The rural village of Demircidere is the home of Turkey’s most empowered and liberated women. Having elected their first female muhtar in 1933, the women in the village work side by side with the men to create a balanced and equal community. Join us as we meet the local women and the friendly Be My Guest hosts, who welcome visitors into their homes to learn about what makes their community so special.
Demircidere Köyü, is a rural, farming village on the Kozak Plateau in Turkey. Surrounded by pine clad mountains, giant rock formations and natural springs, this small village is home to a community of Turcoman people who still retain their traditional Turkish culture and observe the mystical Alevi Islamic religion.
The villagers here live off the land, with their main economy being the production of pine nuts, wine, jam and raisins. The mountain air, organic food and spring water mean a long and healthy life for the locals is not uncommon.
What is the cultural significance of Demircidere for women?
Demircidere is regarded as one of Turkey’s most progressive communities, particularly in regards to gender balance. It was here that the first female muhtar (town leader) was elected in 1933. Today, men and women work side by side in the fields, and have equal authority and voice in the home and community.
“We are free. We feel free. We want to go to the town, we go. We want to go to somewhere else, we go. We of course inform each other before going. We respect each other’s rights.”
Women are treated as equals, which is demonstrated not just by the women of the village, but by the men also.
“We are free to do what we want to do. To love each other, to respect each other, even if you do not agree, you should respect. Wherever you are or where ever you go, this is extremely important because we are all human beings. You or me or the guests visiting. There are no differences between any of us.”
Connecting tourists to local people and cultures through Be My Guest
It is the openness of Demircidere that makes it such a special place for travellers to connect with the locals. Trafalgar launched its first Turkey Be My Guest experience in this notable village of Demircidere, where some of the local women opened up their homes to guests and invited them in for a meal and to share insights about their lives.
“We do not call the people who come as tourists, we call them as guests, foreign guests. Because they are indeed our guests, whether a Turk or a foreigner, whether a Muslim or a Christian or Jew, they are our guests and that is it.”
Today, many of the local women of Demircidere open up their homes to Trafalgar guests, sharing a meal and exchanging stories.
The majority of people in the village do not speak any English, so rely on the Travel Director to translate. But even with the language barrier, the women of the village feel a lot of pride and happiness in welcoming strangers into their homes as friends.
“They do not understand me and I do not understand them but the guide translates everything. I started learning some English. Sometimes, the guest comes and if there is someone with me they ask me who she is. I tell them “sister”. Very simple but they understand and this makes me very happy.”
It is through these simple exchanges, within the local homes, that guests can learn about the community, get an inside look at daily life and witness the special relationships between the members of the village.
“They ask about our daily lives. They ask what we do in one day. They ask about our kids, what they do and etc. and we show the pictures of our family members, hanging on the wall and we tell them what each of them does. In addition to my kids I have two grandchildren, whom I talk about,” says Aunt Gülsüm, one of the original hosts.
Another thing that makes the village unique are the beautiful traditional costumes that the women wear. The dresses have a kaleidoscope of colourful sequins, as the women believe that shiny things deflect negative energy.
“No one else has such colourful costumes. The dress I am wearing is called üç etek (three skirts). The one on top is called önlük (overall), then the second layer is called göynek (blouse) and lastly şalvar, a loose pair of pants, and of course my scarf to keep my hair clean and to prevent [it] from falling,” says Aunt Gülsüm.
The importance of receiving visitors to Demircidere village
Aside from providing a welcomed income to the organic farming village, the locals of Demircidere are very conscious about the additional social benefits of tourism to the area.
With many of the locals previously unable to speak English, the frequent arrival of tourists has encouraged the community to learn the language. Children and young people are more likely to learn English at school, but for the Be My Guest hosts, this was an incentive to do it for themselves.
“The feeling to be able to communicate is great and I wish I learned it when much younger. Of course, talking with our guests is a great practice, because if you do not use your second language you forget it very fast. So, the first change it made in my life was to force me to learn English.”
In response to the experience, the local muhtar also started an English course to help the hosts.
There is a sense of pride and satisfaction in hosting the guests in their own homes. The women talk about how they enjoy meeting new people and getting the opportunity to forge connections with people from around the world, particularly in spreading the word about Demircidere and their culture.
“They sometimes send cards and thank us for being warm and friendly. They sometimes send pictures they take too,” says Medine Abla.
One of the newer hosts explains how, following her mother’s footsteps, she particularly enjoys the connections that she makes with the guests to her home.
“We do not have to look for opportunities in making new friends. The opportunity was at our door and with many people who visited us we later became friends… Both my parents and I got to learn new cultures and I am very happy about this.”
What is the impact of the women on the surrounding communities?
The community of Demircidere is particularly unique in the way that they treat each other, as well as the foreign visitors.
“We are a hospitable bunch of people in this village. We have a very rich culture, which we like to show/share with others,” – Aunt Gülsüm
The Be My Guest hosts have had a profound impact on the community and the surrounding villages. Initially when the Be My Guest experiences began, there was hesitation around what that meant to invite large parties of tourists into local homes. Aunt Gülsüm explains how she had to explain to her mother-in-law the benefits and reasons for inviting foreign guests into her home.
“When my mother-in-law was still alive, she did not like it at all and it became an issue between us. I was so disappointed. But [in time] I convinced her and then guests started coming to my house.”
The enthusiastic Be My Guest hosts of Demircidere make sure that they share their experiences with other Turkish communities in the area, helping to change the perceptions of what guided tourism can mean for locals. At first met with scepticism, one of the hosts explains how she teaches her friends about the benefits of inviting tourists into their homes, and spreading the word of eco-tourism and sustainability.
“I tell [my neighbours] about what is going on in Demircidere, about the guests we [invite] into our homes, about what we learn from them and what they learn from us…I also [teach] them about eco-tourism and sustainability.”
Socially, Demircidere still leads the way for empowering its women. Speaking to a husband of one of the first Be My Guest hosts, he talks of how proud he is to show people how him and his wife are equal in their culture.
“In order to show and teach our culture, I personally try to show that my woman or my wife is as equal as me. In other words, no one is superior than the other one and no one is inferior than the other. We are equal. Equal by all means. We walk together, we talk to each other, we decide together. This is our culture and both Turks living in other parts of Turkey and the foreigners visiting should be taught about this.”
What is next for the women of Demircidere?
Speaking of the future for Turkish women and the village of Demircidere, the community are excited about what is in store.
“Women in Demircidere are not something you own. We learned this from our foreign guests and we are grateful to them. Demircidere is to become even better,” says one of the hosts.
“We are planning to make tourism industry a big thing over here in Demircidere and by [doing] this people will have a better education, which will create more business and better living standards.”
For women specifically, Demircidere will continue to uphold the legacy of their 1933 muhtar, encouraging young girls to study, learn English and feel empowered in their community.
“The younger generation of girls are now studying and getting educated…when I see the young girls studying, I see the future of Turkish women bright,” concludes Aunt Gülsüm.
Through Be My Guest, the original local travel experience, Trafalgar guests can continue to Make a Difference for the women of Demircidere. Meet the women for yourself on the Highlights of Turkey and join them in their home for a traditional Turkish meal.