From Central Asia to Kaz Dagi

Ethnographical Museum

Situated on the slopes of mythological Mount lda,Tahtakuşlar Ethnographical Museum is a UNESCO award-winning venue exhibiting the art and culture of the Turkmens.
If's the 40th day after the spring equinox and the village of Tahtakuşlar on Kaz Dağı, a mountain in southwestern Turkey, is celebrating the arrival of spring. Everyone was up early that morning. Women and girls donned their traditional costumes for the walk to the cemetery, bearing cheese, olives, bundles and votive offerings. Decorating their ancestors' graves with flowers, the people then lit a fire there and cooked their food. Everyone exchanged warm holiday greetings, old disagreements were forgotten, votive offerings distributed. Even the olive trees witnessed the spectacle with joy. Clouds, sky, all of nature bore witness to the celebration. Among them there was also a little girl, her dress covered with blue beads to ward off the evil eye. Her mother had dressed her that morning with loving care and whispered in her ear, "May no malice come your way and may all your cares and sorrows melt away." The little girl lit up at her mother's words.

What that little girl didn't know but her mother did is that Anatolia is a land of migratory nomads. Consequently the village's story begins back in Central Asia. Fleeing Mongol pressure in the 13th century, one of the Oghuz tribes, the 'Men of the Tree', migrated to north of the Caspian Sea. The story of their migration, which led them first into Khorasan and then Iraq, culminated in the Taurus Mountains. Master woodcutters by profession, they were called the 'Woodcutter Turkmens' or 'Tahtacilar' for short. When Mehmed the Conqueror got it into his head to take Istanbul, he ordered lumber from the trees on Mt Ida to be cut and worked into the ships and runners he would use for the conquest. When it was realized that the experts in this business lived in the Taurus, a new migration route was soon in store for the Tahtaci Turkmens. Loading up their camels upon a decree from the sultan, they set out for Mt Ida, where, in addition to building the 67 ships used in putting down a rebellion on the island of Mytilene, they fashioned many other items out of wood. Abandoning the area at the time of the conquest, they founded villages where they kept up their native Turkmen traditions.
Stories are told of the abundance of wild game and fowl in the region before the majestic trees of Kaz Dağı were decimated by great fires. The Turkmens, who were sedentarized in the 1860s, therefore called this area 'Kuslar Bayin' or 'Bird Hill, renaming it 'Tahtakuşlar' ('wooden birds') in 1948 in honor of their traditions and the trees that provided their livelihood.

Tahtakuşlar today is not only the name of the village but also of a museum. The founder of the museum is Alibey Kudar, a benefactor who wants to promote Turkmen culture before it is lost. Together with his sons Oman and Selim, he opened the museum in 1991 as a 'Utopian' enterprise. Besides exhibiting examples of Turkmen art, it also hosts regular painting and handicraft shows. The Kudar family further enriched their museum with the Selim Turan Gallery in 1992 and a library in 1994. The first fruit of the Kudar family's labors was the UNESCO Support Award given to the museum in 1994. The museum, which has since earned more awards, is open daily, its hours the hours of 'sunlight'. But the Kudars do their job so gladly that they will even open the museum's doors to someone who wakes them in the middle of the night. As a result of this 'quixotic' approach, visitors to the region can't leave without stopping off at Tahtakuşlar.

Among the items on display are traditional Turkmen costumes, large woollen sacks, coin purses with a goose foot motif, saddle bags, children's vests and the traditional 'terlik' or skullcaps. Alibey Kudar never tires of regaling every arriving guest with explanations of how the evil eye amulet in the shape of a crescent moon is made from one of the back teeth, called a 'calak', in the lower jaw of a male wild boar; how the first hair cut from a child's head is traditionally saved; and how the goose foot motif is found on the tombstones of the Oghuz Turks. At the museum you may see belts decorated with seashells that the Turkmens collected from the Red Sea on their migration, the evil eye amulets made from harmal seeds, almonds, figs and cloves, pine cones from the Kaz Dag/ firs, and the braids worn like a wig by young girls with short hair. One of the intriguing items in the museum is the frame of a Turkmen tent. These tents, which were used until the 1950s, were generally made of juniper wood although the one in the museum is of poplar. This tent, few examples of which are left today since they were discarded earlier, was made by the last master, Ali Tuzla, in the village of Haciaslanlar in Edremit. The birds in the museum logo derive from the name of the village, while the goose foot motif symbolizes the continuation of the Oghuz Turks, the closed door life in the mountains, and the heart love, friendship and peace. Everyone remembers the legend of the 'Sankiz' or 'Blonde Maiden', the beautiful blond-haired gooseherd. A victim of malicious slander and the evil eye, Sankiz was abandoned by her father on the mountain and grew up there among the local people. If you're lucky, you'll hear her story as well as told by Alibey Kudar.

A number of authentic items from evil eye beads to saddle bags are sold at the museum entrance. Plants and therapeutic herbs grown on Kaz Dagi come a/ready packaged, among them Sankiz tea—good for the cardiovascular system, the purple oregano used in place of mothballs, aromatic ivy leaves, olive grass, wormwood —believed to promote mental health, mountain mint—good for tummy ache, lavender— from which tea is made, and bay leaves—used for incense. You can also pick up mentholated sage tea, rosemary, sumac and linden here. When the scent of the herbs has made you dizzy, you'll suddenly feel like climbing the mountain. And when you go outside, you'll see the olive trees. I put my arms around one of them that was more than a thousand years old and said: "You might be on the outside, but you're still one of the museum's most valuable pieces!" n

Sky Life; Octobre 2004 (Bording Newspaper from Turkish Airlines)