A short distance from the busy and popular resorts of Fethiye and Olu Deniz lies the ghost village Kayakoy. It’s deserted, it’s lifeless, the houses crumble and the roads are empty.
There is, however, an atmosphere and an overwhelming presence that hovers over the village. Some tourists might not feel it, but I did and it washed over me in waves. I honestly believe that I was able to enjoy my experience even more because I studied the past before I left.
I could imagine the tragedy that caused the citizens to turn on their friends, to leave their homes, their dreams and all they knew.
Kayakoy may be a ghost village but it definitely gets alive with creativity and research.
19th century turn-Kayakoy Village
Kayakoy was in full flow at the beginning of the 19th Century. Harmoniously run schools , churches, stores, and businesses. Everything had been fine. As a culture the village thrived.
The irony and most important part of its history lies in the fact that Greeks and Turks lived side by side within the village. The Greeks called Levissi village whilst the Turks called it Kayakoy.
The Greeks and Turks integrated with each other outside their religions and schooling, sharing the same common goal and that was to get through life one day at a time.
Kayakoy’s and Birds Without Wings Ghost Village
It’s important to understand the past and daily life of this ghost village. One man put that in better terms than I could ever have. I strongly advise Louis de Bernières, the same man who wrote Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, to read a book called “Birds Without Wings”
Now, however, Louis has never said that the book ‘s position is Kayakoy; I want to quote him in a Guardian newspaper interview.
I went to south-west Turkey and there’s a ghost town there. It used to be a mixed community, as described in the book more or less, and they obviously had a wonderful way of life, quite sophisticated. An earthquake finally destroyed the town in the Fifties, but it really started to die when the Christian population was deported. It was walking around that very special place that gave me the idea .The town, called Eskibahce in the book, will be recognizable to those who know Turkey, ‘but I’m not going to go round telling people’.
The Turkish-Greek Population Exchange
The First World War loss, the end of the Ottoman Empire, and the Anatolian region’s attempted Greek occupation all combined to force Kayakoy ‘s downfall. Greek Christian people were forced to deport to Fethiye harbour, while Muslim Turks were expelled from Greece.
Most of the Turks who returned did not want to settle at Kayakoy. Well they left out of those that were already there when the earthquake hit. The point, though, is that a combination of historic events forced people to leave their friends, neighbours, homes and uproot their kids. Whole lives changed for ever when the treaty was signed for the exchange of Turkish Greek populations.
Kayakoy, current day
Today the abandoned village is one of Fethiye’s main tourist attractions and the surrounding resorts. A few locals sell food and souvenirs to passing visitors and the largest bunch of abandoned properties on the hill are some inhabited houses away.
UNESCO has called Kayakoy a world friendship and village of peace in an attempt to move on from the past. Rolling around the village is fun, but if you study history in advance, you can enjoy it more.
Visits and Getting There
There are many tours that operate from Olu Deniz and Fethiye but everybody I know who went on them complained about the guide’s lack of time and historical knowledge. Instead, there are frequent local Fethiye buses that will take you there in 10 minutes.
Delving into Kayakoy ‘s history and then walking around the deserted village was one of the best highlights of my trip along the southwest coast. It makes you understand that faith does not have to play a part in friendships to be able to stand there and imagine life for the Greeks and Turks who lived side by side.
Sadly, Kayakoy people have become pawns in a big game the higher authorities have struggled for. War ripped down their village and the same error is still replicated in many other countries and villages around the world today.
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