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Buddhist Temple at the Turkish Village in Sri Lanka and Young monk and the Water Tank of the Village.
Turkish Village photos by: Bircan ÜNVER
Taken on December 11-13, 2006.


By Bircan ÜNVER

On February 9, 2005, the day I left Sri Lanka, after my monthly stay there, followed by the Tsunami, I was very excited to hear the news about the Turkish Village. On the very same day, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was going to launch a Turkish Village project in Matara. I had been aware of this project while I was going to Sri Lanka over Turkey, and I had learned more about it in Colombo. I had met two representatives of the Turkish Blue Crescent in Colombo who were working for the preparations of launching of the Turkish Village project in Matara. 

I read the news about the project after Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan launched it in the Turkish daily newspapers after I returned to New York, but I did not read or hear any other related news in any other media in NY. Since then I was curious to know more about this project and the process.

Later, I read in the Turkish media that Turkish Red Crescent built a Buddhist Temple in the Turkish Village in Matara in December 2005. It was very exciting for me to learn about the continuing progress of the project.

Prior to my re-visit to Sri Lanka in November-December 2006, I was thinking of visiting the Turkish Village although I didn't know much about its progress or if the project was completed or not. 

I met with a gentleman named Andrew Noad from Australia at Senkada in Colombo 4, where I frequently checked my e-mails during my stay in Colombo. He was a representative of an Australian NGO's Housing project for tsunami victims. I was planning to go to Matara the next day to see the Turkish Village. This was an interesting coincidence since Australia was one of the countries who mostly built and provided housing projects for tsunami victims.

Later, I also learned from Mr. Ali Ilyas Halilibrahimbeyoglu, President of 10th Period of the construction to the Turkish Village, that the Turkish Village was the largest housing complex built after the tsunami for the victims by the Turkish Red Crescent in Midigama on Matara Road in Sri Lanka. He informed me that this complex contained 450 houses with multi-complex social units with a self-reliable economic system via organic agriculture.

There were general rumors and complaints that after the Tsunami many housing projects for victims were promised to the Sri Lankan Government by some foreign NGOs but they weren't completed or even started at all, and many of these NGO’s had already left the country. For this particular reason, I was even more curious to see the actual Turkish Village.

However, I didn't have any exact information where the Turkish Village was and whether it was completed or not. Did the villagers move in or did its construction still continue?

I left the guest house on Rose Mead Place in the morning of December 11, 2006 with these questions, took an air-conditioned (AC) bus from Peddah to Matara. AC buses are considered to be semi-luxury buses in Sri Lanka, but they are mostly packed, and are actually mini buses. The only luxury about them is having an AC in it!

I have been told that it was a 4 hours drive. When we passed the Gale Road, it was already over 5 hours, but we had still not arrived there!

Most of time, the Gale Road is very busy, with all sort of buses, trucks, three-wheeled cars, bicycles, motorcycles and sometimes animals riding in either direction, and at the same time there was construction at some parts of the road. It is a very narrow and chaotic road.


After passing Gale, I became much more attentive to my surroundings, trying to see the signs on both sides of the road. After 45 minutes, I suddenly saw a big sign saying, "TURKISH VILLAGE, 1300 m." on the ocean side of the road. But its surroundings were empty; the signs pointed inwards of the road, and I didn't know if I could find a place to stay overnight there! When I asked the driver if there was a motel or guest house around there or in the village, he suggested me to stay in Matara and to come back the next morning. I asked, “How long does it take to go to Matara?” He said, "Thirty minutes." Then, I thought that was not far, perhaps I could stay there and get a three-wheeled car to come back in the morning.

With this in mind, I didn't get off the bus, and I was happy to know where the Turkish Village was. It was in Weligama town, Midigama Village. While we were going toward Matara, on the ocean side where the sign of the Turkish Village was placed, on the same lane, 200-300 meters later, I saw a little guest house with a sign at its entry saying, "Only for Foreigners.” But it was a little late for me to get off the bus, so I stayed in the bus. After 30 minutes passed, I again asked the driver, "How long more will it take?" He said, "15 minutes." I had no other option than staying in the bus. 15 minutes passed, and we were still not in Matara. I was getting nervous. It was already 5:15 pm, and I needed to find a place to spend the night where I have never been before!

I suddenly made my mind up, got off the bus, passed across the street, and took another bus back to Midigama. At this point, I didn't want to waste so much time in the morning to go to the Turkish Village, and now, I had an idea about where I could stay in Midigama.

 

I got off the bus on the way back exactly where the sign of the TURKISH VILLAGE was placed, and it pointed inward 1300 m. Right next to it there was a little store, and I asked there where I could stay around there. The lady at the store pointed a place to me, which I had seen before, and very kindly offered her son's help to carry one of my handbags.

We arrived at the place called “Kusuma’s Surf Guest House.” It was right by the ocean, and it had 3 rooms for rent, and it seemed empty. I asked, “How many guests do you have? The young man replied, “Three.” I said, “OK, I will stay here.”

Later, I understood that they didn't have any other guests; there was only the father and the son who were the owners of the place. They thought that I would not prefer to stay there if I knew that I would be the only guest/customer to stay there.

Once I agreed to stay there, and settle in, and learned a little bit about the owners of the guest house, I thought I was very lucky. Because the father, P.G. Arthur, told me that a house in the Turkish Village was provided for him and his son and he told me his new house’s door number there. He also mentioned that the next day, the keys of the houses will be distributed to the tsunami victims who would be the actual owners of the houses.

Consequently, I also found out that Arthur had lost his wife during the tsunami who was the mother of his son. Furthermore, the tsunami had taken away their home and the guest house by the ocean. Since then, the father and the son together have been trying to restore it and reactivate their business. However, there seemed to be no one around—neither foreigners nor tourists—not only in Midigama, but wherever I went during my stay there in November and December except Colombo and Moratuwa.

