120 workplaces that were preparing the sheepskin for clothes, carpets, etc. Nowadays, of all those places just four remain. And that is not the only problem he is facing. Nowadays it is very difficult to find sheepskin and on top of it all the city council has closed down the old water basins where they used to wash their prepared skins. According to the city council it is bad for tourism; it smells and looks dirty. Therefore they closed all the, very old, washing places and gave him a place further out of the center. According to me, looking with the eyes of a foreigner, I think the city council has made a big mistake.
What would I like to see as a tourist in Turkey? Original authentic life is one of the things I would like to see. That includes those craftsmen who still maintain the almost vanished professions like Imam. People like those old traditions and in the Netherlands we do not find those kinds of jobs anymore. Think about it, walking around in Şanlıurfa you meet this guy while he is cleaning the sheepskins. Imam tells you about his profession and shows you what they make of it. After your chat you continue walking around in the closed bazaar until you see a beautiful cape made of sheep fur. Now this has got a meaning for you and you might decide to buy one. I for example bought one to wear when I have to go to a black tie party at the Dutch consulate. It is different, local but at the same time something beautiful to wear.
Therefore I hope that either the city council or the government will do something to support the people who continue in a profession that is on the brink of disappearing. Let us not make the mistake that 20 years later we say; I wish we had invested in it, now he is gone. Where can we find information about this profession? How was he doing it? It is already too late for some professions so let us support Imam and take care that at least he, and of course many other craftsman, will be able to continue.