Interview with Oğuz Aydemir, February 2017 - levantineheritage.com


1- How far back does the history of Çeşme go? Has there been any archaeological investigations in this region?

Before I start answering your questions, it has to be mentioned that being a philanthropist businessman, answers are only subject to my general knowledge.

Yes there have been many archaeological surveys, excavations and studies in and around Çeşme peninsula. The oldest dates back to 4,600 years and the site just happens to be the oldest wine-making facility in Anatolia; from the bronze age. Excavations are still going on and I have contributed personally as President of Turkish Underwater Archaeology Foundation by providing a midibus from Koç Holding for their transportation needs to and from Urla and also provided to the excavation sight information signs for visitors. Bağlararası is right in the heart of Çeşme and the findings are unique.

2- In Ottoman times Çeşme was clearly important with its castle, caravanserai etc. Was it a strategic location based on its harbour?

During Ottoman period it was important because of its logistic geographical place and prior to Ottoman period the castle was much smaller than what it is today being used as watch tower by the Genoese.

3- What was Russian navy doing as far south as Çeşme and how come it was such a massive defeat for the Ottoman navy in that battle of 1770? What were the long-term consequences for the Ottoman Empire with this defeat?

The 1770 Çeşme naval battle was actually the climax for Catherine the Great to meet the testament of Peter the Great and meeting his will of Russia moving into warm waters. In a way it is also significant that the enlightenment of Russia begins with this incident by recognition of Catherine by its people because of her German origin.

The Russian navy departed from Kronstad in the Baltic base passing through Gibraltar attacking surprisingly first Morea to provoke the Orthodox population to rise, then after several naval wars on the Aegean, burning the Ottoman navy within Çeşme bay. At the time the Black Sea was still under control of the Ottomans. The Russian Navy owes its success to the Scotish Admirals and English logistic support.

The 1774 Kaynarca agreement was the final of 1768-1774 Ottoman-Russian Wars and Crimea was taken over by the Russians and thus control of the Black Sea.

4- Çeşme clearly cares for its heritage with its well-maintained castle with its museum within and caravanserai restored and now serving as a hotel? Do you think recent developments go some-what counter to these earlier wise decisions as the resort has expanded well beyond its old town limits?

The old town establishments of the Anatolian Principality of first Çeşme’s Turkish presence was not on the sea-side but up on the hill and unfortunately these remaining buildings are soon to be lost because of no restoration or any intervention. The city’s winter population is around 41 thousand and it goes up to around 450 thousand inhabitants in the summer. The old town’s ancient houses are also in danger and especially the fountains from which the city gets its name are also under great risk.

5- You have a great interest in under-water archaeology. Have you, or a team done any archaeological investigation on the remains of the Ottoman fleet that was sunk by the Russians or other local wrecks?

Scientific excavation has never been realized around the bay. At the beginning of 2015 we binded a protocol with the Russians to cooperate for the survey and excavation together with Turkish Universities signed by the Çeşme Mayor and due to unfortunate developments these plans have been postponed. Basic interest is to excavate the two Admirality ships namely Burc-u Zafer and Yestafi which actually collided and then sunk but are still in relatively good condition. Back in 2006 we also realized a complete survey of Çeşme Bay together with the Turkish Navy. Artefacts from the site recovered are being exhibited in a saloon at the castle realized by TINA (Turkish Foundation for Underwater Archaeology).

6- Do you think more could have been done by municipalities / town planners to preserve the fabric of old Çeşme?

The unfortunate part of Çeşme and other similar places are mainly due to the division of responsibilities between the local authorities and central government. There is no one-authority to handle the decisions with full responsibility.

7- Since you are familiar with the under-water landscape of Çeşme, is pollution, either from domestic misuse or the increasing fish-farms now a crisis?

We have organized a work-shop together with the authorities of İstanbul and İzmir Universities on sea pollution and underwater historical artefacts couple of years ago at Urla. It is not yet a big threat but nevertheless the trend it is alarming.

8- Is Çeşme important in installing in the broader Turkish population of the merits of holidays, enjoying the sea and relaxation? Do you think it was historically a case of Levantines with their Western ways imparting on the ‘locals’ the pleasure and perhaps the necessity of vacations?

I may not be precise in answering this question because of my limited knowledge but we must not forget the thermal waters of Çeşme as well, still not in full-potential use.

Levantines created a heavenly environment with their presence and I think there is still a higher class of people in Çeşme compared with other touristic destinations of Turkey mainly due to them.

9- What do you think was the factor that made Yıldızburnu in Çeşme the number one destination for the very early local tourists / Levantines to settle for the summer, rather than other locations such as Foça, Dikili etc.?

Again another question to be answered with limitations... I heard from my Levantine friends that before settling at Yıldızburnu, they hung up fresh meat to decay and that was kind of litmus paper for deciding settlement; meat decaying late was very indicative for decision making on choosing a healthy location presumably.

10- Is Çeşme still growing with new buildings / summer houses? Do you think there is enough protection for the old buildings or green spaces?

Çeşme still grows and fast. Again protection is not a local Municipality matter and that reality matters very much in protection issues.

11- Is Çeşme in danger of losing its allure to the Izmir society as other resorts further afield are now more accessible by land or sea? Is there a civil society group to prevent negative developments, or at least advise local authorities on threats?

Çeşme is under the danger of İstanbul people not only for touristic visits but also construction activities and also domestic immigration. There is a high tendency of people moving west and especially to the sea sides in Turkey; İzmir taking the highest toll in this respect.

Interview conducted by Craig Encer, February 2017.

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