Peasant Autonomy
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Story 121

Taurus Mountains, Turkey – around 1960 (1)

The sly muhtar

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Scott Dexter)

Taurus Mountains, Turkey.

The village is fermented. It is the old song every year again. The muhtar (village-head) fools the villagers.
Every autumn the whole village migrates from the Taurus Mountains to the plain to pick cotton for a month or two and earn some money. It is a huge endeavour every time. Babies, small children, elderly persons, disabled ones, sick people, everyone comes along. Nobody remains in the village. Only a few families have a horse or a donkey. The rest have to carry all of their luggage on their backs. And also the ill persons and the old ones who cannot walk.
They have to cross the mountains. That is not easy especially not with all that luggage. But also the cutting cold … You can be caught in a terrible thunder, and then you have to dry up fast enough not to catch pneumonia.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Ron Knight)

Taurus Mountains, Turkey.

However, after all this, the villagers never discover a rich cotton field. Always, it is a barren field with little cotton to pick where the families cannot earn much money. This is because of the muhtar. As the village-head, he decides at which cotton farm the villagers go to pick. He chooses a farm where no other village wants to harvest because the cotton shrubs are so meagre. Secretly, the muhtar accepts generous pay from the landlord to tell his villagers that 'unfortunately' the good fields have already been given away to other villages.

This will be the year of change: Long Ali, Tașbașoğlu and a few other obstinate villagers decided. This year, they will look for a cotton farmer themselves and make a contract without a bribe. So finally they will earn properly. Already for months, Long Ali and Tașbaș have discussed the issue with their fellow-villagers. They have succeeded in convincing quite a few. The majority of the village will go with Long Ali and Tașbaș. The rest will stay at the side of the muhtar for fear of him or because they are relatives.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Vince Smith)

Taurus Mountains, Turkey.

When it becomes clear for the muhtar that his position is wavering, he visits all the families one by one. He speaks honeyed words to some and promises them splendid things. Other ones he threatens with law, gendarmes, and prison, scolding them loudly. In the end, the muhtar manages to get almost all the villagers behind him.
Just to teach them a lesson, he arranges a most miserable field for his villagers. Through this he informs them who forever is the chief of the village.

Long Ali and Tașbaș are extremely disappointed, but they decide to go on. Next year, the villagers will seize their opportunity. Ali and Tașbaș will take care of it themselves.


The Turkish author Yașar Kemal describes in The Wind from the Plain (1960, part 1 of his Anatolian Trilogy) the grinding poverty of small farmers - their bitterness and anger but also their imaginative stories, joy, and care. Expertly he describes the natural beauty of the mountains.

Go to:
= part 2, next page:
The saint - Taurus Mountains, Turkey – around 1960 (2), story 122.
= part 3:
Nobody talks to the muhtar any more - Taurus Mountains, Turkey – around 1960 (3), story 123.
= the Table of contents, story 121.