Turkish tourism

How green is their valley
Aug 25th 2005 | CAMLIHEMSIN, TURKEY
>From The Economist print edition

A remote hideaway could thrive on, or be wrecked by, eco-tourism

THEY used to be one of Turkey's best-kept tourist secrets: the scented
plateaus of the Pontic mountains, with their wild flowers and exuberant
dancers. For the handful of travellers who came this far east, few
landscapes were as enticing as the Hemsin valleys in the province of
Rize, a place where many locals speak a dialect close to Armenian,
practise moderate Islam and are agnostic about their origins.

More recently, news of this area's beauty has been spreading. A new
breed of eco-tourist, many of them from Israel, has begun to head for
the yaylas, or meadows, with their roaring rivers and stone bridges.
But the very attractions that draw in these green wanderers could be
destroyed if clumsy developers and opportunistic local politicians
get their way.

To see the aesthetic hazards of unregulated tourism, go no further
than Ayder, a yayla overlooking one of the Hemsin valleys that was
once renowned for its tranquillity and hot springs. Thanks to a stream
of Turkish and foreign visitors, the air is thick with smoke rising
from barbecues. Mournful Arabesque music blares from tour buses and
cars. Garish motels and handicraft stands obscure the view.

Many Hemsinlis are furious. Ayder's degeneration began after it was
linked by road to the nearby town of Camlihemsin, says Selcuk Guney,
a local activist. One of his aims is to ensure his birthplace, the
neighbouring Firtina valley, avoids a similar fate. So far it is
virtually untouched; that is partly because access is by dirt track.

Mr Guney insists that if the region's unique way of life is to be
preserved, and well-managed eco-tourism is to flourish, the footpaths
leading to yaylas must not be replaced with paved roads; and tour
buses "that leave nothing but trash behind" must be restricted.
Mustafa Orhan, a crusty old bee-keeper who led a successful campaign
against a planned hydro-electric dam on the Firtina river, suspects
that the government's unspoken aim in building roads is to help
commercial logging. Locals have long used electric pulley-carts,
running along steel cables, to bring food and other supplies to
their yayla homes. So, instead of roads, Mr Orhan asks: "Why not
build electric cable-cars to carry people?"

Locals of his persuasion have found an ally in Rize's governor, Enver
Salihoglu; he too opposes further road construction in the valleys.
Smart development could avoid ruining this Shangri-la, he believes.
In Camlihemsin, for example, there could be more emphasis on bees,
trout farming and organic tea. Of course, not every Hemsinli is so
conservation-minded. "I want cable television and a fridge," says
Muazzez Yildiz, an elderly lady whose cottage has a gorgeous view of
the Firtina valley. The question is how to help her without wrecking
the place for those who will pay a premium for its virgin enchantments.