Yoruks, The Nomadic Turks of Anatolia and Rumelia.

The term, "Yörük", is applied to nomadic Turks in Anatolia and Rumelia. These shepherds migrate into the uplands in the winter, and further down the mountains in the fall. With an increase in population, pasturelands have diminished, so that most Yörüks have been forced to live in settlements. This was not always the case, for until the early 19th century there were hundreds of thousands of Yörüks living on Ottoman territories in the Balkans as well as in western Anatolia. Records indicate that in the mid-13th century there were 200,000 Yörük tribal families living in tents between Denizli and Izmir alone. The existence of a further 100,000 tents was reported in the Kastamonu region of north central Anatolia, and 30,000 between Kütahya and Afyon.

In the early 16th century, we find 72,268 Yörük tents in western Anatolia, compared to 368,398 settled hearths in the same region. Today you will see at most five Yörük tents in any one camp during the winter in Adana, Mersin and Antalya while in the summer, a trip to the Taurus uplands may reward you with the sight of some twenty or thirty Yörük tents in a given camp.

Summer and Winter-The Yörük Cycle

The Taurus uplands, beginning at 1,600 meters above sea level and going as high as 3000 (from about 5,000 feet to 10,000), offer rich pasturage for Yörük sheep. The same pattern is repeated in eastern, southeastern and western Anatolia. During the winter, these people come down to graze their flocks along the coast or in the coastal plains and valleys, where the climate is mild. Here the Yörüks shelter in their goat hair tents, waiting for the warmer months to come. A fee must be paid to the local villagers for the privilege of grazing their flocks. In winter, Yörüks seek grass for their livestock, some assurance that they will not be harassed, and firewood to keep warm. During summer, the first two necessities are the same, and although firewood is less of a concern, a supply of water becomes all-important.

The Yörüks Move

The Yörüks travel a long distance. At the minimum, it takes a week to move from the uplands to the lowlands, or vice versa, and in some regions this can take as long as two weeks or even a month. It is a memorable sight to see these people as they move along with their vitality and endurance. In early May, the days begin to get warmer at sea level, where the Yörüks spend the winter and part of the spring. Then the pastures turn brown, and the leader of the group calls a meeting in his tent to decide on when to move. Once the day is set, the clan suddenly springs to action. The women do a large batch of laundry, sew new clothes, and bake bread for the trek, while the men repair the saddles for the horses and the pack animals. The time has come to move. Early in the morning the livestock are gathered and the drive begins. Then the beasts of burden are loaded with tents, woven articles, bedding and quilts, and of course provisions. Most of the Yörüks will be making the long journey on foot, but the children and the elderly go on horseback, as do the heads of families. With these mounts leading the way, and the beasts of burden in file behind, the clan slowly gets going. This is an occasion; the women, girls, lads and children are all dressed in their newest, brightest clothes; the long skirts are as flowered as the mountainsides themselves. The young girls, and newly wed ladies lead the animal procession, and are responsible for those great swaying burdens that carry all of their possessions. The lead camels are decked out in woven harnesses decorated with all sorts of beads, and their loads are covered with multi-colored kilims. After camping during the night along the way, the clan finally reaches the upland pastures. Everyone helps at the campsite. The route followed is the same each year, and if anyone should die along the way, which sometimes happens, they are buried in one of the graveyards that dot the wayside, or in a village cemetery if there happens to be one nearby. Summer is the time when the Yörük migration offers the greatest pageantry. Starting in September, the clan moves down the mountainsides to midway pastures where they can spend the fall. Then at the end of October they make the rest of the journey down to the winter pastures.

The Yörük

For the clan, their flocks are the main source of their livelihood. Even the material for the felt huts and great black tents they shelter in, are fashioned from animal products. The huts are made of sheep's wool and the tents are woven from goat hair. The Yörük eats meat, pounded wheat, greens, and food made with sheep and goat's milk, which also provide him with butter, cheese and yogurt. Like the wool and goat hair, dairy products obtained from livestock are sold when a market is set up nearby. The money earned in these transactions goes to buy winter provisions. Don't look for the Yörük to haggle vehemently over prices. He leaves that to the merchants and is satisfied with a very modest profit.

However, a trip to the market means a great deal, for here the Yörüks have contact with friends and relatives from other clans. It is on market day that the Yörüks get mail from their sons in the army or from relatives who live far away. Since, these nomads live in tents, they have no permanent addresses, and so letters are sent to a shop to be picked up when the Yörüks come to town. During the winter, the clan sends the children to school in nearby villages. However, their migratory life makes regular schooling, and for that matter, voting, a near impossibility. Military service, however, is another matter. Every male of the clan does his stint in the army, for he knows that otherwise he will lose respect. As for religious holidays such as Friday prayers and the twice-a-year Bayram holiday, the Yörüks go to the mosque in the nearest village. In the uplands and lowlands there is a different solution. Carpets and kilims are spread on the ground and a circle of stones is laid around them, then prayers are conducted by a male member of the clan acting as imam. Another Islamic religious rite, which is strictly observed by the Yörüks, is circumcision. There are individuals who roam the uplands and lowlands, performing this quasi-medical service in return for butter, wool and goat hair.

The Yörüks are a people who admire cleanliness, and who love weddings. Marriages usually take place in the lowlands, during winter, or else at the end of summer. But whenever you chance to drop in at their tents you can be sure of a warm and heartfelt welcome. They offer what they have, butter and cheese unfailingly, and for special guests they offer the meat of a freshly slaughtered lamb or kid. When a male goes off to the army an animal is sacrificed and the meat is given to guests and other members of the clan. When someone comes back from his stint in the armed forces in good health, a similar offering is made.

Women have a prominent role in the Yörük life-style. To begin with, the oldest woman in the family manages the tent. The women are the "mainstay of the tent”, as the Turkish expression has it. They give birth to the children, play host to visitors, weave the tents and saddlebags, and make felt. They milk the animals and sew the clothes. Women, too, wash the newly sheared fleece and goat hair, spin and dye it, and turn it into small multi-colored articles. They light the fires in the tents, cook the meals, and make the bread. In their words, without women there would be no "Yörük Life". All this should not be taken as implying that the men sit idly by, for they are the ones who must guard the camp and make trips to the market and to town. They also carry loads on their camels for the local villagers to earn some extra cash.

When it comes to relations between men and women, the Yörüks are a fairly open society. Young girls and boys tend the sheep and goats on the hillsides and the men and women speak to each other freely. Whereas in village settlements a young man often feels compelled to kidnap the girl he loves if the family doesn't give him permission to marry her. Very little of that goes on among the Yörüks. Honor matters to them, and it is rarely violated.

A people of firm moral values, the Yörüks are also frugal. Whatever their livestock provides they use. When a goat is slaughtered in the uplands, they save the horns to peddle later to some gypsy in the valley. The gypsy will carve the goat horn into a dagger blade, and pay for it with a bracelet, knife or ring. The Yörük also uses the entrails of the animal he has slaughtered and cleans them in order to store butter or wool. On the clan's return to the uplands they barter items with a villager for molasses, pomegranate juice, chickpeas or raisins.

The Yörüks are a people who have maintained their vitality over the centuries in the face of heavy odds.

Reference: BYEGM/Republic of Turkey

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