The Man Who Tattooed Himself For Turkey

One look at Tristan and it is easy to see that he does not believe in conformity.

The Mohawk hairstyle and a strong, determined look in his eyes makes me believe he is not just happy with avoiding normality but he is also ready to challenge it.

This is proven by the 24 species of Turkish birds tattooed his arms and hands.

People like that interest me. I am fascinated with people that stand outside of the crowd and even more interested when someone has a country’s birds tattooed on his arms!

The natural instinct of a human being is to run with our tribe. We separate ourselves into groups and do our best to blend in, only speaking out when it personally affects us.

So when someone likes Tristan comes along, I am interested because in Tristan’s own words, he is

“Raising awareness of the biodiversity disaster currently ongoing in Turkey”

Tristan

Tristan is a British citizen. He does not live in Turkey and will not be personally affected by any ecological disasters that are happening in the country.

So why is he getting involved?

I asked the following questions to find out his story

Natalie : Hi Tristan. Welcome to the Turkish Travel blog. I live in Turkey full time and have heard very little about the biodiversity disaster that you say is happening. Please explain what it is.

Tristan : The Turkish government has sold off all of its water ways to private corporations. There are 1,738 Hydro Electric Power Plants (HEPP) and 2,000 irrigation/drinking water dams either being planned or currently in development.

The Turkish government aims to be at 100% capacity by 2023; so this is happening now! To put this into perspective, the total length of river systems in Turkey that will be used for HEPP’s or dammed is around 10,000 kilometres; leaving only 10% of water in the river systems.

Important! The Turkish government has carried out no stringent or independent Environmental Impact Assessments and no Social Impact Assessments.

The government has also responded to almost one hundred lawsuits by changing the law to eliminate any legal obstacles against HEPP and dam projects. Take a look at the image below to understand the full impact

Green dots represent HePP’s and Dams. Pink areas represent Key Biodiversity Areas. Image Credit ©Doga

Dam projects and Biodiversity areas in Turkey

The image above illustrates the scale of the developments. Every time I look at this graphic I find it incomprehensible.

How can the Turkish government believe this is acceptable ‘development’?

Natalie : So what will be the result when their planned dam projects have finished?

Tristan : The damage to wildlife will be catastrophic. If all these developments go ahead as planned a colossal 185 out of 305 Key Biodiversity areas will be damaged.

The wildlife of Turkey is of global significance. Turkey is home to 30% of the global population of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald  and 25% of the European breeding population of the Endangered White-headed Duck.

It is also home to more than 10% of the global population of the Endangered Egyptian Vulture, more than 30% of the global population of European Rollers and  more than 70% of the global population of the near Turkish endemic and Near Threatened Krüper’s Nuthatch.

Let’s not forget about 90% of the global population of the Cinereous Bunting.

Egyptian vulture

Egyptian vulture : Photo From Dreamtimes

Turkey also hosts five endemic mammals including the Anatolian Leopard. The country also has 52 endemic freshwater fish and 13 endemic reptiles.

In addition to this; one third of Turkish plant species (30,6 %) are endemic to Turkey and the nearby Aegean Islands (which include perhaps 50 endemic orchid species, many of which are already threatened).

The threat to biodiversity does not only effect Turkey, and countries downstream (such as Iraq, Syria, Iran) will also feel the impact.

This is a global situation!

It is of course not just the wildlife that will suffer, many people will be devastatingly affected. It is estimated that over 2,000,000 people will be forced to migrate into the already crowded cities as the water supplies dry up.

The drying up of Turkey will have a massive negative impact on this beautiful countries wildlife and human culture. So, the outcome is devastating!

Hasankeyf

Hasankeyf – An ancient town in the southeast where locals may have to move so that the town can be made into a dam and flooded.

Natalie : Wow, this is scary but you do not live in Turkey so why are you getting involved?

