Our idyllic retirement retreat on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey is not always the perfect place to live. At this time of year, being Spring, it is warm and sunny with the occasional shower – known in Turkish, would you believe, as “April Showers”. The bars and restaurants have started to re-open after the winter and the mountains are still cool enough for walking. But all is not completely rosy.
Packs of dogs have become a real problem, mostly at night. A few days ago we were walking back from a wonderful night out with very good friends at a harbour restaurant – The Moussakka – when we realised that a large pack of dogs was following and starting to surround us. The leaders were large Kangal cross-breeds. These dogs are bred for their ability to guard sheep and goats from people and wild animals. The dogs are known to jump up at people, tearing clothing, to chase after people on scooters and, from time to time, knock them off and also to attack dogs being walked on a lead.
The only thing that these pack dogs understand is having stones thrown at them. Sometimes just the threat is sufficient for them to back off but tonight it needed stones actually thrown at the leaders to get them to start to retreat. Kalkan streets are not very well cleaned so it was easy to find some loose road cobbles in the gutter. Margaret headed up the hill at a pace just short of running, whilst I aimed stones at the ring-leaders till they all started to head back down the hill. It had been a frightening and dangerous situation and one that we were very anxious not to experience again.
The next morning I read a post on Facebook from a friend who had been having serious trouble with dogs. I added some comments about our own incident which, in turn, led to more posts on the subject. A few days later I was invited to join a delegation of people, who had had similar experiences, to visit the local council in Kaş. The leader of the delegation was to be none other than “Top Cat”, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the English-language KTLN Kalkan News website. Also to be joining us were another Brit based in Kalkan and two Turkish residents. We all had own stories to tell and our Turkish friends would also act as interpreters.
It was then that I learned that this would be no ordinary meeting with Council officials, oh no, it would be with none other than the newly elected Başkan, the Executive Mayor. It was very good news to hear that our problem was being taken so seriously. The meeting was set for 10am but we were asked to confirm the time on the morning of the meeting before we left Kalkan in case his diary had been changed.
On the appointed morning my phone rang early and it was “Top Cat” to say that the meeting was definitely happening and could we all gather in the car park of the bus station. One of the Turks announced that he would drive as he didn’t like being driven by anyone else. He’s a builder and turned up in a small hatchback with buckets and builders rubble on the back seat where we were supposed to sit. A quick exchange of glances and it was decided that we would be going in “Top Cat’s” car. The second Turkish delegate had to cry off due to pressure of work so we three Brits set out along the beautiful road to Kaş.
During the course of the journey a phone rang and it was the builder to announce that one of his workers had had a motorbike accident and needed help. So now the delegation was reduced to the three of us. And we now had no interpreters.
Thirty minutes later we pulled into the town centre car park and walked the short distance to the Belediye, or Town Hall. The Başkan’s office is on the first floor. As we climbed the stairs it became clear from the general hubbub that we were not the only people who had been granted an audience. There were about eight people in and around the anti-room and through the open door, we could see more than a dozen people already in the inner sanctum. Gradually it dawned on us that our so-called appointment was really the right to join a queue of other petitioners.
At this point it’s worth a small diversion to explain the political situation in our local area. I hasten to add that any opinions expressed are mine and mine alone. Until the recent local elections, Kalkan had its own Belediye complete with Başkan, a man with a fine line in shiny suits, lots of policies and very little action. He was a member of the CHP, the major opposition party in Turkey. The local builders seemed to be able to break planning laws without fear of sanctions, and one of the chief officers of the Belediye has been in prison for several months, facing charges related to corruption in office.
The party of National Government, the AKP, had carried out a review of local authority boundaries and had decided there were too many and the numbers needed to be reduced by mergers. In our local area it was determined that seven Belediye would be abolished and that Kaş would become the administrative centre for a much larger geographical area stretching some 50kms along the coast and reaching about 50kms inland. One effect of this change would be that the AKP would have a much increased chance of winning the election as it tends to represent the village communities whereas the CHP tends to represent the urban business people. And so it came to pass. The AKP won Kaş and also the wider province of Antalya. The new Başkan was to be Halil Kocaer, a man from one of the local farming communities.
So back to the audience. Turks are not good with queues. Normally a Turkish queue has the appearance and reality of a melee. If we were to get to speak to the Başkan we would have to become Turks. It also became clear that there would be no privacy, everything is conducted with an audience. The chamber was a very large room with a big table for meetings to one side, a row of black leather easy chairs and couches, further rows of red leather armchairs and, at the head of the room, an imposing desk at which sat the Başkan in all his glory.
We sussed out the procedure. As one delegation came out of the room, another would rush in to take seats just inside the door. At the first opportunity we squeezed past an exiting group and grabbed three of the red leather seats. We were making progress. From then on it was a matter of shuffling from the red leather seats onto easy chairs when they became available, then moving closer and closer to the large desk. If our Turkish had been better we would now have more of an idea of the issues that are worrying people and of the Başkan’s responses. As it was, we sat in more or less total ignorance.
From time to time the Başkan rose from his seat and went to a small side room. It may have been a washroom/toilet, a place to make a private phone call or maybe just somewhere to have a quick smoke. As he sat listening to the petitioners, a constant stream of documents were being placed before him by officials for his signature. He obviously trusted his aides as he never read the contents before signing. He also answered occasional calls on his mobile phone. No one seemed to mind the interruptions.
And at last it was our turn to move on to the chairs in front of the great man’s desk. He stood and shook our hands issuing the normal polite greeting of “Hoşgeldiniz” – welcome, to which we replied, as is the form, “Hoşbulduk” – I feel welcome. Of the three of us “Top Cat” is by far and away the best Turkish speaker, and also being our leader for the day, he proceeded to explain our petition which was supported by some handouts that he had translated into Turkish. The handouts explained that polls undertaken over the years by KTLN clearly showed that dogs were the biggest problem voiced by the expat and visitor communities and that this complaint was growing faster than any other. The Başkan was clearly impressed. After hearing about our individual incidents we received a very positive response. He recognised that the problem was real. He would come to Kalkan one evening in the coming week with a view to experiencing the problem for himself. A result.
What will happen next remains to be seen but, in his recent election address, one of the proposals was to establish a dog pound for stray and troublesome animals. If our representations on the day lead to this action happening soon, we will be very glad.
The audience lasted just under 10 minutes and we expressed our gratitude for being seen. It was notable that the Başkan spoke in English on occasions but mostly spoke in Turkish presumably for the benefit of his officials. The two of us with minimal Turkish left the meeting extremely impressed by “Top Cat’s” command of the language and his ability to hold such a serious conversation with such an important man.
It was time to leave the inner sanctum, vacating seats for the next petitioners, and to go for a coffee in a café on the town square. It seemed to me that Halil Kocaer shows the potential of being a good person for Kalkan. The fact that he would see a delegation from the foreign community so early in his time in office bodes well for the future. My impression is that his grasp of English is good and that, when appropriate, he will be able to talk to the foreign community, especially the expats, in their own language. To the best of my knowledge, his predecessor never uttered a word of English even though the majority of home-owners in Kalkan speak English as their first or second language. And almost all of the wealth in Kalkan has been brought there by expats and visitors.