In pictures: The man who planted a forest in Turkey's Mardin
Around 26 years ago, Sehmus Erginoglu, 71, decided to do something about an area of wasteland in his home city of Mardin in southern Turkey. He began by clearing out rubbish from the site, then he installed water pipes and eventually started to plant saplings. Today the site is home to a small forest of around 11,000 trees, with thousands more planted in areas nearby. (All pictures by Murat Bayram/MEE)
Erginoglu works on growing the trees in his own time without pay. He says that he tends to the trees every day the sun is out but avoids working when it rains. Over the years, he has also made around 50 wells from natural springs in the area. He uses these to water the forest he has created. "I don't make any money from this, but it gives me happiness. When the trees bear fruit, the people come here. They eat fruit and sit under the trees and become happy," he says.
The former truck driver says that he has planted 20,000 trees in Mardin, with 11,000 forming one single forest and others clustered around different areas of the city. He has also planted trees in neighbouring villages and estimates the total number he's grown at more than 30,000. While he says he prefers the company of the trees over the company of people, Erginoglu enjoys the fact that he brings joy to others. "When people die, they cannot take their money into the afterlife, but the good they do comes with them."
As a young man, Erginoglu worked as a truck driver, travelling across Turkey and further afield to countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern states. He uses the money he has saved to look after the trees with some help from the Turkish authorities, which has provided him with saplings for pine trees.
Environmental activists have warned that industrialisation and urbanisation have affected the country's ecology and led to the disappearance of green spaces. The Turkish government has launched projects, such as National Forestation Day on 11 November every year, in a bid to increase the number of forests in the country but activists have been concurrently protesting government-backed deforestation in areas like Mount Ida in northwestern Turkey. Authorities there have issued licences to international mining giants to prospect for gold and copper in the area despite objections from locals and environmentalists.
Mardin's ancient castle watches over the city below. Situated close to Turkey's border with Syria, the city enjoys very hot summers with highs of 38 degrees Celsius and mild winters that include frequent rain and snow showers.
Erginoglu has been a bachelor his entire life, as he did not want anyone else 'entering his life' after his parents passed away. He explains that he has six siblings who are all married with children, and that they would pass on their wealth to their offspring. He instead prefers to leave a legacy to all people through the trees he plants. "Thousands of people come to eat fruit from the trees in the summer," he says. "Of course, we will all die one day. But until then I want to be happy, to make others happy, and to leave something permanent behind me."
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.