There was an inepressible loneliness everywhere, in particular, on the most beautiful and touristy beaches such as Hikkaduva and Unawatuna. It was very rare to see local people on the beach except one or two sari or coconut beach-sellers. All the business owners, whom I came across or had a little conversation with, were very unhappy and complained about that there was no business.

At the guest house, the son was doing and running almost everything, from cooking, shopping and serving to building a wall between the main road and the guesthouse in order isolate the noise from the main road.

The next morning, while I was having my breakfast, the headman of the (Mr. Gamage Ariyadasa) came to deliver a letter to Arthur in an envelope to be returned with his signature.

I asked to Arthur, "what is it about?"

Arthur told me that this letter informed their electricity and water account number at the Turkish Village which was scheduled to open with an official ceremony by official representatives from both Turkish and Sri Lankan governments and the Turkish Red Crescent for handing over the houses to the villagers on December 23, 2006.

I thought about the date for a second, but realized that I wouldn’t be able to attend the opening ceremony of the Turkish Village because I had to leave the country on December 20, 2006. Therefore, I couldn’t witness the official completion of the Turkish Village and the opening ceremony.

However, I was there when Arthur's neighbors who lived on the Ocean Lane came to Kusuma’s Guest House to pick up their letter from the headman of the village on December 12, 2006. It was a good start to the day.

 

Following this, I went to the Turkish Village by a three-wheeled car. My driver was Shrli Asanka who lives with his aunt. They both were victims of the tsunami, and his aunt was provided a house at the Turkish Village. For this reason, Shrli was very helpful and friendly to me. Once we arrived there, I found out that the Turkish Red Crescent representatives were on their way to the Turkish Village.

On that very day, although the construction on roads, planting the sides of the roads, layering grass on the sports field were in progress, and everyone was working altogether very hard in order to complete all the details of the Turkish Village for the opening ceremony on Dec. 23rd, also the second year of the tsunami’s grief. At the same time, the villagers were visiting their new village, receiving their keys, cleaning their house to move in or were just spending time on the steps of their new houses.


I was just an ordinary tourist for 3 days in Midigama, and my main curiosity came out from simply being a Turkish native, leading me to see the Turkish Village there. I was aware about it since its launching period, and now I was able to see it with my own eyes in its full capacity, so close to its completion; I was very proud, impressed, excited and happy as a Turkish native as well as I was on behalf of the villagers and tsunami victims.

All the villagers were very supportive and friendly. They were grateful to the Turkish Red Crescent and the Turkish Government for their spectacular contributions to the lives of them and their children.

Actually, I consider that the Turkish Village is much bigger than a village. It is more like a modern town and a combination of two very different cultures that reflects both sides next to each other in many ways, such as having the Buddhist Temple, the Ottoman House, and the Monk House together. Also, Fountain of Frienship merges and symbolizes this combination; it is located at the center of the village where the main roads separates into two different directions. One leads to the houses of the village, the sports field, and the other goes to the Temple, the Monk House and the Ottoman House. Each door has a "Crescent & Star" in red and white, which is also the logo of the Turkish Red Crescent as well as the symbol of the Turkish Flag.

 
Mr. Ali Ilyas Halilibrahimbeyoglu, Coordinator of the Turkish Village's construction.

On December 13, the third day of my arrival to Midigama, I revisited the Turkish Village, and met with Mr. Ali Ilyas Halilibrahimbeyoglu. He took me around the Turkish Village and informed me more about the full complex of the village. I saw the beautiful Buddhist Temple, the Monk House, and the Ottoman Guest House which were located on top of the parallel hills of the village. And almost from every direction, the Water Tank was visible, which provides 300m3 of water with a self-reliance system for organic agriculture. Other main units of the Turkish Village with 450 houses were: Dispensary, Shopping Complex with 22 stores, Community Center, Library, Kindergarten, Playground & Sports field with 400 m2, and Management Center.

 I saw and witnessed great appreciation and admiration for the Turkish Crescent for what it has accomplished and contributed to the lives of the villagers, the owner of my guest house and his neighbors.

Furthermore, I realized that the Turkish Red Crescent has been building a much larger Housing Complex with more than 1200 houses for Tsunami victims in Ache, Indonesia. I was also informed by Mr. Halilibrahimbeyoglu that following the official ceremony on December 23, 2006 in Midigama, there would be another official opening ceremony in Ache, Indonesia on Dec. 26, 2006, where I have never been.

I think that by now, the tsunami victims must have moved into to their new houses in both countries. I feel that I have a responsibility to share these personal impressions I had during my trip to Midigama, Matara in December 2006. Deeply moved by what I have witnessed there, I would like to suggest you to visit there if you ever go to one of these countries, and I genuinely appreciate and salute these kinds of contributions in helping people to continue their lives, sustain and elevate the quality of their daily lives which are also very sacred values.

In conclusion, this is a unique role model in terms of global partnerships and responsibility, to show care for one another in both governmental and non-governmental levels. As a starting point, the people of Turkey, their care and support for Tsunami victims enabled and let the Turkish Government and the Turkish Red Crescent to build two major village projects in both countries. This has also established a remarkable cultural bridge and has created sympathy between peoples of Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Turkey as of today and for many years and decades to come.

For more information:
Turkish Red Crescent Society: http://www.kizilay.org.tr/index.php?menu1=202

Special Thanks to: Figen Bingül

Bircan Unver with Mr. Ali Ilyas Halilibrahimbeyoglu,
on front of the Ottoman Guest House
at the Turkish Village in Midigama, Sri Lanka.

http://lightmillennium.org/2007_20th/bunver_turkish_village.html