Read Time: 11 min 7 sec
Translation by SEMERCI, Görkem
Can a man manage to green an ash-covered city? No, this is not a metaphor! We are talking about a man who devoted his life to greening a city that was torn by war.
Many of us may have heard of this name; “Tarzan”. This fictional character first appeared in 1912 with the novel “Tarzan of the Apes” and was adapted to the world of cinema later. The story was told in many different ways. In particular, what is generally described is that monkeys feed and raise a child who was abandoned to the forest or lost when he was a little boy. Later on, the narration continues with a love story in the novels and movies.
However, today's topic is not Tarzan, the fictional one. We will refer to real Tarzan from Turkey. And no! He was not raised by animals. He was not the subject of a romantic love story. Instead, his love is towards the green and dedication to reforestation.
Before his story, let’s touch on where he lived, Manisa. The city, located in Turkey, is a major industrial and agricultural city. Manisa was heavily affected by the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923). Being in the middle of two frontiers, Manisa was nothing but a ruin at the end of the war. Comparing with the surrounding cities, Manisa has a low number of historical artifacts due to this war and most of the buildings in the city were burned and damaged. Furthermore, natural beauties, forests and agricultural products were also affected. The city which had been described by 19th-century travelers as green turned into a black color after the war.
Now, let’s continue with our Tarzan… According to official records, his name is Ahmeddin Carlak. In his own pseudonym; Ahmet Bedevi. Besides, he was called as “Haji the Gunner” by the local people. “Tarzan of Manisa” is the name that was recognized by everyone. Before he became famous, Tarzan was a soldier. He went from one frontier to another one in World War I and the War of Independence. After the war, he settled in war-torn Manisa. However, he was unhappy with this black color and started a personal war to green it.
Our Tarzan lives on Spil Mountain. He lived in a makeshift hut on Topkale Hill, at the foot of Mount Spil, a place you can add to your bucket list with Weeping Rock Niobe that is the subject of Greek mythology, wild horses walking around the mountain, great views and climbing areas.
He was able to climb to Topkale Hill with rubber shoes in a few minutes, where people could not make it in 25-30 minutes. Every day there was a ceremony of an old cannon firing at 12.00 at the noon. This is why they called him “Haji (Pilgrim)” because of his beard and “Haji the Gunner” because he volunteered to take that responsibility.
He never used bedding, pillows, and duvets. He was a simple man who slept on several pieces of newspaper sheets in summer and winter. And again, through the year, he wandered on the streets of Manisa and Spil Mountain, with only rubber shoes and shorts. It is said that he had an undershirt when he first arrived in the city, but later he stopped wearing it. On special occasions, he put his medals on a palm branch and walked proudly at the front of parades.
In his own words, Tarzan describes his life as; “My life is very simple. I live in a hut and a cave in Topkale in summer and winter. My home is like heaven surrounded by fruit trees and flowers. I eat fresh fruit in summer and dry fruit in winter. I take a shower three times a day with ice-cold water. I apply my own herbal oils to protect my body. I know the old and new alphabet. I admire Turkish music. I am passionate about cinema. I forget all my troubles with these. I constantly read newspapers and magazines, I read them all. ”
There is no madness behind this interesting lifestyle, he got used to simplicity. He did not want the clothes that people advised him. He only kept the pillow and quilt as a matter of courtesy in case someone visits him. He was the first environmentalist among the common people of the newly established Republic of Turkey. In a country that was founded after many wars that lasted for years, he was a man who was completely devoted to greening a whole city. He planted thousands of trees with his own hands. He loved his trees so much that he referred to them as "my children" and even talked with them. Thanks to his passion, the Municipality employed him as a deputy gardener with a monthly salary. However, he did not value money, he disbursed all of his salaries to the poor, and he did not spend it for himself. Maybe, Tarzan was really a madman but in a few years, he made Manisa green again. He helped to found Manisa Mountaineering Club and climbed to many summits across the country. During his visit to Nigde where Cappadoccia is located, there was a huge crowd to welcome him.
He was the moral authority for the green in Manisa city. Until the early 1960s, all mayors and governors respected his trees and did not touch them. However, since the beginning of the 1960s, Manisa started to develop faster and new neighborhoods were being constructed. A road expansion work coincided with the days when he was out of town. And many his "children" were cut down. When he returned to the city, he mourned a lot because of the scene. After those days, he did not get back to his former health. The last major blow to him was in 1963.
A witness from the era, Enver Gediz tells the story about his last days:
“He went down to the city center as he heard ax sounds hitting the trees. They planned to build a gas station, where Tarzan planted pines. He came next to me and reproached “My trees are going down brother, I am going over there if I cause an accident, save me.” Then, he yelled out there and axemen ran away immediately. I heard a bad word from his mouth for the first time: “I will go to that stupid who is sitting in that two-story building and throw him down the window like a kitten.” It was his worst insult and this two-story building was the municipality building.”
Tarzan could not stand as their “children” were cut down and finally had a heart attack. Despite the advice, he left the medical observation after two days. On the evening of the first day, he had another heart attack and passed away.
He said the following to the young people who visited him in his last days: "Ahmet Bedevi is a naked strange man. But, he will be a symbol of loving trees when he dies and whoever cuts a tree, he will be in his or her dream and clasp them by the throat. This country needs green, trees and flowers.”
The whole city mourned after his death, eventually, Tarzan of Manisa turned it into a legend to keep his memory alive. Many sculptures of him were erected all over the city. The environmental awareness week that starts on May 31, the date which he died, is commemorated until June 5th, World Environment Day.
Living like Ahmet Bedouin, who turned a city covered with ash back to green, is like a utopic dream.
Just think of that hut on a cold winter day without pillows, duvets, and beds. Without a jacket, without a sweater, even without an undershirt. Sleeping on just a few pieces of newspaper sheets and climbing a hill with rubber shoes. And, of course, to bring a big city covered with ashes back to its green days...
We take off our hats for you Tarzan, even if we cannot be an environmentalist like you, we discern that no circumstance can stop us from planting a tree.
Aycan, N.(2005). Cumhuriyet Çocuğu ve Çevre Dostu Bir Türk: Manisa Tarzanı. Uluslarası İnsan Bilimleri Dergisi. Cilt 2. Sayı 2. (Eylül 2005)
Freely, John (2010). Children of Achilles: The Greeks in Asia Minor Since the Days of Troy. .B.Tauris. s. 212. ISBN 9781845119416. Manisa, which was burned to the ground by the Greeks when they evacuated the town.
Manisa Valiliği. (2012). Manisa Rehberi 2012. Manisa: Manisa Valiliği Kültür Yayınları.
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