Turkey's last nomads roam Anatolia

GULNAR, Turkey (Reuters) - When summer comes to southern Turkey, the goats become restless and the Gobut family knows it is time to pack their tents and embark on the long trek north with their herd of 1,000 animals.

Muhammet and his nephew Efe Gobut sleep inside their tent near Konya, Turkey, May 21, 2018. Every year, nomads start walking from Mersin on the Mediterranean coast with more than a thousand goats, travelling to the central Anatolian province of Konya. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

The family is part of the nomadic Yoruk tribe which for more than a millennium has crisscrossed Anatolia, a region that includes much of Turkey. Half a century ago, 1,000 families roamed the Anatolian steppe but now there are just 86.

That drop mirrors a decline in the number of nomadic tribes worldwide over the past century due to industrialization and agricultural development.

The Gobuts are a family of eight spread over three generations. They spend six months a year on the road and live in tents made of goat fur.

They leave the southern province of Mersin in late April each year and arrive 600-km (372 mile) north in the central province of Konya in July, only to start the return trip a few days later.

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On the way, they pitch tents each night and while away the evenings beside a campfire built right inside their tents as their goat herd graze nearby.

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One family member sleeps outside with the herd and four shepherd dogs to guard against wolves that the family calls monsters.

The family makes its living from the goats. They make cheese from the milk, use fur to make tents and earn money by selling about a third of their goats en route.

Each goat has a name and is treated as part of the family. The smaller ones are transported on a pick-up truck.

“We never call them ‘animals’, we call them ‘companions’,” said Pervin Savran of the Sarikecililer Cooperation and Collaboration Foundation, which represents the Yoruks.

“Everything we do - eating, sleeping, waking - depends on our companions. Such is our bond,” Savran said. Staple food also includes tomatoes and ‘bazlama’, a flatbread made from freshly ground flour bought on the road.

The Gobuts have mobile phones but for news they listen to the radio for 15 minutes each evening. One son, Yunus, is given leave to miss primary school after April to go on the trek.

His sister-in-law Rukiye gave birth to her first son in April and a few days later was out shepherding the goats with her son in her arms.

Gulay, the family’s only daughter, studied medical supply marketing at a college in the mid-western province of Bilecik. She rejoined her family because she couldn’t find work, but said she misses the settled lifestyle.

“I had a social life in college ... (and) I could go to the hospital whenever I needed to”, she said. “But none of these exist in the nomadic life. We are alone with nature.”

More Yoruk families choose to leave their nomadic life behind as water becomes scarce and farmers and villagers become more hostile. Sometimes they even take goats hostage when the Yoruks enter their land.

“There are days when we have to migrate quickly at night on asphalt for hours while the main roads are still empty,” Savran said.

Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg