Climate Change Threatens the Continuation of the Yoruk Nomadic Culture in Turkey

Anatolia had been a crossroads of civilizations since history started, therefore a local indigenous people population does not exist as such.

Historically the ethnicities that existed in Anatolia and Asia Minor are shown on the above map. However, because of the immigration and occupations of other ethnic groups, none of the above show indigenous groups exist as a separate preserved minority. The region is mainly populated by Turks with Kurdish, Armenian and Greek minorities. The only group of people that could be classified as anything close to “indigenous people” are the “Nomads”, as called in Turkish “Yoruks”.

Turkish nomads are a group of people who have been living a nomadic lifestyle for centuries. Their traditional way of life is centered around herding livestock. They travel with their animals in search of fresh pastures and water sources. The Turkish nomads are also known for their colourful tents, which they use as temporary homes. They have a rich culture and traditions passed down from one generation to another. Their way of life is based on the principles of hospitality, generosity, and respect for others. They have a strong sense of community and family values. They often live in close-knit groups, and everyone in the group contributes to the well-being of the whole.

Their origins are probably from the indigenous peoples of Anatolia, and it is likely they were here before the Turkish tribes migrated down from North and Central Asia. They do not wander the length and breadth of Turkey but have definite routes and areas in the lowlands and highlands bordering the southern coast.

Yoruks come down to the pastures by the coast in the winter and in the summer, when the sun shrivels the vegetation on the coast, they move up into the mountains to the “yaylas”, the high mountain plateaus and valleys where there are sufficient grass and fodder for the animals until the autumn rains again regenerate the pastures on the coast. The traditional means of transportation of “yoruks’” are camels and horses, however, tractors are now becoming more popular amongst these groups.

Climate change is altering the course and speed of their annual journey. There isn’t enough rainfall in the winter, so where years ago they stayed for days on end in one spot, they now must keep moving daily. They also face challenges finding enough water and food to sustain them on the plateaus during hot and long summer days. Almost the only source of income for nomads in Turkey is the animals that they breed and feed. Their chance of competing with modern animal farms that operate in permanent establishments is diminishing every year. Although local governments and some NGOs still try to support the nomads to help maintain the culture, the central government has no substantial systematic support.

There are around 150 families – about 800 to 1,000 people – left in Turkey who still live the traditional nomadic lifestyle. In addition to social and economic pressures, climate change threatens the continuation of nomad culture in Turkey.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Turkey Country Manager Dr. Semih Ergur


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