hazelnutsGiresun (Kerasus), the homeland of cherries; a land of steep slopes where top class hazelnuts grow; the dwelling of the blue spruce trees coming from far away. The coastal city shaped by water, disfigured by man and reshaped by water. Giresun is a place with its mountains torn down and spilled into the sea so that cars may whizz over it despite the resistance of man and all of its nature.

A sharp and bright green flows with black-grey foams from the plateaus to the sea. Waters having narrow paths between the mountains that are stacked parallel to the sea, often cut the roads. Travelers opening their eyes to the mist of the morning, while staring at this scene behind a murky window, think that they have not yet woken up from their shaky sleep. The bus suddenly stops at the head of a bridge.

“Are we there?”

The Blacksea on the left, the mountains on the right, a cluster of clouds above, a bridge to be crossed ahead and a feeble stream…

“Not yet!”

Everyone silent and drowsy. The driver and his assistant have fixed their gaze to the mountains where the stream springs from.

“Is it the mountains that are howling?”

On the bed of the stream, from the turn a little further away, raging brown waters gush all of a sudden. They’re hauling the mountain and the forest. Their roar mutes and drowns everything else. Joined by the bridge, they meet the sea, calming down.

“A good amount of rain has poured down from above.”

As if nothing had happened, as if the water has not subsided to the sea hoisting the mountain; as if it hasn’t pierced through the sleepiness of the morning… Only the absence of the bridge is proof of something amiss. The driver drives the bus on to the feeble stream, passes slowly and gets back onto the asphalt road.

The traveler who will not wink an eye until the end of the journey starts now to observe the nature and life woven around the road. Water is everywhere. It shapes life and nature. It is possible to see it hanging in the air without taking a single breath. The mountains have as much been formed by water as by the wind. Buildings have hardly crept in amidst flora, but the intransigent figs nurtured by the plentiness of water occupy the rooftops. They are not the only ones to attack the buildings. Mushrooms and mold have nestled and clasped every structure that is overrun by water. The sea pounds on the coast ferociously and at each blow, drifts away the stones and soil, heaping them only to heave onto another coast. Only three years ağo, at a moment of fury, it overturned the whole harbor leaving behind men dreaming off the opposite coast amidst the skeletons of ships and the rubble. So says the driver’s assistant.

The bus enters the city that tries to climb on the mountains it’s braced itself against. End of the road…

The city where “everybody” drops by

The oldest inhabitants of Giresun to our knowledge are the Hittites who commanded the region in 15-13th centuries BC. It is thought that the founders of the city were the people of Miletos who journeyed to the Blacksea from the Aegean in order to form trade colonies. They are also the naming fathers of Giresun. By virtue of it being a peninsula jutting towards the sea like a horn, they named it Kerasus, inspired from the word Kerastan meaning “horn” in ancient Greek. Reputedly the birthplace of cherries, this is where cherries spread out to the rest of the world. The resemblance of its name to the fruit of the kings is striking. Throughout history, it has hosted a multitude of cultures from the sea and the land being ruled by the Pontus, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Mongols, the Oguz branch Cepnis, Genoese and last of all, with the 1461 conquest of Trabzon by Mehmet II, the Ottomans. Also densely populated by Greeks and Armenians, this diversity has faded away in the aftermath of World War I. Until becoming a city in 1923, it alternated between the triangle of Trabzon, Ordu and Şebinkarahisar in terms of administrative ties.

Currently having 15 districts, 17 precincts, and 535 villages it is a city housing 460,805 people on an area of 6934 km2 drawing attention with its economic structure as much as its historical and natural make-up.

Season of hazelnuts

The mountains stretching out parallel to the sea divide Giresun into two in terms of climate characteristics and natural flora. The northern section, being worm and rainy is green all year long. Its mountains with summits surpassing 3,000 meters, hold northern-west winds as a result of which rain pours down to the northern section. Hence, at the southern section, the dry chill of the continental climate and the steppes rule. These mountains are the endpoint of the blue spruce coming all the way from the Caucasus. The blue of this forest, regarded as one of the richest spruce forests of the world, resembles the Mediterranean and overspreads shoulder to shoulder along the plateaus with the care freeness of not having witnessed fires. 34% of Giresun’s territory is forests (235,000 hectares) and above 800 meters of altitude, most of the forests are formed by the likes of spruce, scotch pine, abies, hornbeam, oaks. Furthermore, among some local species of plants are others more commonly known such as mushroom types, stinging nettle, and black cabbage. The tastes of which become more matchless the higher one goes… The plateaus are famous with their cold water and mineral water. Especially those passing by Caldag, Inisdibi and Tamdere will not move on without drinking a glass of mineral water, preferably to go with “raki”. On the land that descends from this altitude to the sea with a hasty steepness, 96,000 hectares of hazelnut lands and 98,000 hectares of gardens and vineyards preside the view.

