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March 1, 2023 7:29 pm

The Turkish Çoban

By Kamran Ashraf Bhat 

THE term “çoban” is a Turkish word that refers to a shepherd or a herdsman. The way in Kashmir we pronounce it as ‘Chopan’, in Turkey they also call them with same name. The history of Turkish çobans can be traced back to the nomadic Turkic tribes of Central Asia, who relied heavily on livestock for their survival. For centuries, the çobans of Turkey have been responsible for the care and management of sheep, goats, and other domesticated animals. They are known for their intimate knowledge of the animals they look after and their ability to navigate the rugged terrain of the Turkish countryside. In addition to tending to their flocks, çobans have also played an important role in Turkish culture and folklore. They are often depicted as brave and hardworking individuals, who possess a deep love and respect for the land and the animals under their care.

Throughout Turkish history, the nomadic lifestyle of the çobans has undergone significant changes. With the rise of urbanization and modernization in the country, many çobans have settled in permanent homes and taken on new occupations. However, the traditions and values of the çoban culture continue to be celebrated and passed down through generations. Today, the çobans of Turkey remain an important part of the country’s cultural heritage. Their way of life may have evolved over time, but their role in preserving Turkey’s natural resources and agricultural traditions remains as vital as ever.

The Çoban Culture 

The Çoban culture refers to a traditional way of life and customs of Çobans  in Turkey. The Çoban culture is deeply rooted in the country’s rural regions and has a significant impact on the cultural heritage of Turkey. Çobans have been an integral part of Turkey’s pastoral landscape for centuries, and their way of life is still preserved in many regions. They are typically nomadic, moving with their flocks from one pasture to another, and living in tents or temporary shelters. The Çoban culture Is characterized by its strong emphasis on community, family, and the land. Shepherds often work together in groups, helping each other with tasks like grazing, milking, and shearing. They also have a strong sense of family, with many families passing down the tradition of shepherding from generation to generation.

Music is an important part of the Çoban culture, with Çobans often playing traditional instruments such as the bağlama (a stringed instrument) or the zurna (a woodwind instrument). Folk dances are also an essential part of the culture, with shepherds performing traditional dances during festivals and other celebrations. The Çoban culture has also Influenced Turkish cuisine, with many dishes being based on ingredients that are readily available in the countryside. Examples of traditional dishes include gözleme (a type of savory pastry), keşkek (a slow-cooked meat and grain stew), and mantı (a type of dumpling).

Çoban Pie and Çoban Salad

The cooking style of the Çoban culture is heavily influenced by the pastoral way of life adopted by Çobans, who prefer to consume simple, wholesome, and nutrient-dense meals made from readily available ingredients. Some of the traditional dishes prepared by the Çoban people include Gözleme, which is a savory pastry that is made by rolling out thin sheets of dough and stuffing them with ingredients such as spinach, feta cheese, potatoes, or ground meat. Kavurma, on the other hand, is a meat dish prepared by slow-cooking diced lamb or beef with onions, garlic, and peppers until the meat is tender and bursting with flavor. It is typically served with rice, bread, or salad. Mantı is yet another dish that involves dumplings filled with spiced ground meat and onions. The dumplings are boiled until they are cooked and then topped with a garlic and tomato sauce and served with yogurt. Tandır kebabı is a kebab that is marinated in a blend of spices and yogurt before being cooked in a traditional clay oven known as a tandır. The meat is cooked until it is tender and served with bread or rice. Ayran is a refreshing and healthy beverage made by whisking together yogurt, water, and salt until it is frothy. It is frequently consumed with meals as a cooling and hydrating drink. The cooking style of the Çoban culture is known for being uncomplicated, reliant on local ingredients, and focused on providing nourishing and satisfying meals that can support the physically demanding lifestyle of shepherds.

Turkish Çoban Kangal Dog

How Turkish government is helping Çobans 

Sheep farming has been a crucial part of Turkey’s economy and culture for centuries, but in recent years, it has faced various challenges including disease outbreaks, environmental degradation, and economic instability. The Turkish government has implemented several reforms to address these challenges and support shepherds, resulting in significant improvements in sheep farming. One of the key reforms is a subsidy program for sheep breeding, where shepherds receive financial support for each lamb born on their farms. This has helped improve the quality of their flocks and increase their income by enabling them to sell better-quality sheep at higher prices. Additionally, the government has established the General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Policies to promote research and innovation in the agricultural sector, including sheep farming. The organization works with universities, research institutions, and industry experts to develop new breeding techniques, improve animal health, and increase productivity. The government has also introduced programs to improve the welfare of shepherds, including healthcare, education, and social assistance. These measures have reduced poverty and increased opportunities for education and economic development among shepherd families. Moreover, the government has implemented policies to protect the environment and natural resources, such as regulations on land use, water management, and waste disposal, to promote sustainable practices and reduce the environmental impact of sheep farming.

The Turkish government’s efforts to enhance the sheep farming industry have had a positive impact on both the well-being of shepherds and the industry’s sustainability. Through promoting innovation, improving animal health, supporting low-income families, and safeguarding the environment, the government has facilitated a more profitable and sustainable industry. As a result, sheep farming in Turkey has become a benchmark for other nations to emulate, demonstrating the advantages of governmental aid for agriculture and rural communities. The  government acknowledges the crucial role of shepherds in the sheep farming sector and has implemented measures to support them. One of the critical reforms is the establishment of Shepherd Training Centers, which offer vocational education and training to shepherds. These centers equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge in animal husbandry, farm management, food safety, modern shepherding techniques, animal welfare, economics, financial management, and marketing. The training helps shepherds operate their farms more efficiently and profitably.

To support Çobans in Turkey, the government has implemented various programs such as a credit program, crop insurance, and infrastructure improvements. The credit program provides low-interest loans to Çobans for purchasing or upgrading their farms, buying livestock and equipment, or investing in other income-generating activities. This has helped many Çobans expand their farms, improve their flocks, and increase their income, ultimately improving their quality of life. The crop insurance program protects shepherds from financial losses due to natural disasters, disease outbreaks, or unforeseen events, enabling them to maintain a stable income.

Sheep farming is a significant source of income for many rural households in Turkey, contributing around 15% to total rural household income. The sector has undergone significant changes over the years, with a shift from traditional grazing systems to more intensive production methods. This has led to an increase in productivity, efficiency, and profitability, making it an attractive business for many farmers. Turkey is one of the world’s leading producers of wool, and the sheep farming sector is a significant contributor to the country’s textile industry, as demonstrated by the export of over 30,000 tons of raw wool with a value of over $70 million in 2020.

In summary, Animal Husbandry is a crucial and established industry in Turkey’s economy that sustains the livelihoods of numerous individuals. Although the sector has transitioned to more intensive production techniques and has government backing, it still confronts difficulties due to changing weather patterns and market demands. Nevertheless, by persistently addressing these challenges, Turkey’s animal farming sector can endure and foster the country’s financial progress.

Kamran Ashraf Bhat is a Film and Cinema Researcher at Bahcesehir University’s department of Cinema and television, Istanbul and former Joint Editor of Daily Inside Kashmir. Kamran Ashraf Bhat writes on geopolitical, geostrategic, environmental and social issues

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