|Kerim Ölçer is the 59-year-old owner of the
Olympos Restaurant. He says that his mother's grandfather came to Çirali
to cultivate wheat. From the 1940s to the 1970s there were only three
families who lived here: the families of Göçmen Ali Bey, Ulupinarli
Kocaramazan, and Yörük Abdurrahman Çavus. He said, the Ulupinar Creek,
which used to flow between Mount Omurga and Yanar, changed its course
during the flood of 1949. There used to be a lake to the northeast of the
city which extended from the cemetery to Karaburun. Some know-it-alls,
lead by the local leaders, decided one day to drain the lake. As a result,
the fish died, it became impossible to cultivate sesame, and the water
fowl left the area. The forest was chopped down, the swamp was likewise
drained and replaced by orange orchards in the hopes that they would
provide a stable income. Years later, the area had almost no forests left
and the barren lands were turned over to the Treasury.
Çirali is between two environmentally protected sites, one nature preserve to the north and one archaeological site to the south. During the 1980s Çirali embarked on a relatively unhealthy urbanization process where illegal construction became rampant. The local officials even opened a real estate agency and began to sell land that actually belonged to the Treasury, apparently with impunity. For these sales it was irrelevant that the properties purchased were without titles and construction licenses. The fact that the purchase was obviously illegal - causing many a court case between the purchasers and the Treasury - also appeared to have no negative impact on the prices of the property. All that mattered was the piece of paper received from the village chief confirming the right to usage of the property.
Given the current mentality pervasive in the government, individuals who blatantly misuse their power to "sell" land that belongs to the Treasury, or those that contribute to the destruction of the environment are highly unlikely to be punished. In fact, unbelievable as it might seem, they are at times rewarded for their activities to boost the tourism sector. The locals remember a case three years ago. Kemer municipality decided to demolish buildings that were too close to the beach, offering Treasury lands further inland to those businesses whose buildings would be demolished. However, the planned demolition was blocked by higher authorities. During various other construction projects, a wooded hill on the way to Çirali was completely leveled. Sand from the Çirali beach was used in the construction, changing the geography of the beach where the Caretta caretta nest. Power politics and greed, which seem to blind people to any other interests, clearly worked to the detriment of the environment here. Still, some environmental non-governmental agencies like the Natural Life Preservation Association continue to attempt to pressure government agencies to protect the fragile balance of the environment in the area.
Yet, some villagers and outsiders try relentlessly to get the government to annul the preservation status of the area. There are of course other villagers that understand that succeeding could have negative consequences for the village. Kerim Olcer knows that if the area loses its preservation status small entrepreneurs will be crowded out by large scale investment, profit oriented businesses will wreak havoc on the environment, and living there will lose whatever charm it still has. He speaks with nostalgia about the good old days when there were so many more Caretta caretta that came to nest in Çirali, so many more fish and birds in the lake. He says that the villagers don't like him much because of his views. "They fine the ones that build on Treasury property," he says angrily, "why don't they also fine the ones who sell the property to begin with?" But so many have recently relocated to Çirali, in hopes of "purchasing a piece of heaven on earth."
There are, however, some responsible individuals that respect the environment and are dedicated to preserving and protecting the area. Feza Toker is one of these activists. Formerly a physician, Feza goes down to the beach at the crack of dawn every day during the nesting season of the Caretta caretta, observes the tracks of the turtles and their nests, and reports his findings to the Association. Another activist Safak, now a teacher, formerly a physician as well, teaches painting in exchange for a very modest lifestyle and the satisfaction she gets from the glimmer in the children's eyes. Ayse and Selahattin Kalipci rent and operate Flora Bed and Breakfast. They are realizing their lifelong dream of creating a Mediterranean Garden with flora characteristic of the region.
Like the others, Ayse Dirikman Kalipcil explained, "We wanted to live a quiet life away from the crazed masses, so we came to Çirali." The way she describes the four seasons in Çirali makes you understand: "You smell different scents depending on whether you are going up or down Yanartas. At night, you see the stars or the moon, during the day the scent of lavender plants accompany you. December and January is the best time to hunt for mushrooms. The girls of the village grab a hold of their baskets and head towards the old mill. As they cross the creeks and merrily eat their oranges in the shade, you should keep walking. Make sure the creek is to your right. Along the path that goes through the forest, you must pay attention to the wild flowers, wild orchids and other flowers. And let's not forget about the Manisa tulips and various other beautiful flowers. During February, March, and April, you can feast on local foods cooked with a mixture of local herbs. By this time, the orange trees will have stopped producing fruits and started blooming anew. The smell is dizzying. If you go to the Olympos forest around this time, you can smell the bay leaves. Every little corner here has unbelievable plant cover. The green grass, daffodils under the winter sun, butterflies and quiet. This is just the time to go for a swim in the local creeks. There is a canyon on the other side of the mill which has many small pools and waterfalls. After you splash about in the water, you can feast on the picnic that you brought along in the shade of a maple tree. Then you can make your way through the pines and keep the trout that swim about in the other pools company. After you reach the top of the hill, you will see a magnificent view of Tahtali and Çirali. How about a nap under the pine tree with the best view? Now you are further above Yanartas, at the Eternal Flame Point. In May, everything starts blooming. Spring showers bring new scents to your nose. It's now time for the beach. In June, other summer plants begin to bloom. As you watch the magnolias under the moonlight in Olympos, you can't help but think that Orpheus must be taking a walk somewhere in the area as well. The oregano plants are in full bloom. Until the colors begin to change with the rain in the fall, your eyes can feast on all shades of green and yellow."
Who can resist this paradise? Anyone here will tell you that they love nature. Ignorance, however, causes even those that love nature to harm it. It seems that as a result of the underground water pollution caused by lack of planning for population growth, the fresh and delicious water that replenishes the wells in the gardens will soon become a luxury. One thing that might be considered to preserve the environment and encourage tourism could be setting up responsible camping sites in the area. The Green Point in Çirali, with its giant pine trees, caravans, and hammocks, is an excellent example of this sort of an endeavor.
I will never forget the night when I was waiting to take pictures of the nesting turtles. The waves were coming in like hordes of silver in the moonlight. One Caretta caretta suddenly appeared in this silver wave. Afraid that I would scare it off, I started waiting for it to nest from a 50 meter (150 ft.) distance. But suddenly, the giant turtle disappeared out of sight into the sea. I was very sad because I though that I had scared it away. The following day, Feza took a look at the tracks and concluded that the tortoise dug out two nests but left because it did not find the sand suitable for nesting. Even though it is illegal, construction companies continue to take the sand from the beaches, thereby destroying the delicate composition that has formed over millions of years. It is a real tragedy that as a result of the irresponsible construction companies the Caretta caretta have to slowly abandon the beaches that have been their nesting ground for millions of years. Dead fish that wash ashore, birds that leave their natural habitats, turtles that leave the beach where they were born without being able to lay their eggs are all bad omens for those that are concerned about the environment. The day we realize that keeping the delicate balances of the environment is an integral part of keeping humankind healthy, we will have begun a humane existence on this borrowed planet.
Kerim Ölçer's family was one of the first to settle in Çirali and appreciate its environment. They support the environmentalists against landowners' efforts to lift the protected status of the area.
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