Turkey’s nomads preserve ancestral way of life for centuries

Nomadic sheep breeders in eastern Turkey, spending the winter and spring in their tents, continue to preserve the generations-old livelihood they inherited from their forefathers.

In Dedepınarı, a village near the city center of Elazığ province, seven families consisting of 35 people eke out an existence in harsh conditions, far from the blessings of modern technology.

Despite the difficult conditions, the families are content in their labor, even amid the multitude of chores that comes with the birth of new lambs in mid-February.

The nomads keep their animals in their pens throughout the day and week during the lambing period. They feed and take their animals to the meadows before sunrise and let the ewes meet their lambs. Otherwise, the offspring are kept away from their mothers.

With the opening of the pen gates, the lambs rush in excitement to near-instantly find their mothers among the hundreds of ewes. After suckling, they are once again separated from their mothers.

Set out in summer

Taking care to protect the newborns from the cold and disease, and making sure they are well-fed, the nomads set out with their herds for the plateaus in the Karlıova region of Bingöl province from their previous mountainous areas, trekking for two weeks to find more fertile pastures for their animals.

In their daily lives, while the men take care of the animals, the women take care of the children, clean the pens, prepare the water and food for the animals when needed and perform household chores. Besides their school lessons, the children help their parents with the daily work, spend time with the newborn lambs and play games around the tents.

‘We have been nomads for centuries’

Hüseyin Akalan, one of the nomads, said he spends his life among the herds. Along with his family, he fondly carries out the job he inherited from his father and grandfather.

He stated that while they used to take their herds to the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa in the past, they had been taking them to Elazığ for the last five years.

“We have been leading a nomadic life for centuries, since our ancestors and grandfathers. With our family and children, we spend our lives in tents. Living as nomads is hard. But is there an easy way to earn a living? All occupations are difficult. This is our way of life.”

Zeki Akalan said that nomadism is a lifestyle and they could not take up any other occupation but sheep and goat breeding.

“Living in tents is difficult, it’s freezing in the winters. We love our jobs. We’re content with our lives,” he said.

Muhabbet Akalan said she and her husband had raised three children in the tents. While they are used to living the nomadic life, their growing children did not intend to follow the same way of life, she added.

Akalan said their children wanted to pursue their education and a career in a different field. “We didn’t have the opportunity to go to school, so we want our kids to get an education.”

Dilek Akalan, an elementary school student, said living in tents was hard, but she got used to it for lack of other options.

Dilek said she wants to graduate, get a job and leave the nomadic way of life.

“I love my school. I want to be a prosecutor when I grow up,” she said.