Where the Mountains Flow Into the Black Sea

2018


This is an attempt to sail across the Pontic Mountains in Northern Turkey.

Here, it seems like the sea has forgotten to embrace its shore - beaches are almost nowhere to be seen, and people rarely turn their gaze towards it. The indigenous Pontian lives at peace with the mountain and, in return, it keeps him safe from crashing. Or, at other times, he becomes the involuntary hermit, who's been stranded on the shore ages ago by the roaring tempest, snuggling ever since under the protective shadows of the mountain. Thus, little by little, man has exchanged lighthouses for hundreds of minarets, praising the shore. A shore that has turned into a stronghold of Islam and to cross it is not an easy task. Oftentimes, a random passer-by had to decide whether I was allowed to take a picture of a woman who was a complete stranger to him. All my attempts to speak the language of this hive of solidarity and collective consciousness required of me to obey laws that I didn’t quite understand.

"If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain." So, I’ve decided to remain the foreign body in this flawless organism and I made these shots with an open human heart that doesn’t need any translation. I spoke with the people in my mother tongue and they spoke back in theirs. I came out with my naked soul and this nakedness was acknowledged, because there was nothing to cover anymore.

Idriz (Mollabey Köyü, Turkey, 2018)
Idriz (Mollabey Köyü, Turkey, 2018)

The Northwestern part of Turkey’s Black Sea coast is covered with an infinite ocean of hazelnut forests and gardens. The growers of this Turkish gold, whose price is ever determined by government policy, depended for its harvesting on tens of thousands of season workers who came all the way from the Southeast. Idriz is the chief of a few hundred Kurds, who were now scattered across the village gardens to harvest hazelnuts while he talked with the locals, sipping tea and watching over a few women from his group who were in charge of preparing yufka and gozleme for the starving workers.

Güdüllü, Turkey, 2018
Güdüllü, Turkey, 2018

At dusk, men gathered at the local tea house. Somewhere between the card and backgammon games they managed to share with each other their entire day – from A to Z. Nothing was spared. It was a cheerful routine talking about everyday things while sipping from Rize’s black tea.

Çayır, Turkey, 2018
Çayır, Turkey, 2018

The children, with their wide-open hearts, took pleasure in all that was new, different, or even in the most mundane stuff. They can be seen everywhere – out on the road, inside muddy yards, in front of crumbly wooden houses, at desolate beaches on the Black Sea coast; riding bicycles, bikes and motorbikes. They were beaming with the whole emotional spectrum that grown-ups quickly learn to hide or keep deep inside themselves as a result of the hard and often dissatisfying toil. Their mothers – if they were not in need or have given their lives up in the clutches of age, looked away from anything new and different, filled with surprise and suspicion; and even if they did look ahead, it was with great fear and concern.

Orhan (Kışla, Turkey, 2018)
Orhan (Kışla, Turkey, 2018)

Orhan was sitting, looking calm and tough, as if fortified in his rickety home. He was alone, his gaze ceaselessly turned towards the center of the small village.

Fevzi (Hüremşah, Turkey, 2018)
Fevzi (Hüremşah, Turkey, 2018)

The village of Hürremşah’s neighborhoods lies scattered across the high, curved valleys of the Pontic Mountains above Sinope, where asphalt covered the ancient cobblestone for the first time a mere couple of years ago. Fevzi is 32 years old, having been an orphan for a long time now, complaining of his lady neighbor who, he claims, is beating him; anyway, he can’t wait for Bayram to start when this half-forsaken village would once again pulsate in a full-blooded, human rhythm.

Toplu, Turkey, 2018
Toplu, Turkey, 2018

The sea was turbulent and wouldn’t let the fishermen in. It had, however, cast to its shores casual pieces of wood that the mountain had brought down through winding river beds. A few men and women gathered the abundant “catch”, stacking it into tight bundles across the desolate sea shore.

Friends being out for a drive around the sea (Toplu, Turkey, 2018)
Friends being out for a drive around the sea (Toplu, Turkey, 2018)

Coastal villages looked more recent; people were relaxing on the terraces and verandas of their one-storey brick houses. The sea was turbulent; nevertheless, a few cows, some children and a bunch of youths were enjoying the desolate beach, despite being scorched by the dry, warm wind.

Father and son (Köseli, Turkey, 2018)
Father and son (Köseli, Turkey, 2018)

Four generations of men were sitting inside a poor, tumbledown yard at noon. The youngest one and his father sat there all benign and quiet, smiling coyly, whilst their white-bearded ancestors kept staring; their eyes – filled with distrust; their arms – resting on their staffs. The youth was cheerful and trusting, but the shadow of old age hovered upon it, asking a series of questions behind a solid wall made of soil, faith, and strict, inherent distinctiveness.

Kids from Köseli (Köseli, Turkey, 2018)
Kids from Köseli (Köseli, Turkey, 2018)

Villages in the Northeastern part of the Pontic are poor, and children play fiercely and joyfully. They choose the road, the muddy yard or the village’s drinking fountain as their playground. Kind of fearful, kind of fearless, they are out of their parents’ watch. That’s how rare it is to see a car or a stranger pass by around here.

Ismail and his son Abdullah (Celâlli, Turkey, 2018)
Ismail and his son Abdullah (Celâlli, Turkey, 2018)

It was still early in the morning, but the herd’s bells echoed far away in the distance amidst the subsiding polyphony of the village muezzins. Ismail was surrounded by scary looking shepherd dogs and his round-backed son who was smiling with his gaze lowered down. He asked his son to put the gun away. It was meant to protect the herd from the countless "monsters" hiding in the forest. He was eager to know if we had a woman for marriage, be it an older lady. "My wife passed away", he said with a wild laugh accompanied by a dry horizontal gesture of his left-arm thumb across his neck, sharply cutting the air. "Bring me a wife. I’ll pay you. We got money here in the village."

Ismail and his son Abdullah (Celâlli, Turkey, 2018)
Ismail and his son Abdullah (Celâlli, Turkey, 2018)
Portrait of Doncho Hristev (Toplu, Turkey, 2018)
Portrait of Doncho Hristev (Toplu, Turkey, 2018)
Yusuf (Yeniköy, Turkey, 2018)
Yusuf (Yeniköy, Turkey, 2018)

From Amasra to Düzce, far across the land, hazelnut plantations now cover what used to be mountain slopes completely enveloped in wild forests. Hundreds of kilometers of plantations are evenly distributed across a dense network of small farm villages. Yusuf is the grandson of one of those tens of thousands small growers who used their own yards to dry hazelnuts.

Kadir Abul (Sarayköy, Turkey, 2018)
Kadir Abul (Sarayköy, Turkey, 2018)

The stately old man wasn’t watching over his herd. His lively green eyes were calmly smiling back at his past, fixated on the forest ahead where he’d spent his active life as a forester. He recalled his youth’s calling with great pride and joy, full of dignity - such that only a man, who was born, raised and spent his entire life here could feel.