Interview with Mustafa Mendos Şıkman

Mustafa Mendos Şıkman

We’d like to introduce you to Mustafa Şıkman…

Fethiye is full of so many interesting characters, we decided that it was about time we met a few of them.  This is the fifth in a series of interviews with local people, who live and work in Fethiye.

Mustafa Şıkman is the British Honorary Consul for Fethiye and over the years he has been closely involved in various events and organisations. There were so many questions I wanted to ask him about his busy life in Fethiye but thought it best to start at the beginning…

Mustafa Mendos Şıkman
Mustafa Mendos Şıkman

You were born in Fethiye, could you tell us a little about your childhood and what is was like growing up in Fethiye at that time?

I was born on 8th September 1947, my parents’ first child. At birth, I was given the names Mustafa, after my mother’s father, and Mendos, after the mountain that rises next to Babadağ, on the southwest side of Fethiye. I was then followed by a sister and a brother.

My childhood in Fethiye had two stages: my life before the earthquake in 1957, and after.

Fethiye, which then had a population of only 4000, was the foremost agricultural and trading centre in Muğla province. It was devastated by the earthquake. The beautiful valley of Eşen was a major source of wheat, sesame, acorns, and tobacco. Every Monday the villagers brought their goods to Fethiye by camel and donkey, to the spot exactly next to where Likya İş Merkezi is today.

I grew up making my way among the camels and donkeys to reach the delicious ice cream, prepared by the grandfather and father of Devran. The ice cream was made in copper bins, constantly rotated in wooden barrels and filled with salted ice to create the everlasting taste of real organic milk with genuine salep [ed: made from the ground root of a special orchid found only in Turkey and the ME]. I remember playing among the barrels of sesame and barley or jumping over the bales of tobacco that lined in the streets waiting to be checked by a specialist.

Because of these products Fethiye was a major port, while Bodrum and Marmaris were insignificant. My friends and I spent many delightful hours watching the workers load huge sacks filled with these products, which were then lifted up above our heads by what seemed like gigantic winches to us at the time, after all we were small children; raising them to the sky, swirling them around and then carefully lowering them into the big bellies of the cargo ships.

It was always very hard to keep the promise we’d made to our mothers to be at home by sunset as playing hide and seek, tip cat, tag, jump rope, hopscotch and soccer in the streets was so much fun, even though we invariably ended up getting a sound spanking for being late! I remember we used to play another game called “Comen”, in which we would have wooden pistols and “shoot” each other as soon as we were spotted. I guess we were influenced by all the cowboy cartoons we read, like “Tom Mix” and “Texas”. In those days, the streets were always ours to play in; there was no traffic at all, except a few horse-driven carts.

It seems incredible now, but the post didn’t come every day and we had to wait three days for the newspapers to arrive.

I recall a French mining company in Karagedik, where all the workers were Turkish apart from the director, who was French. My family, along with several other friends, would have parties together with the directors from time to time, such as at the New Year. These parties always fascinated me; everyone would be so very smartly dressed!

One day my father approached me while I was playing in the street with friends. He took me by the hand and I immediately assumed that he was going to take me to the barber, something that I really hated, even though he was my barber until his death. He was also the hairdresser who would “iron” the ladies’ hair; straightening their curls or curling their hair, if it was straight. I still recall the strange smell of their singed hair.

But I wasn’t going to get a haircut. Instead we went in to a building and climbed a flight of stairs. Before I knew it, I had been enrolled at the primary school. All primary school children in those days had to wear black pinafores with white collars. A kind of uniform, it had been designed by the young Republic to avoid discrimination between poor and rich kids.

My school teacher was very strict. She had a nickname – Kara Fatma. She devoted herself to educating her students to the utmost level of her ability and she placed the greatest emphasis on Turkish language, maths and Turkish history. Her teaching raised the intelligence of my classmates and I to a very high level. The homework she gave us could never be finished by bed time, so we’d had to finish it by the light of an oil lamp, since the electricity was cut by midnight. No one ever saw her smile but her devotion to the young republic was so passionate. During the Bayrams we would decorate our classroom with her and, after the parade, we would gather in the school and she would play her violin for us.

During summer the town was buzzing with mosquitoes so we had to sleep with mosquito nets over our beds. Back then there was still malaria, so I remember having to swallow bitter quinin pills every morning.

The population of Fethiye was small so everyone knew each other, doors were left unlocked when people went out. There was a sense of true friendship and everyone helped each other, no matter whether you were rich or poor. It was an era of innocence, friendship and honesty.

Şıkman ailesi
Şıkman ailesi, 1930

On the morning of 24th April 1957, the day after we celebrated the Turkish Sovereignty and Children’s Day, an earthquake devastated the characterful and beautiful town of Fethiye. We quickly abandoned our house and I remember the streets being full of debris from the collapsed walls, every other house looked like an open stage prepared for a play.

The town was evacuated and we moved to a tent-town in Çalıca, just before Karaçulha. We were given a conical tent. The second day Turkey’s president Celal Bayar and Prime Minister Adnan Menderes visited the tent-town. What I especially remember from that visit is the highly freckled hand of Celal Bayar, which I noticed while I was kissing his hand as part of welcoming ceremony.

My uncle visited us and took me to Ankara, where I attended school. I finished the year and started the 5th year of primary. When the Barack School was completed in Fethiye, I returned to complete my primary education.

During the years that followed, I studied in Izmir but returned to Fethiye for my summer vacations. It was like a big construction site; the houses in Karagözler and in the central town were being built. We would play around big heaps of gravel, brought for construction, and swim in the crystal waters of the Kordon, where the daily boat tour boats are now. From 1957 onwards, it gradually became a town without character; families were scattered, friends were lost, and there were very few cultural events.

