Hiking in Dersim: Ecology as part of culture

Nature is considered sacred to the people of Dersim, and its protection is part of their faith and culture. Hıdır Çiçek who has been leading hiking groups through the mountains in Dersim for twenty years, says: "People are aware of and care about nature."

With its ethnic, religious and socio-political identity, its history and its landscape, Dersim is a unique region in Kurdistan. Every component of nature is considered sacred and is protected by the people. People fight against dams, mining of underground resources, hunting of protected animals and anything that destroys their sanctuaries. In summer, temperatures are relatively low compared to other Kurdish regions, which is why Dersim is considered a popular tourist destination. However, interest is also very high in winter. While other areas tend to attract hikers in spring and autumn, in Dersim it is precisely in the winter landscape that hiking tours take place.

Hıdır Çiçek has been leading hiking groups through the mountains in Dersim for twenty years. For him, every season has its own beauty. He tells ANF: "Walking through the snow is exhausting. A route that we complete in three hours in spring or autumn takes seven hours in winter and is completed in two stages. When the snow reaches above the knees, it becomes problematic. Sometimes we end the hike already halfway. Some, however, persevere to the end despite the difficult conditions. The feeling when you reach the top is overwhelming."

Hıdır Çiçek points to the destruction of nature in the region and says: "In our culture, nature is protected. However, an extremely hostile destruction is taking place. Above all, dams have been built; Keban, Uzunçayır, Pembelik 1 and Pembelik 2. The dams create a different climate; it snows less. There is talk of energy generation. If there are no lights on at night in Dersim, it has no negative effect on nature. But if there is no more snow, nature will be negatively affected. This impact will be felt years later. As if that were not bad enough, nature is also destroyed by mining.”

Çiçek continues: “In our faith, nature conservation and animal welfare come first. We cannot comprehend that animals are tendered for hunting. There are tenders for hunting mountain goats, which have always been protected despite poverty and an underdeveloped legal system. Whoever walks through nature recognises the ecosystem and gains an awareness of environmental protection. Our love for nature and the instinctive need to protect it may become stronger precisely because of the massive destruction. The people who hike with me would do anything for nature.”


“This is one of the special features of Dersim; the people are aware of and care about nature. Every tribe has a place to which they attach special importance, like Düzgün Baba, Kal Memi, Kal Fırat. If you light candles there and make a promise, you can't go back on your word. Dersim has a whole nature and culture of its own. Both have a permanent place in people's lives and, in my opinion, must be protected. Nature must be protected. This awareness cannot be forced, it comes through education and the sense and knowledge of nature," Çiçek concludes.