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High in the valleys of Turkey, Afghan herders dream of their home

#High #valleys #Turkey #Afghan #herders #dream #home

In Turkish mountains so high the silver clouds almost touch his head, the homesick Afghan herdsman prepares his stupid flock for a good shear.

The gravel valley around it was once full of Kurds who staged a violently suppressed uprising in Tunceli in the early years of the modern Turkish state.

But the Kurds in the eastern Mercan Valley have been gradually replaced by Afghans, who have fled poverty and bloodshed at home on foot and in trucks across Iran.

Now, with two decades of conflict behind them, some are considering returning, despite the harsh rule of the resurgent Taliban.

“Nobody would leave their country if they didn’t have to,” says Hafiz Hasimi Meymene, a 20-year-old whose fiancé is impatiently waiting for him in Afghanistan.

“We come here, earn money by herding and send it to our families,” he says.

Around him, a handful of nylon tents are fastened to the hard ground, the Afghan families’ new homes.

A few men are squatting in a shed milking their sheep and goats. Her friend leads the herd into a pen with a swing of a slender stick.

– Mixed feelings –

“I will return to Afghanistan next year. The war is over,” says Meymene.

“When the (Afghan) state fought the Taliban, the economy was hit hard. But now we are planning to return.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan estimates that 300,000 Afghans live in Turkey today, which is also home to 3.7 million people from war-ravaged Syria.

Tunceli native Mustafa Acun says locals have gotten used to Afghans tending their herds.

The 67-year-old works with them and makes cheese and yoghurt from sheep’s milk.

“I mean, our kids can’t or don’t want to do this job,” he says, looking up from his stool and tending some steaming pots over an open flame.

It’s surprisingly dangerous work.

– ‘Love the mountains’ –

An old rifle hangs from one of the men’s shoulders to better shoot the wolves and bears that come hunting at night.

This is also a good time to graze the sheep suffering from the scorching sun.

The gun did not prevent two of Abudullah Umari’s animals from being torn apart and eaten by a bear recently.

“I take care of the herd,” says the 55-year-old Afghan, casually swinging his rifle behind his back.

“I’ve been here for seven years. I worked for three years and then returned to Afghanistan.

“God willing, if my health allows, I will return to Afghanistan in August” when the summer heat begins to ease.

But although Suleyman Ezam, 29, hasn’t seen his Afghan wife and two young children in four years, he says he will miss working with his dogs as a herder in the Turkish mountains.

“I love the mountains,” Ezam says after showing him a photo of his four-year-old daughter on his phone. “The mountains of Turkey are so beautiful.”

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#High #valleys #Turkey #Afghan #herders #dream #home

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