Life in tent

Life in tent

Life in tent

After a month in the earthquake zone, shelter for the ones who’ve lost their homes still remains a largely unresolved problem. The news that the Turkish Red Crescent had sold 2,050 tents that were in its stock to AHBAP, a local aid organization, instead of giving them directly to the use of people in the first days of the quakes has already sparked debate. While tension on the tent issue continues, ironically the word “tent” and “tension” have the same root word “tendere” in Latin, meaning to stretch, referring to the stretched fabric that forms the shelter of a tent. While the tent issue stretches the nerves of people watching anguished masses, there are exemplary tent cities that can be a model for disaster-struck areas. Besides the regular containers, Sweden’s flat-pack furniture giant IKEA came up with a tentative disaster home, that might be a shelter solution, especially in the rural countryside for the ones that want to remain close to their fields and animals.

Coming back to tents, one of the most orderly tent cities was created by the Kyrgyz aid, when the Ministry of Disaster of Kyrgyzstan started to set up traditional Kyrgyz tents for earthquake victims in Kahramanmaraş. The tents are strangely familiar to Turkish culture, perhaps engraved in our genetic codes, we must remember that Turkish people are no strangers to tent life when we consider that Turks migrated in nomadic tents all the way from Central Asia to Asia Minor. The traditional Kyrgyzstan tent is called “Bozui,” meaning “gray [boz] house” because of the grayish color of the felt cover. It is not affected by rain, snow and sun and is warm in winter and cool in summer. The tents can be set up in about half an hour and at the same time, the sun enters the tents by opening the top flaps.

At this point, let’s look at the diverse and rich tent culture of Turkic people, which can constitute a pretty plausible model for such temporary accommodation needs. When we look at the Turkish word “çadır” for a tent, it comes from the root “çat,” meaning to fasten together, to bring together, to unite. Overall, it refers to a well-designed construction built together to form a shelter. When we look at the world of Turkic tents, we see that they are all circular, set up in a way so that the door faces the south, and the light comes from the top window, both letting the light in, and also creating a perfect ventilation spot, an escape for the stagnant air. The circular wall of a traditional tent is a trellis structure made of wooden lattice bound together with knots made from rawhide. On the very top of the tent is a wooden ring, or a roof wheel, supported by wooden columns. This is the core of the tent, or the house, where the hearth is placed, the fireplace and the stove are located. The daily life revolves around the stove, namely “ocak,” which means fireplace, but also a term used both for a house, or a chimney in Turkish, chimney representing the livelihood of a house, a symbolic word that demonstrates that family is safe and sound, warm and protected, and above all food is being cooked, they are fully satiated and satisfied. When “ocak” keeps going and lit, chimney keeps smoking, it means life is going on!

There are numerous words for Turkic tents, “yurt” being the most common. Interestingly in modern Turkish usage, it means homeland, but also a word used for dormitory. Quite a just meaning where tent cities are like dormitories for the homeless. Ironically, Turkish universities decided to have remote classes as their dorms were to be allocated to quake victims. In a way, the students’ dorm was becoming a new temporary “yurt” or home for newcomers.

Turkishness has a great relation with tents. The mighty Ottoman army had its power from its tent organization. Ottoman army can easily be described as a moving city of tents, with an outstanding spatial organization, as if floating slowly towards new lands to be conquered. On the other hand, we still have semi-nomadic tribes wandering in the pasturelands in the east herding sheep and goats, or the Yörük tribes of the massive Taurus Mountains living in black tents. Yörük nomads are of Turkish ethnic subgroup of Oghuz descent, their name comes from the verb, “yürümek,” meaning to walk. They also inhabit the mountainous areas and pastureland of Thrace and the Balkan peninsula; in some areas, they are called Turcoman or Turkmen. Many people in Türkiye take pride in having a Yörük descent, even if they left nomadism centuries back. Naturally, herders Yörüks are famed for their dairy products, having a yogurt-centric diet.

In the recent past, the government has been supportive of Turkish traditions to be revived, in particular, traditional nomadic sports, especially the son of the president is fanatically devoted to traditional Turkish archery, supplying great funds to revive a long-lost tradition. The fourth World Nomad Games took place in Bursa last October. While speaking at the opening ceremony, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that they perceive Nomad Games as the “conservation of a cultural wealth” that is gradually disappearing and they aim at creating a ground that will sustain a tradition. He added: “None of us can give consent to let this culture disappear, which has marked thousands of years of civilization. We see great benefits in keeping the nomadic culture alive with different aspects.”

Well, the core of our nomadic culture is a tent. A single tent is like a universe for a nomad. As said, in its core is the hearth, “ocak,” where the fire is, where the food is cooked. “Ocak” resonates with life, it literally and metaphorically represents the heart beating. Wish our tent culture was equally treated as a cultural heritage, it could have been of help in times of disasters, in a land where disaster is a repetitive fact, be it a quake, a hurricane, a fire, a flood, or the coming insidious threat, the draught. After all, the reason why our Turkic ancestors migrated from Central Asia towards the West to settle in Asia Minor was the big draught. There is a lesson to be learned from a simple tent!

Aylin Öney Tan,