Write: Melih Uslu Photos: Ahmet Bilal Arslan
The services rendered by Taşucu Educational and Environmental Conservation Foundation Chairman Arslan Eyce, who gave Anatolia the world’s richest amphora museum with the items caught on his fishing nets, teach many things to the younger generations.
It is for good reason that they call him the “sycamore of service” in Silifke, Mersin. Arslan Eyce, who devoted his life to enriching Anatolia and humanity, has an interesting story. Eyce is a true lover of the country from its land to its waters. His passion for the sea began in his youth. He always believed in the fertility of the sea at times in which the bounties it offered in Taşucu were not so attractive. In 1968, with a handful of friends, he founded the Taşucu Fishing Cooperative. In two short years, they became Anatolia’s biggest fishing cooperative and started sending fish all over Turkey and Cyprus. Regarded as one of the era’s most successful socioeconomic initiatives, the cooperative won first prize in the famed Karacan Awards of 1975. The success of Mr. Eyce was examined in the newspapers, magazines, and books of the period.
The Richest Amphora Museum
The success of Arslan Eyce—the silent hero of Anatolia—is not only limited to his cooperative. Eyce, a retired fisherman who spent forty-five years on sea, collected the amphorae that coincidentally caught on his nets in the depths on the Mediterranean for around forty years. One day, he realized he had one of the largest collections of amphorae in the world. In the mid 1990s, he donated his collection of archeological and ethnographic artifacts totaling approximately two hundred items to the Museum of Silifke in Mersin. The items started to be exhibited in 1997 at a two-hundred-year-old fish warehouse at Taşucu Harbor with the support of the Ministry of Culture. Today, Eyce feels the well-earned pride of having pioneered the establishment of the world’s richest amphora museum. “Drawing attention to Anatolia’s treasures is what’s important,” he says—and the Taşucu Arslan Eyce Amphora Museum truly is a treasure. Consisting of 190 amphorae from civilizations in the Mediterranean basin from Ancient Egypt to Spain and from the Northern Aegean to Cilicia, dated to between the 8th and 18th centuries BC, the collection is on display in the stone halls of the museum. Additionally, there is an exhibit in the museum consisting of more than four hundred metal and ceramic objects, the oldest of which is five thousand years old, from Arslan Eyce’s personal collection. “Instead of being materially rich, I chose to be morally rich,” he says, adding, “I knew my amphora and historic artifact collection was a priceless treasure. But it never occurred to me in the slightest to use my collection for personal gains.”
Don’t Let the Purple Swamphen Die
Arslan Eyce starts by saying, “Everywhere in Silifke is full of treasures, not just with its history and amphorae.” “Until the 1970s, it was a small fishing village made up of a handful of adobe houses,” he says, describing Taşucu. Today, Taşucu is a touristic harbor settlement with an accommodation capacity of approximately 2,500 beds. On average, one million people go to and from Cyprus by sea from here each year. The surrounding area of the region, which is sunny around three hundred days of the year, is full of deep traces of its eight thousand years of history, and Göksü Delta, right by Taşucu, is one of Anatolia’s most precious natural locations. Eyce says, “The Göksu Delta alone is more than enough to be a locomotive that will activate the region’s touristic potential.” But on one condition: “Just so long as the right touristic investments can be made.” And indeed, the delta that forms at the point at which the River Göksu, pouring down from the peaks of the Taurus Mountains to Silifke through a lush green valley, unites with the Mediterranean really is a paradise on earth. The delta is one of Anatolia’s wetlands for priority conservation as per the international Ramsar Convention. It is located on an important bird migration route. According to Eyce, if the necessary improvements are implemented in the Akgöl and Paradeniz Lagoon Lakes, where traditional fish trapping is practiced, the delta could be the fish production storehouse of the eastern Mediterranean. The purple swamphen, which is the delta’s symbol, is one of the species of endangered birds that inhabit the area. Eyce says there are more than 330 kinds of birds in the Göksu Delta and that around 130 of these are seen here year-round. Eyce and his friends have been working to preserve the beauties of the Göksu Delta since 1965. He says that bird- and plant-watchers come to the region from all over the world, backing up his claim with the words, “The Göksu Delta could draw half a million tourists a year by taking the correct actions in tourism.” As Arslan Eyce, the “sycamore of service,” bids us farewell, he says he awaits everyone to visit Silifke. We promise him that we will visit again.
THE PIONEER OF THE POMEGRANATE IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN
Arslan Eyce is a Silifke pioneer in pomegranate production too. Evce, who established the region’s biggest pomegranate orchard in 1983 with five thousand saplings, says that pomegranate orchards today cover 40 percent of the cultivated soil, though the fruit was a rare sight in Silifke in the ‘80s.