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Interview on Assos

Photo: Turkishtime

by Erem Kargül

The following is an interview with Ali Akdamar, president of Assos and Surroundings Culture and Art Foundation which was published in December 2003 issue of the Turkishtime.

new meeting point for art: Assos

Assos and Surroundings Culture and Art Foundation is targeting to turn Assos into a center for culture and art, preserving its historical beauty. Ali Akdamar, president of the foundation, told us about the projects they wish to bring to fruition in 2004.

Assos and Surroundings Culture and Art Foundation continues its journey with a new team. Ali Akdamar, who is in ad/graphics business, took over the presidency of the Foundation in June and set sail for new projects with his friends. He is organizing events in order to raise awareness of the local population towards art and their surroundings. He is expanding the scope of the projects to draw the attention of others to Assos. There is scarcity of sponsors and financing, however, close friends and family such as foundation members Engin Yörükoğlu from the Moğollar music group and economist Ali Bilge work feverishly for the future of the foundation.

TURKISHTIME: Can we talk about the current situation of Assos? We do not know much about Assos although it is a touristy place.
ALİ AKDAMAR: In Assos, i.e., Behramkale of today, various peoples have been living together for six thousand years. It is a place the Persians have invaded and the Ottomans have settled. There is always life in Assos. We are usually fighting with our history. There is a terrific history here and we must learn to make peace with this history. The people living in Assos, Behramkale, are extremely at peace with her history. Of course there are some thefts of antique stones from the area; some situations where houses are not built properly, and some other situations necessitated by the conditions of economy and trade. The people of Behramkale are extremely happy with their current lifestyle. However 3-4 kilometers away in villages the conditions change suddenly. The most precious product in their hands is olive, due to the agricultural and breeding policies of the government, but they do not earn enough to make a living with olives. That is why they sell their olive orchards for houses to be built on the land. Later they work as laborers in the construction of those houses. This region boasts the best olives of the world; this is a fact proven by various institutions. If people still cannot make money from olives; that means there is a serious problem.

What does the foundation mean for Assos?
The foundation is really a nice thing for the villagers. It has not been active since 1998, but the foundation has a building today, people visit. There is telephone, a fax machine, computers… Some activities are carried out now. So the importance of the foundation has increased for the villagers. But the "sentimental" (i.e., "financial", ed.) part of this importance is heavier than the honorary part. If foundation's claims are realized people will benefit from this. They view the foundation as something that will make money for them; because the first activity of the foundation is the organization of the development of Assos.

What are your objectives in this context?
The foundation has an objective that has not changed since its inception; to make Assos a city of culture and art. This is the place where Aristotle established a school of philosophy. Philosophy, art, and crafts have always existed in Assos. Today, to turn Assos into a center for culture and arts, the people must first be prepared to be ready for this. We must ensure their development culturally, socially, and economically. Generally we see that a place deteriorates when its residents improve economically. The most important objective of the foundation is to ensure its objective without spoiling the social and traditional texture, without destroying the myth. So we want this place to be touristy under these conditions. Let tourists visit Assos, but let them not build houses there and then visit once every three-five years afterwards. Let them actively participate in the events. Let there be new employment.

Have you had any initiatives in the area of job creation?
For example, we spoke with Emir Yargici. I actually visited him to get advice; I told him that we want to sell the ideas we generate in the big city. He has experience, knows this business well; he prevented us from making a mistake. He said that authentic products are valuable in their original location; I realized that it is not right to sew the "salvar" (baggy women's trousers) over there and sell it in Istanbul. He made a suggestion to realize the value of the labor of people locally. This summer, people will start producing ornaments here. Generally ornaments are sold in every touristy place you visit, and there are people with the right training to produce them. We will use this idea to ensure that people will get into production.

So what kinds of events are you organizing?
First, we have annual events under the title of Assos Mitos Art Event, on September 20-21. We realized the first this year. The Muammer Ketencioğlu group, a gypsy group called the Galata Gypsy Band, gave concerts. The audience was excellent, very cosmopolitan. They shared an atmosphere they enjoyed with Roman folk dances and Aegean folk songs. We plan similar events next year, but sponsorship is very important. The events of this year were visible and effective; we are hoping that this will form an infrastructure for next year's events. When you prove yourself you can establish a file you can submit to the potential sponsors; this means, as you can guess, that we can invest more in next year's events. Again this year four famous photographers visited Assos in the June-July period. Ozan Sağıç, Orhan Cem Çetin, Gencer Yurttaş, and Wico van Herpen. Each one shot Assos and the surroundings through his own lens. These photographs were exhibited in open air. Hoteliers and shopkeepers took ownership of the exhibition. The photographs will eventually be compiled into a book.

Are there projects for next year?
Next year, there will be an international series of activities in the Assos Mitos Art Event. Firstly, the Didenia opera will be staged, art direction by Leyla Pınar. This is an opera by Handel. It was not put on stage many times. The costumes will be sewn by the people; maybe some of the players can be selected from among the residents. Foreign artists will also participate in this project. Artists will be invited for this project, to be staged in May 2004, from Japan, Germany, France, Brussels, and London. The second project is a sculpture symposium. There will be three foreign and three local sculpture artists and will exhibit the work they created here.

You said one of the objectives of the foundation is financial development of the people. Can the people develop in the position of viewers?
Of course not. We have other projects for this; in the field of education. We want to establish an academy providing education in the fields of painting, photography, ceramics, and video art. We intend to realize this in two years. Currently, we are working on the infrastructure with teachers and some people. The Mukhtar (village headman) of Behramkale will purchase the land for both our cultural center and the academy. Of course we need financing. Following this we want to open up two higher education centers in the fields of olive production and stonemasonry. Especially with olives, we want the villagers not to sell their orchards, to care for their orchards, to do the proper irrigation and fertilization, and to produce quality olives even if only for themselves. The schools must make the people like the olive business again. They like olive oil very much but they do not enjoy the business dimension of olives. I believe that this is an important initiative that will encourage the villagers to make money from something that they enjoy at every step. Also the young people in the region go away to other places to study; I wish that olive education will be an opportunity for them as well.

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