With the coming of the summer heat, Kurdish shepherds and milkers (known as ‘berivan’ in Kurdish) from towns in the Serhat region have started moving their flocks and herds to the summer pastures from Turkey’s eastern provinces of Hakkari (Colemerg) and Şırnak (Şirnex), where they have had a tough winter.
One of the pastures where the nomads are putting up their tents is the Feraşin Pasture, in the wilds of Beytüşşebap in Şırnak, at 2,625 metres above sea level. Nomads move from various towns and regions to this pasture, which is noted for its green cover, snow-covered summits and meandering streams and waters.
Bahar Borak (67) told MA that they had set up camp in what had been the village of Akarsu (Tengaxanê), which had been burnt and evacuated by soldiers and village guards in 1994.
She states that the village belongs to the people, but they had to move away because of the village destruction and consequently they had settled in Van.
“We decided to go to Van [Wan] after living in Beytüşşebap for two years. They had tortured my husband before they burnt the village. After letting my husband go, they organised raids on the houses, and we were lucky to escape alive,” she said.
“We went through some very hard times after we left here. There are now mountains between us and our lands. We have encountered great difficulties but we have not given up on our land.”
Borak noted that, in recent years, they had been coming to their village in the spring months and staying until the autumn. “It was forbidden before that and we couldn’t come. We arrived late this year because of military operations in the region. I love it here. I will not abandon my land and village till I die, because this is my land.”
Perihan Abi says they have been coming here, during the spring, for 30 years. “But this year, we came late because of the drought and the military operations,” she added. “We should have been here in the middle of May, but that didn’t happen this year.”
Abi also touches on life in the pastures. “It goes on from the beginning of summer to the autumn. We don’t stop from early morning until evening. The women take the burden of work on their shoulders. But despite everything, I love life in these pastures.”
Hacı Muhammed Özkan (60) has travelled to Feraşin from the Cizre district of Şırnak. He pours out his troubles regarding this year’s drought. “My whole life has been spent in these pastures. I have been working in livestock for as long as I can remember. The pastures are beautiful and peaceful. But there are lots of difficulties too,” he said.
He continued: “If we had been able to find somewhere to graze our animals in Cizre we wouldn’t have come this year. There is a risk of drought. Many of the pastures are not productive enough for us in this region and the grasses have dried out in many others. The snow that did fall has melted away, and there has been no rain at all. In the past, you would never see anywhere around here that was not verdant. But it’s not like that this year. We are short of places to graze our animals.”
Milkers have also begun their journey from Hakkari and its districts to the pastures with the rising heat. Women of Yemişli (Dotka) hamlet, by Sarıtaş (Dirbêsanê) village in Yüksekova, who have been making their living as milkers for years travel up to these pastures miles away for the milking.
Meşmile Kaplan (60) gets up in the early hours of the morning each day and sets off up to the pastures after breakfast. She says that they either sell the produce or store it for use in winter. “We make cheese or yoghurt from the milk. This is how we pass our days. We store the yoghurt and the cheese for the winter months, and we sell the butter. We use the money from the goods we sell to meet our needs,” she said.
Kaplan says that she continues milking despite her health problems, and she enjoys it. “I have been in this village for 40 years. Village life is lovely. In the old days, we used to go up to the pastures to milk the sheep and stay there for three months. We used to go up on camels and set up tents, but nowadays we go up by car. I get bored if I sit at home,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter how unwell I am. I’m happy when I come up to do the milking. They arranged a house for me to stay in Yüksekova, but I didn’t stay there.” She says the risk of getting ill is lower in the villages: “There’s a lot of illness in the city. Here, we have a natural life and we breathe clean air. We don’t have that in the city.”
Sixty-year-old Vahide Kaplan has been a ‘berivan’ for many years. She notes that life in the pastures has changed over time. Her people used to go up to the pastures on horseback but now they travel by car. She said that they sold some of their produce, kept some for themselves and shared out some to neighbours in need as well as relatives, and that they were happy this way.
“We used to stay for months in these pastures. People only had five-six sheep each, but there was peace,” she said. “We moved to a different pasture once a month. We used to have ground ovens that we had built at each one, and we baked bread in them. Now, we just come up by car to do the milking.”