It was always very hard to keep the promise to be at home by sun-set while playing hide and seek, tip cat, tag, jump rope, hopscotch and soccer in the streets, even though always had at least a good spank from mum. We had another game “Comen”, in which we would have wooden pistols and shoot the others as soon as they are seen, without doubt under the influence of cowboy cartoons we read, like “Tom Mix” and “Texas”. The streets were always ours to play in, there was no traffic at all, except a few horse driven carts.

"Çarşı Caddesi" before the earthquake
“Çarşı Caddesi” before the earthquake

Your grandfather, Kamil Şıkman was the Mayor of Meğri (Fethiye) and there is a street named after your father, Baha Şıkman Caddesi, used to the Mayor of Fethiye too. What can you tell us about them?

My grandfather Kamil Şıkman’s uncle was the judge (Kadı) in Muğla and he was appointed as the Notary to Fethiye. I think he was probably the first notary. He settled in Fethiye with his mother and continued his career as the notary, and well as a maritime agency. He also traded in Fethiye’s products. My grandmother, on the other hand, is of Caucasian origin. She came from Istanbul and together they had seven children. My eldest uncle, Nazif, enrolled in the Turkish army during the War of Independence but was martyred in Aydın. Kamil Şıkman participated in the Turkish Militia, raising funds and preparing soldiers for the army. After the war he was decorated with the medal of independence. He also became one of the first mayors of Fethiye, when it was still known as Makri [Meğri].

Kamil Şıkman Caddesi
Kamil Şıkman with a visiting “Pasha” (general). Dates to 1890’s.

My father, Baha Şıkman, was elected mayor in 1933. Until his term ended in 1944 he succeeded in accomplishing many things. What he achieved in the town then could be compared with establishing something like a space centre in Fethiye today! He built the first municipal water system, distributed Şıkman spring water (the spring on the way to Kaya) to all the houses in Fethiye. Before this the Fethiye population had to use the water from the pool called Paspatur – the place that is now called the Duck Pond. Baha Şıkman also built one of the first electricity power stations in Turkey. He organized all the work carried out by the Municipality to the modern standards of the time, including the cemetery and abattoir. He obtained his fame through his honesty, hard work and foresight.

As the third generation of my family to seek office in Fethiye, I ran for the mayorship in 1999 but I lost to Behçet Saatcı, who has been mayor since then.

Baha Şıkman Caddesi
Baha Şıkman at the welcoming ceremony of an airforce team.

Can you tell us a little about your family life and career?

After high school, I studied at ÖDTÜ [Middle East Technical University] and graduated as a Civil Engineer in 1969, completing my master’s degree in 1971. For a brief period I worked at Koç Holding, before returning to Fethiye. I married my wife, Görgün on 18th December 1976 and since then I have lived in Fethiye, running my own business, a constructional engineering practice.

I have two sons, Baha and Doruk. Baha was educated at the Galatasaray High School, then in Ecole Speciale D’architecture in Paris, and is now working in Istanbul. He is married to Derya, who is a graduate of the Sorbonne and is a lawyer in Paris and Istanbul. Doruk studied at Kadıköy Anadolu Lisesi and then studied economics at Bilgi University. He also married a lawyer, İrem, and is a freelance photographer.

You have organised many Arts and Music festivals in and around Fethiye, can you tell us about this?

I like to create and develop social organisations and events. I have founded – or been involved in establishing – numerous NGOs over the years.

I was responsible for founding the Fethiye Association of Hoteliers, FODER, (now FETOB), which I also chaired and the Fethiye Rotary Club, which has recently celebrated its 1500th meeting.  I was also involved in the founding of the Fethiye Skal Club and also had a leading role in the foundation of FETAV.

Twelve years ago I came up with an idea of a Cultural and Arts festival in Fethiye. The concept behind this was to host artists and writers in Fethiye, who would meet with Fethiye’s students and community, exchanging thoughts and ideas and enriching the creativity of the students and the cultural level of our town. We began with only eight artists and writers but eventually reached a pretty impressive 200!

This project has enabled us to reach out to many schools in the rural areas around Fethiye and many of our students have been inspired by many notable writers and artists. This annual event continues to this day – as part of the activities organised by the Fethiye Rotary Club and the Muğla and Fethiye Municipalities.

The Fethiye World Music Festival is another cultural event I have developed over the years. We plan to continue with this next year, after a two year break. This festival brings international and local musicians together in Fethiye and is a means of connecting and bonding international cultures here in Fethiye.

You are the Honorary British Consul for Fethiye, what does this involve, what are your duties and responsibilities?

I had the honour to be appointed as the Honorary Consul of the UK in Fethiye in 2005. I work with a staff of two and we carry out all the consular work, which covers issues faced by UK citizens and tourists in Fethiye. Our responsibilities mainly involve assisting with problems such as hospitalisation due to accidents or illness, fights, deaths or lost passports.

If there was one thing you could change about Fethiye today, what would it be?

I would try to make Fethiye greener and cleaner, particularly the beaches and the sea.

How can Friends of Fethiye support the voluntary work you do and Fethiye in general?

Fethiye’s expat community has great potential for helping the town in many ways. I have experienced this at FETAV and working with various groups, such as FIG, EMBRACE, 3Cs and ANIMAL AID, as well as others. I am sure there will be many friends who can add to the quality of Fethiye’s Culture and Music festivals. Finally, I hope the Friends of Fethiye will help us to bring together volunteers for these and other organisations and events.


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