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Seeking the Good Life in Turkey

Urbanites are riding a growing wave of migration in search of a more fulfilling life. by Zeynep Yunculer 25 October 2018

As our regular readers know, TOL normally does not cover Turkey, unless an issue concerns one of the countries we do cover in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. However, through the fall and perhaps beyond, we are making an exception because of the dire situation faced by many journalists in Turkey since the attempted coup in 2016. After that dramatic event, almost 200 media outlets were closed down and scores of critically minded journalists lost their jobs and now struggle to eke out an existence. We are proud to provide some international exposure to many of these Turkish reporters and expand, at least for now, our mission of supporting independent journalism and the freedom of the media to this fascinating and important part of the world.


For more than a decade, 42-year-old Tugba Karahanoglu led a happy and busy life in Istanbul, where she worked as a software developer. But then a growing interest in organic food and healthy living led her to abandon city life and move to Seferihisar, a coastal district in the Izmir province.


“I left behind a circle of friends whose subjects of conversation always revolved around physical appearance, or shopping, or the next hip place they’d be at that weekend,” Tugba said.


In Seferihisar, known for its agriculture-based economy, she began a business growing organic seeds with several other local farmers, and soon met her future husband. Hakan, a 49-year-old electrician, had similarly abandoned the urban sprawl of Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, in search of a simpler life.


Tugba and HakanTugba and Hakan


“The city started to suffocate me because of political and economic reasons,” Hakan said. “One experiences such problems much more intensely in the city.”


Both now live on a quiet estate in Seferihisar, growing artichokes, beans, pomegranates, plums, quinces, and tangerines, as well as producing a range of oils.


The Karahanoglus are part of a growing movement of people in Turkey deciding to swap the hustle and bustle of city centers for a more peaceful life in the picturesque countryside on the Aegean coast, in western Turkey.


According to the Turkish Institute for Statistics (TUIK), the number of those moving from Istanbul to the wider region of Izmir has risen dramatically over the last few years – from 4 percent in 2016 to 14 percent in early 2018.


There has also been a significant rise in the numbers moving from the urban areas of Izmir to more rural regions, especially around tourist towns on the Aegean coast such as Urla, Seferihisar, Cesme, and Foca.


Motivations vary for such a move, although the cheaper cost and generally secular nature of life in Izmir is often a factor.


Selcuk Dirim was born in the Izmir village of Bagarasi, but studied in Istanbul, later working there as an advertising copywriter.


At 32, he returned to Bagarasi and began cultivating olives.


“Now I am much more peaceful,” he said. “The environment is cleaner, and I never wake up tired. When you are in this business, you produce much more than you consume, and you don’t feel exploited.”


Selcuk currently produces oil from a 250,000-meter-square (62 acres) grove of 8,000 olive trees close to the village.


“There is an inexplicable joy to it. It is very fulfilling to work with olive trees, the trees that have thousands of years of history,” he explained.


Miray Dirim, 30, is a trained archeologist from Izmir who also chose a life in the countryside. Having moved to join her husband at his family home in Bagarasi, she now sells homemade condensed milk from local cows.


Miray DirimMiray Dirim


The milk is popular with tourists and villagers alike, and Miray said she loves her new life and the freedom she did not experience while living in a big city.


“I enjoy being close to nature, witnessing the change of seasons, learning about the farm animals, the soil, agriculture,” she said. “I am quite happy now and would go back to living in a cramped apartment only if I had to.”


Can Belidayi, a 38-year-old industrial engineer, moved with his wife and child from Izmir to the small coastal town of Cesme, some 90 kilometers (56 miles) away. He said he simply grew tired of urban life, constant stress, noise, and pollution.


“We sold our house in Izmir and settled in Cesme because we wanted a more peaceful and healthy life,” Can said.


He currently works at a environmentally friendly, alternative holiday resort named Cesme Koy, overlooking the blue Aegean Sea.


Guests eat locally grown food and have access to a yoga center as well as other activities related to culture and art. There is no TV at Cesme Koy, and access to the internet is intentionally very limited.


“We don’t want our guests to spend their time on the internet. We want them to enjoy healthy food, clean air, cultural activities – to feel connected to nature,” Can explained.


But not every story of migration from city to countryside is successful.


Dogukan Sarikaya, a 32-year-old engineer, had long wanted to swap his urban life in Izmir for a rural existence, and finally made the change four years ago. He quit his job and, with four of his friends, tried to create a farming cooperative in the region of Kemalpasa, east of Izmir. Unfortunately, the entire venture failed after just three months, when their funds ran out.


“The main problem was that we could not provide a regular income, and therefore we were not able to continue,” Dogukan said. “Also, my ideas about living in a small community have changed. It is much harder to live close together with other people than I thought.”


Dogukan now lives in the center of Izmir and works in a second-hand bookstore and café. He has not given up on his dream, however, and says he is just waiting for the time to be right.


“I still want to live in the countryside, but I need more resources and more support to create the right infrastructure for that kind of lifestyle,” he said. “But it’s important that those who move from cities to rural areas do it not just to improve their own lives, but also to help the environment and local communities.”


Zeynep Yunculer is a freelance journalist and editor at She started her journalism career at the Milliyet newspaper, one of the biggest media outlets in Turkey, and also worked at Artl1 TV and BirGun Newspaper. In 2016, she was awarded by the Contemporary Newspapers Association for the best interview conducted that year.
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