What water has done to nature and man is echoed by hazelnuts, shaping the economic life of the region’s people, being almost the only product turned into economic value. All people from Giresun wherever they are, whatever they do, collect hazelnuts in August, shell them (or as they say “skip” them), dry them, sit down on the machine of “patoz” and fill them into sacks. At the end of July, no seats are available in buses heading for that direction because people return to their homeland (which is among the cities that give out the most migration to the big cities) and dash into the hazelnut gardens. Officials, students, housewives, the rich, the poor, the day laborers from Southeast, all cling onto the hazelnut branches on the steep slopes. The city is silent in the day time; the Blacksea slips off its loneliness that it shares with the dolphins thanks to those wanting to cool off after returning from collecting hazelnut; in the evenings, with their last drop of energy, people go out for a walk together with their children licking their ice creams with appetite.

August ends. The hazelnuts are handed either to Fiskobirlik (Union of Hazelnuts Sales Cooperatives) or to traders at lower costs. An agonizing wait sets in. When will the hazelnut money be paid? How much will remain after paying the laborers? Will it be possible this year to scrape together the mony for the wedding? Will Fiskobirlik buy the harvest surplus? Or should one visit the uncle in Istanbul? Winter passes with such brooding and also with applying pesticides and fertilizers.

May comes. People gather around and organize festivities to meet spring around the island of Giresun (named Aretias or as the locals call it the Amazon island), which is the only island of the Blacksea at 35,000 m2, larger than a medium-sized rock. Supposedly it’s the 7th of May but the calendars mark May 20 (that’s because the old calendar does not match with the new one!). First the governor, then women wanting to bear a child, go under an old trivet. Across the island, a daily market is set up, its stalls embellished with seedlings. Nowadays, clothes are sold in these markets as well. People eat, drink, dance and eventually get on board to set out for sea. They don’t step on the island where seagulls peacefully leave their eggs among the stones of historical remains; they merely tour around. Then they climb to the tower and watch Giresun from the perspective of the seagulls. Spring has arrived to the city and up next is August, the time to collect hazelnuts.

Once more I am doomed to you

Hazelnuts are collected in many areas of the Blacksea from Düzce to Trabzon, but none compare with the hazelnuts of Pazarsuyu. The oily, plump hazelnuts of this tiny village are of the top quality in the world. Nevertheless, industry does not taste hazelnuts. Whether good or bad they all go into the same machine, then to the same chocolate, the same paste, the same oil… The data of 2000 indicates that Giresun accounted for 174 million dollars of Turkey’s total hazelnut exports of 587 million dollars. Its neighbor and eternal rival, the city of Ordu, follows it with 90 million dollars. Led by the 76 million dollars to Germany, Giresun’s plump hazelnuts are dispersed to every corner of the world. Although, when compared with the figures of 1999, there is a 10% fall both in its exports and production, this is not only true for Giresun because elsewhere in Turkey, those who are even remotely associated with hazelnuts, suffer the same plight. The issue, as experts and the people of Giresun agree, boils down to the matter of deficient promotion, the towering hazelnut quotas imposed on Turkey and most importantly, inability to develop a consistent hazelnut production and export policy.

Giresun is doomed to hazelnuts. Attempts such as diversification of products, formation of a robust industry, founding of a university, tourism endeavors, building an airport and renewing the land routes are impeded by geographic, political or economic hurdles. Businesses are not able to shoulder the economic crisis; bankruptcy and unemployment, according to unofficial data, has jumped 50%, consequently the population of the city whittles away (the population growth rate from 1997 on is a negative 11.37%). On the migration route from villages to Giresun and then on to the big cities, there is no room for a return for good; people merely come to their gardens as “seasonal workers” from August to August and leave immediately. To taste the cherries, fresh hazelnuts, and delicious herbs of the homeland for a month, watch the daybreak from behind the machines filling the sea on beaches, which will soon become a highway and then to leave right away, knowing that next year everything will change again.

Translation editor: K. Raj Kumar

Turkishtime, September 2002