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Organic agriculture route to freedom
|Residents of an eastern village give everything they own and take out a bank loan to buy their homes and lands from the local land baron. With help, they turn to organic agriculture and make their success story complete. The village head says, ‘In short, we are enjoying democracy’|
A village that gained its independence from the feudal ağa in the east of the country with a loan from a bank, is now focusing on organic agriculture for its financial independence.
The ağa system refers to the feudal land barons in the east, on whose lands villagers exists largely on subsistence, while most income goes to the ağa, who owns most, if not all, the land. Political parties usually prefer to deal with the ağa, whose opinion is followed by most villagers, rather then individually dealing with villagers and perpetuating the problem.
Residents of the Göbekören village in the Erzurum province, after generations of servitude, purchased the land they live on and the farms from the local ağa five years ago for YTL 585,000. They had to sell everything they had and then secure a bank loan worth YTL 400,000 in order to secure their freedom.
The 25 households and 190 people of the village of Göbekören, 66 kilometers from Erzurum's city center, found that without financial independence, freedom could not be enjoyed.
The village head, Ertunç Hamarat, said: "Our ancestors always worked for the ağa. We got a loan from the bank, put all our money together and purchased the land from the ağa. But we could not enjoy our freedom because we didn't even have the money to purchase the gasoline we needed to toil the soil."
He said they couldn't farm; yet the bank loan needed repayment.
Hamarat said just when their hopes were dimming three years ago, the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion for the Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats, or TEMA, arrived on the scene.
"We now have drinking water and modern stables. We are now growing organic chickpeas, lentils, trefoil and produce honey," he said.
TEMA Foundation's Erzurum representative Işıl Bedirhanoğlu said they introduced organic farming and animal husbandry to the village in part to reverse migration to urban centers.
EVYAP, a firm producing personal care products, joined TEMA in the project and is sponsoring the efforts in Göbekören and another village in Erzurum. The company said, "We are encouraging animal husbandry and farming for animal feed in the village."
"We are purchasing the village's produce for EVYAP at a higher than market prices because it is organic," said the TEMA representative.
The village head's wife, Şengül Hamarat, said she was involved in beekeeping, while her husband did farming. "From 15 beehives, I collect about one ton of honey every year. I never thought I would see such a thing. Under the ağa, women had no money at all."
Her husband was in an equally jovial mood. "For the first time in our lives, we work for ourselves and not the ağa. Nowadays, every family is easily paying off the bank loan. In short, we are enjoying democracy," he said.
State's servant, villager's ağa:
The YTL 580,000 paid by the villagers went to the ağa, Ali Haydar Sinan Güven, who died last year. Güven was a retired state servant who also served as the deputy governor of the Kırıkkale in Turkey's northwestern Thracian region between 1995 and 1999.
Ümit Kıvanç, a columnist to daily Taraf, criticized the existence of the ağa system in Turkey.
"The event happened in 2008, in a democratic, secular state with state of law," Kıvanç wrote. "The vice governor of the democratic, social state of law is an ağa who owns villages, including the land and the homes."