Last flight of the Anatolian cranes?

Last flight of the Anatolian cranes?

(Photo: Cihan)

October 27, 2013, Sunday/ 00:00:00/ GÜRHAN SAVGI

It is not an exaggeration to say that the crane is one of the most prominent symbols of Anatolian culture. If we look only at music, we see the crane appearing in Musa Eroğlu's folk song "Telli turnam selam götür sevgilimin diyarına…" (Oh my crane, carry my love to the lands of my lover…), or even in the group Yeni Türkü's folk song “Telli Turna” (Demoiselle Crane).

Biologist Ferdi Akarsu performed tireless research on these cranes of Anatolia for three years. Interestingly, he came across 45 different folk songs in the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) archive that deal with cranes. But are we talking just about folk songs? There are of course also sayings, carpets, hand embroidery and even religious ceremonies that include the crane. The “turna cemi” of the Alevis and the “sema” of the Mevlevis carry suggestions of this bird as well.

So what has happened to our birds? According to field research begun in 2010 by the Nature Association (headed by Akarsu), there are just 12 pairs of breeding Demoiselle Cranes left in Anatolia. The number of juvenile cranes is just 19. This research demonstrates that these cranes are disappearing faster than previously thought.

So why are these Anatolian cranes, which live so far away from pollution and industry in the mountains of Anatolia, disappearing so fast? According to biologist Akarsu and his team, the dangers facing these cranes can be divided into two categories: ecological and cultural. The ecological dangers include excessive grazing in the cranes' habitat, drainage systems, the removal of water from areas where it is normally found due to sewage and drying processes and, of course, the use of manure and pesticides on agricultural land. After all, the cranes make their nests in shallow wetlands, and these wetlands need the rivers and fields that surround them to survive.

But there is one more danger, which has been largely passed over in the research until now, and that is the cultural danger. Migration throughout Anatolia is shifting the balances of natural-human, human-human, and human-social relations. And the Nature Association connects the disappearance of the cranes to changes in these relationships. This is a serious analysis that can be found in scientific literature under the name bio-culture.

According to information provided by Akarsu, it is the region around Sivas that has the greatest numbers of cranes. This is no coincidence; it is not the geographical and ecological aspects of this region alone that make it perfect for cranes to live in. In fact, the belief that cranes are sacred in Alevi culture, and the attention paid by the locals to not harming the cranes, influenced cranes to choose this area over the years. To illustrate this point, Akarsu notes that a crane's treatment in this area can be compared to that of a cow in India.

Cranes are a kind of bird that, over time, began to live in harmony with the humans nearby. In fact, fields that are reaped and sown in a traditional way actually became an important part of their lifecycle. For example, cranes trying to protect their young from predators often do so using the planted crops on a field or rush beds. When a predatory animal approaches, the mother, father and baby birds flee, with the mother and father taking off in different directions at the same time -- one or the other of them leading the predator forward -- which then allows any baby birds that can to escape.

The people of Anatolia, who see the crane as a sacred element in their lives, do not allow farm animals to feed and water on the cranes' wetlands. And often the locals will ensure the rush beds are not cut until it is time for the cranes to migrate for the season. Cranes are of course not hunted in such cultures. These factors have all played vital roles in helping support the cranes until now.

Research also shows that, in the past, Demoiselle Cranes generally used the wetlands of Anatolia for breeding. One poem of Karacaoğlan called "Bir Çift Turna Uçurdum" (I Sent a Pair of Cranes up to Fly) clarifies just how vital cranes used to be for Anatolian life. This poem talks about a crane that takes off from Yozgat Mountain, flying to Erzurum Lake, Bayburt, Aşkale, Tokat, the Kazova Desert, Maraş, Erciyes, Reyhanlı, the Amik Plain and then on to Egypt. This poem also describes many of the cultural characteristics of Anatolia.

Talking about their recent research into the cranes' conditions, Nature Association board member Özcan Yüksek emphasizes the importance of protecting the last breeding grounds of Demoiselle Cranes in Anatolia. On the symbiotic relationship between nature and culture, Nature Association General Director Engin Yılmaz has this to say: “The greatest sign we can see of the disappearance of both nature and culture is the disappearance of the crane. It is not only vital for nature that we keep the cranes alive, but also we must keep them alive so that our culture and roots in Anatolia, which are so harmonious with nature, stay alive.”

The top eight breeding grounds in need of protection

Baby Adult Successful pair

1. Sivas Dışkapı Village Reed beds 5 2 3

2. Sivas Göydün Reed beds 2 4 1

3. Sivas Mağara Lake 3 25 2

4. Sivas Tödürge Lake 4 4 2

5. Sivas Kurugöl 1 2 1

6. Muş Arakonak Reed beds 2 2 1

7. Samsun Kızılırmak Delta - - 1

8. Bolu Yeniçağa Lake 2 - 1

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