“In fact, most people live like a train that has to go wherever the rail goes, and most of the time they don’t realize it.”
Existence and Psychiatry, Engin Geçtan
The rural area of Izmir, in the ancient districts of Izmir with no coastline, has a treasure in its heart of Ödemiş: Birgi. The town, which is the capital of Aydınoğlu Principality under the leadership of Umur Bey has a history dating back 5000 years. The settlement, which was under the auspices of Aydınoğlu in 1308, came under Ottoman rule by 1426. Birgi, which was declared a protected architectural area in 1996, stands out with its silk weaving, unique architecture, houses, and values that keep faith tourism alive.
In this article, we interviewed Mutlu Sulukan, the mukhtar of Birgi, who lost his town status in 2014 and turned into a neighborhood. Mutlu Sulukan told us about the necessity of local development, cooperatives from the Birgi perspective.
First of all, can we get to know you?
I was born in 1980 in Birgi. I completed the primary and secondary school part of my education life in Birgi. I continued high school in Ödemiş. I graduated from Ödemiş Trade Vocational High School, accounting department. I am a tradesman right now, we have a minibus line and S.S. I am the President of Birgi Travel Motor Carriers Cooperative. I am also the Deputy Chairman of the Ödemiş Chamber of Drivers. As of 31 March 2019, I was elected as the mukhtar of Birgi District and I am continuing my duty.
Cultural heritage and tourism
What comes to your mind first when you think Birgi? In your opinion, how do people know Birgi?
When we say Birgi, cultural heritage comes to mind first and tourism appears as a source of income. Birgi’s architecture dates back to before Christ. Our city has been the capital of Aydınoğlu Principality, faith tourism has developed. The tomb of Imam-i Birgivi is in Birgi. The grave visits are made intensively.
Birgi is the center of Ödemiş silk. It is estimated that handlooms in weaving workshops started production 1500 years ago. Birgi’s main livelihood is agriculture and animal husbandry. Among agricultural products, olives, figs, and potatoes stand out. Chestnut and walnut production is intense in the plateaus.
The cooperative movement in Birgi
When did the cooperative movement start in Birgi and how did it develop?
Firstly, the Agricultural Development Cooperative was established by farmers of Birgi in 1997. Previously, Birgi Agricultural Credit Cooperative had started its works. The purpose of the agricultural development cooperative when it was first established was the development of the people living in Birgi and providing product marketing support. The cooperative started with animal husbandry. In 2000, 200 Holstein cows were distributed to 100 families for dairy farming. Agricultural Development Cooperative also provided irrigation support. The number of partners started at 100 and increased rapidly. Nowadays, the number of partners has reached up to 800. Animal husbandry and irrigation operations were carried out through the cooperative for twenty years. Provided feed for cooperative partners. Our cooperative did not do any work on other agricultural products.
How is the cooperative doing now?
Our cooperative is now in bankruptcy. This bankruptcy process has been going on for about 10 years. The cooperative is closed and to the members, the cooperative or the members do not contribute to the cooperative. Most cooperative partners have officially terminated their partnership.
Did you take an active role in the cooperative?
In the first establishment of the cooperative, I started to work as the accounting supervisor in March 1998. At the same time, while continuing this work, I became a member of the cooperative. Since I went to the military in November 2000, my work within the cooperative ended. My partnership continued until 2007.
The loss of trust
Why did you leave the cooperative membership?
We were experiencing a loss of trust as members due to the lack of transparent management of the cooperative. In the last days of my membership, the cooperative could not evaluate my products and we were having difficulty in getting our repayments for the products the cooperative could buy. When I delivered the milk I produced to the cooperative, there were initially 15-day repayments, but suddenly the repayment was increased to once a month.
The cooperative began to borrow continuously. The number of debts could not be tracked, our real estate went on sale and the cooperative lost its precious place. These problems, which were increasing day by day, worried me and many cooperative members around me. For all these reasons, I ended my membership.
Were the inspections of the cooperative regularly carried out by the District Directorate of Agriculture?
The inspections are not enough. The inspections must be made by the Provincial Directorates or Ankara. I think that the supervision of the cooperatives should be done by the Ministry.
How do you think cooperatives can be successful and sustainable?
Social security and tax payments of the cooperative can be followed regularly and transparently. When payment delays are checked instantly, the embezzlement process can be initiated through the responsible persons.
GoverThe report presentations made at the General Assemblies are both administratively and financially inadequate. For this reason, cooperatives are losing blood day by day. These losses mostly cause the crisis of trust and the breakdown of unity and solidarity.
Are there any other cooperatives in Birgi?
About 10 years ago, our Birgi Irrigation Cooperative was established. This newly established cooperative undertook the irrigation activities, which were affected by the negative situations in the Birgi Agricultural Development Cooperative. The work of this cooperative continues successfully. We take our measures to make the success permanent.
How are your thoughts on cooperatives in general?
Cooperatives are very important for our farmers and local development. Whatever happens, we must ensure the strengthening of cooperatives in the countryside, because I believe that there will be strength from unity. We are ready to do whatever it takes for this in Birgi. We want our town, which has a cultural heritage and a deep-rooted history, to stay with our children, who are our future, with the present beauties. We support projects for local development.
Thank you very much for accepting our interview offer. We wish for the development of cooperatives in Birgi under your leadership.