The green mountains of Düzce
WILCO VAN HERPENThis weekend I went with news photographer Ali Öz to Düzce. Most people know Ali as a very hard-working and dedicated photographer. You can find him wherever there is “hard” and “hot” news. For over 30 years he has been covering the news and funerals of not only famous politicians but also of unknown political activists and organizations. Whenever and wherever there is a demonstration you can find Ali with his, as he calls them himself, “guns that do not kill.” Gazi Mahallesi, hunger strikes in Istanbul’s Küçükarmutlu neighborhood, the Saturday mothers or the Gezi Park demonstrations, Ali will be there. Over time, it is as if his cameras have become an inseparable part of his body.
With his archive of more than one million pictures, Ali might be one of the most active and longest working news photographers of Turkey. I invited Ali for my photography program at IZ TV and wanted to put him in a situation that he is not too familiar with: Nature.
So this weekend I went with Ali to Düzce to visit some Abkhazian villages, in the beautiful green mountains and meadows. As expected, for the first couple of hours Ali was in a kind of shock, but he managed to pull himself together faster than I expected. Soon he was running around like an excited mountain goat taking pictures of snails, beautiful valleys and Abkhazian people.
Just a three hour drive from both Istanbul and four hours from Ankara you will find Düzce. It is a nice place to spend a couple of days. Düzce is really the center of the province, and from there it’s easy to go to any village you would like to visit. If you would like to go around without any specific goal in mind, as a kind of alternative guideline I’d recommend that you head for the mountains. You get on the main road and then take any road you want that leads towards the mountains. I guarantee that you will stumble upon some beautiful scenery or picturesque villages.
Why I am so sure? Because I did the same this weekend. The plan that I had made did not work out. My idea was to go to one specific village at the other end of the road, but this did not work out. So instead I took a road that led me to the village of Tavvak. My crew was getting pretty nervous as heavy clouds were surrounding us, while down in Düzce it was raining. I was hoping that once I got higher up, the rain would stop and maybe the sun would be able to break through the clouds. But when we arrived in Tavvak we found ourselves right in the middle of the clouds. All I could see were the silhouettes of a few houses and the local mosque. Somewhere, not too far away, I heard the bells of a flock of sheep, but I could not work out where they were. Taking a couple of pictures of the silhouettes of the houses I decided to find the sheep. It did not take long to find them, but I was quite surprised when I found out that it was actually a herd of cows. They stood so beautifully on the mountain slope; it was a perfect opportunity for some nice pictures. My surprise got even bigger when I discovered the shepherd: A woman who was quite eager to have a chat. We chitchatted about the village, the upcoming presidential elections, and politics in general. I was quite surprised to find such an outspoken woman in the middle of nowhere. She told me that for years she was quite satisfied about what the AKP had been doing, but that the news about the malpractice disturbed her very much.
That evening I dined in a restaurant in the center of Düzce and met one of its owners. Ali Yamaç and his brother run a meat restaurant called the Yamaçlar Et Lokantası. After the horrible earthquake that hit Düzce in 1999 most of the city center was destroyed. The area where Ali has his restaurant wasn’t affected too much by the earthquake, so therefore has a cozy feeling; much better than all the newly-built aluminum glass of modern buildings. While speaking with Ali it turned out that he too was an Abkhazian. He phoned around, spoke with some people, and found a nice village for us where someone would be able to help us with whatever we needed.
The next day we headed for the village of Saz, another Abkhazian village. In the area around Düzce, Bolu and Sakarya you can find at least 18(!) minorities. It is a melting pot of minorities and gives the whole area a different character. You might not be aware of it, but once you ask people during a conversation where their roots are you suddenly get into a completely different conversation. Turkey is much more of a beautiful, colorful mosaic then many people think. Like the rest of Düzce, the village of Saz is an incredible green. There are several waterfalls, each one more beautiful than the last and, as a surprise, in several places you can still find some original water mills where people are still grinding their corn or grain.
After a chat with a woman, and not being able to refuse her offer to drink fresh warm milk from her own cows, we saw an old house that looked like it was about to collapse. The whole setting was so beautiful that we decided to take a closer look. A bit later it turned out that this look would be a little too close… The house, made of wood and cob, had once been full of life. But the owners had passed away and their children now live in Germany. Nobody is interested in this cute little house anymore and, according to the neighbors who live 1 kilometer away, the house will probably be demolished one day to create space for a modern and luxury concrete house.
We went in, walked around, took pictures and were completely hypnotized by the beauty of the house. It was as if the people had left the house overnight; there were still beds inside, blankets in a corner, and I even found a beautiful old pan as a reminder that this house was once full of life. It always makes me sad to walk around in those houses but at the same time it fascinates me as well. When I walked in I saw that a part of the ceiling was weakened by the water that could enter via the many holes in the roof and the windows.
While walking around at the first floor, Ali asked me if I wanted to take a picture of him. I warned him that the floor might not be very solid, but he insisted and handed over his mobile phone. While I was still working on the composition, Ali suddenly disappeared through the floor. I was in shock and was scared that something bad had happened to him, but at the same time I was laughing. Running down I saw that Ali was all right, which made it easier for me to laugh a bit more, but I saw that he was quite shocked about what had happened to him.
Not to challenge his nerves even more, we went to Banur Tekir, who is running the Tekir Köy Evi (Tekir Village House) in Saz. She managed to find a doctor to look at Ali and fortunately concluded that nothing serious had happened. To compensate for his fright, Banur then offered us a nice Abkhazian lunch. I wish I had known before about her place, because besides the nice food that she can offer to visitors she also has place for six families to spend the night. The giant garden, the quiet environment, and the friendly people working there; I am sure that the next time I visit Düzce I will stay at her place.