An Audience with the Başkan

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.

 

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About Clashgour

With my wife Margaret I am spending a happy retirement based in Richmond, London. When travelling we use public transport where possible, resorting to a car when it is the only viable option. This blog is an occasional diary of our travels in North America, Europe and Turkey plus other places as yet unknown.
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7 Responses to An Audience with the Başkan

  1. Rose Shuttleworth says:

    A very interesting read Alan. Thank you. We shall see if you get any further. We got no-where as far as the water situation is concerned and my partner is Turkish!
    My partner is not an AKP party supporter, which by the way is passionately disliked by the cultured educated Turks who are fearful that this party has turned Turkey into a dictatorship now and will. Ring back much of what Ataturk strove to redeem.

    I just read that Under AKP leadership, Turkey has been relegated from the league of “Partly Free” countries to the league of “Not Free” countries, according to the latest report from U.S. think tank Freedom House.

    The report, titled “Freedom of the Press 2014,” concludes that global press freedom fell to its lowest level in over a decade in 2013, as hopes raised by the Arab Spring were further dashed by major regression in Egypt, Libya, and Jordan, and marked setbacks also occurred in Turkey, Ukraine, and a number of countries in East Africa.

    Citing the desire of governments, especially authoritarian ones, to control news content as the main reason for the regression, the report suggested that there were positive developments in a number of countries, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa but that the dominant trends were reflected in setbacks in a range of settings. Turkey, which was 117th in last year’s report, fell to 134th place.

    Libya, South Sudan, Ukraine, and Zambia also saw their statuses downgraded for 2013, while significant declines occurred in the Central African Republic, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Kenya, Montenegro, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.

    “The region’s [Europe] largest numerical change occurred in Turkey, which declined from 56 to 62 points and moved from Partly Free to Not Free. Constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and expression are only partially upheld in practice, undermined by restrictive provisions in the criminal code and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Turkey remained the world’s leading jailer of journalists in 2013, with 40 behind bars as of Dec. 1, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists,” the report said.

    Freedom House stressed that journalists were harassed while covering the Gezi Park protests and dozens were fired or forced to resign due to their coverage of sensitive issues like negotiations between the Turkish government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

    “The firings highlighted the close relationship between the government and many media owners, and the formal and informal pressure that this places on journalists,” the report added.

    As far as our local situation is concerned, my partner tells me that this new mayor is a very good man so we are hoping for continued but different good governance.

    I really would like to make a very positive statement about our last mayor.
    I came to live here in 2006 under the previous Baskan and life was so miserable! Water and power cuts were accepted as very regular occurrences with no information or appeal forthcoming.
    There was a tangible feeling of relief and rejoicing when the new mayor and his party came in and we were horrified to hear of the financial corruption that was revealed when he took over.

    Since then the village has been better signposted in English and Turkish, real efforts have been made to improve the water and electric situation and many areas have been opened up and look more beautiful than before.
    I have it in good authority that Kalkan has been left by the outgoing administration, heartily and heftily in the black by this last mayor, (who is very wealthy in his own right and was found not guilty of malpractices recently after many days of interrogation, as were all arrestees bar one.)

    I have also been told that some very wealthy tourist businesses in Kalkan had not paid water rates in many years and were very heavily fined by this last administration, so there are possible vendettas underway now. Corruption is obviously rife throughout Turkey but so it is in UK but here it is at least, on the whole more openly so than in UK!

    Also, the AKP party in power, nationally, changed the voting boundaries nationally to ensure that their party took greater power in these last local elections. (This happened in UK too with equal effect.)

    The organising of the new street surfaces has been a nightmare, but I cannot believe that any local party here would have done better. This is ‘village-Turkey,’ much of which we Europeans love so dearly and would not change, but some of which is terribly frustrating for we ‘control freaks!’

    The street animal situation is a dilemma. In my neighbourhood, we just had our local street dog, our loving friend and burglar-preventer, run over and left too seriously injured to save. All we neighbours, Turkish and Yabanci, miss her loving gentle presence very much.
    I love the fact that many dogs have greater freedom here to live closer to their true wild- natures on the streets here than they do when taken into a home but many, including my own family, would not agree with me so please may no-one harangue me over these unorthodox views. I promise you I have fielded enough of those in my now, long lifetime!
    However, I do know that the last administration did not do anything to help KASA deal with the programme to limit the numbers of street animals or to keep them healthy let alone to home so many and take them off the streets, keeping the numbers down.
    Living here all year, I know and love many of our very well behaved and loving street dogs and would hate to see them put into pounds.
    However, if the dogs are becoming a nuisance and a threat, then the LOCAL AUTHORITY should have the responsibility to remove them from the streets and keep them safely elsewhere. It is very likely too that some of the ‘pack-dogs’ have Turkish owners who allow them to roam. I have read that KAPSA records have photos of all Kalkan dogs and would know if any dog has an owner or is a true street dog. Surely it makes sense for a Belediye to start working with KAPSA, who are the only ones in the village who have actually rolled up sleeves and done something.
    I am one who has not, and am not a KAPSA member, but do support and admire what they are so lovingly doing and would hate to have no street dogs at all around. Many of them are very well loved and well behaved neighbours!

    • Clashgour says:

      Rose, Thanks for taking the trouble to provide such an informative commentary on the situation in Turkey and in Kalkan in particular. The plan will not be to remove all street animals, dogs and cats, – a long term feature of Kalkan – but rather to deal with the pack leaders and dangerous dogs. Also, and here I give a personal opinion, it would be good if the village dogs were taken back to their villages and not left to roam Kalkan. More than 20 years ago when we first came to Kalkan, cats were the problem. But cats seem to be less dependant on humans as long as they can find food. Dogs are more social animals and therein lies the problem.
      Alan

  2. Mike Green says:

    I have read your blog with interest but I am curious to know what exactly you asked the mayor to do regarding the Stray animals. Were any suggestions offered on either side?
    Also, were any other matters raised? I look forward to reading the next instalment.

    • Clashgour says:

      Mike, Thanks for reading the blog and thanks for your questions. The objective of this first meeting was to get the Baskan involved in the problem and I believe we achieved this with his promise to come and see things for himself. The next stage is to put a formal petition to him that will have specific proposals backed by a support from a cross-section of the resident and semi-resident community. No other matters were raised as the time was very restricted and it’s better that the meeting is remembered for one subject alone. Not sure when the next instalment will be published but KTLN will be keeping everyone up to date as progress is made.
      Alan

  3. Mike Green says:

    Thank you for answering so quickly. You mention ‘specific proposals’ What will these be, what is the solution in your opinion?

  4. Boots says:

    Did the Mayor visit though? Lots on dogs on Enjoy Kalkan and Trip advisor. Hardly a good advertisement for a holiday destination.

  5. Mike Green says:

    Just a thought you have said ” Also, and here I give a personal opinion, it would be good if the village dogs were taken back to their villages and not left to roam Kalkan.” Do you know which villages the dogs come from? If so I agree, why not take them back or insist that their owners, if they are owned, come and collect them?

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