Green Dad recalls forestation campaigns in Turkey with Christian missionary, village bully
Musa Kesler – ISTANBUL
A 92-year-old retired forest engineer believes he has given life to more than 40 million saplings, which he calls his botanical descendants.
“The total number of saplings I have planted or I led others to plant exceeds 40 million, both inside and outside the forests. Whenever I see a space, I still want to plant a sapling there. They are like my children and grandchildren,” he told daily Hürriyet.
While he was studying at Istanbul University’s Faculty of Forestry during the late 1940s, he was also employed as a worker at the local forestry directorate. His career in forest engineering started in the southeastern Kahramanmaraş province after graduation in 1951.
Three years later, he was assigned to the Serinyol district of the southern Hatay province.
“Technical means were scarce. There were no tractors when we were founding the tree nursery in Serinyol. We were given four horses instead. We were supposed to get through with the help of the horses. We used to grow oats on empty lands,” he said.
Okutur and his colleagues founded Turkey’s first eucalyptus forest in Serinyol.
“As time passed, water in the 1,074-decare Haceraslı field shrank back. All that area became a eucalyptus forest. People used to call the eucalyptus ‘sulphate tree,’ because it used to be planted to drain the marshes. Draining the marshes was helping to get rid of the mosquitoes, thus the malaria. Demand for the eucalyptus grew so much that there were long lines of people wanting to get them.”
As part of the Marshall Plan, or the European Recovery Program ERP, some money was allocated for the forestation works. The targeted areas and tree types were determined in accordance with the soil and the socioeconomic needs. However, some villagers in Kahramanmaraş’s Pazarcık district were against the projects as they feared losing cattle grazing lands.
“We needed the support of the governor as we would do planting works outside of the forests. Otherwise, the villagers could prevent us entering the plots,” Okutur remembers.
“Thus, we needed a guard. I assigned a guy who was called ‘Hasan the Infidel’ by the villagers. We built a watch house for him, but he rarely stayed there. Nobody dared to approach the area as they were scared of ‘Hasan the Infidel,’ even though he wasn’t actually doing the guard job!”
Another forestation campaigner coming out of Okutur’s memories was an American Christian missionary living in Gaziantep.
Merrill N. Isley initiated the founding of the Gaziantep Tree Planting and Protecting Association in 1952, bringing together agriculturalists, teachers and chemists.
“A land of 816 hectares was forested between 1952 and 1970,” Okutur said.
Isley, who lived in Gaziantep until 1962, passed away in 1973 in the United States.
Ashes of his body were spilled onto the Dülükbaba neighborhood of Gaziantep in accordance with his will after getting a special permit from then governor of Gaziantep.