Trees important to Turks

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Mehmet, one of my Turkish co-workers told me that he would be going to plant trees with his daughter's school over the weekend. I really couldn't understand why he was going to plant trees with his daughter. Do you know anything about that?

That is part of the environmental campaign for the young students. The children are educated about protection of nature and the environment at early ages. Schools are given a slot in particular places to plant trees and that section is named after the school. The school is in charge of maintenance of the trees in that section. Not only schools, some establishments, foundations and organizations also do the same thing and their names are given to those sections. In Adana, the hills by the lake are the places designated for planting trees by schools and other organizations.

The fight against erosion is spearheaded by the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats. The foundation arranges seminars, briefings, speeches, T.V. films and newspaper ads to draw attention to nature and its protection. Every year, working hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest, they provide millions of young trees to be planted throughout the country. Their creed is "Don't let Turkey become a desert."

The relation between the Turks and trees is not new. In fact, the importance of forests and trees has always been important. If you drive outside Adana, you will see trees planted like a border around some fields. In fact the borders of the fields are planted for another reason.

You know that a man needs a lot of money when he starts a business and when he gets married. The Turkish tradition of planting trees brings a partial solution to that problem. When a baby boy is born, his family plants trees around the land they own. Those trees are mostly poplar trees. By the time the boy wants to work or get married, around 20-25, the trees are grown enough and ready to be sold. They cut the trees and the income obtained is a good start for a business or marriage expenses.

All Turks know Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the Ottoman Sultan who conquered Istanbul in 1453, and his decree about forests. In his decree he stated, "Whoever cuts a branch of a tree from my forest, his head will be cut off." Due to that decree, we still have trees several centuries old in various parts of Turkey.

Also, you cannot cut trees planted in public areas. Let's say that you want to build a new house or open a new shop but a tree is in an awkward location and you need to cut it. You should get permission from the related office because all trees are registered. You should de-register that tree before cutting it. From the same token, all the trees on Incirlik are registered so in most cases we can not cut them down without getting permission.

Recently, a very big company built hundreds of houses in a forest in Istanbul and spent millions of dollars in the process. The company cut down trees without permission. The construction was stopped and most likely all the houses, finished and unfinished, will be torn down.

We frequently see segments on T.V. and articles in newspapers drawing attention to global warming and promoting the planting of trees. We started to have floods quite frequently after heavy rains in Turkey and all the scholars agree on one thing, if we had enough trees, we wouldn't have faced floods.