Tristan : I visited Turkey during spring 2011 with a couple of friends. We travelled through southern and central Turkey (as far east as Birecik). The amazing diversity of wildlife (and the sheer numbers) was like nothing I had ever experienced.

The scenery was breath taking (particularly up in the Aladag Mountains). The people were just beautiful, some of the friendliest and welcoming people I had ever had the pleasure of engaging with!

So these three factors insured that I had fallen in love with Turkey!

So after my holiday, I returned home excited from my experiences! However when I was informed of the environmental and cultural disasters ensuing because of the HePP’s and dam projects I was absolutely devastated.

I felt like I had been hit in the face with a brick!

I knew that if I had just visited Turkey and I didn’t know about this disastrous situation; then not many other people would!

So I had to do something that would raise awareness. To do this I had to think of something that would turn heads!

So, I ran a poll on my website and visitors voted for the top twenty iconic Turkish birds. These were all species I had seen during my trip!

The next stage of my plan was going from a man with no tattoos and a fear of needles, to a man with his arms and hands covered in tattoos of Turkeys iconic birds!

Crag Martin - right arm (4)

Crag Martin – right arm

This was not something that I expected everyone to like or approve of; but that wasn’t the point.

The point was to grab people’s attention, so I could both raise awareness to the situation and raise much needed funds for Doga Dernegi (the Birdlife International partner in Turkey).

Left hand

Left hand

Here is a full list of the species I have tattoos of:

  • Roller
  • Pied Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

  • Dead Sea Sparrow
Dead Sea Sparrow

Dead Sea Sparrow

  • Red-fronted Serin
  • Eastern Rock Nuthatch
  • Little Swift
  • Radde’s Accentor
Radde's Accentor

Radde’s Accentor

  • Cinerious Bunting
  • White-winged Snowfinch
  • Yellow-throated Sparrow
  • Ménétries’s Warbler
  • White-throated Robin
White-throated Robin

White-throated Robin

  • White-throated Kingfisher
  • Northern Bald Ibis
Ibes

Ibis

  • Pallid Scop’s Owl
  • Masked Shrike
  • Rüppell’s Warbler
  • Wallcreeper
  • Black Francolin
  • Caspian Snowcock
  • Crag Martin
  • Crimson-winged Finch
  • Desert Finch
  • Krüper’s Nuthatch

The tattoos were all paid for by me; so all donations went to help Doga Dernegi

Left Arm (3)

Left Arm

Natalie : But you are not just stopping at the tattoos are you? Tell me about the walk and possible documentary that you have planned

Yes, I have a big project coming up. My plan is to walk a route across Turkey covering about 4,000km. This project is a celebration of Turkey’s wildlife and culture.

I am not in the business of telling people what they should or shouldn’t do; but I can promote alternatives.

During my walk I will record as much as the wildlife I see as is humanly possible. This is a positive conservation project (a term I have invented I think)!

My aim is to engage with as many people (of all ages) as I can. I want to tell them why I love their country and tell them why I think it deserves protecting. If inspire just a handful of people to love their wildlife like I do, it will be worth the effort.

I also aim to set up an exchange project that will enable people to donate nature study equipment to people I engage with on my trek. Now, I won’t be carrying this equipment with me, but I will collect contact details and then when I get home I will allocate these people with donors. Then the people donating can have that direct contact with the people benefiting!

This is very much a people project and I invite people to join me for sections of the walk in Turkey (and even my training walks)!

I am hoping that a documentary film will be made of my Trek across Turkey. I would love to share the journey with as wide an audience as possible.

Natalie : What should people do if they want to join you on the walk or donate to your cause?

There are details of how to participate on my website on the following link: http://www.theinkednaturalist.co.uk/tattoos-walking-for-wildlife-the-full-story/

You can fill out the form near the bottom of the page to register an interest.

To donate to my project, please visit: http://www.justgiving.com/walkingforturkishwildlife

Many thanks for the interview Tristan. Please keep us updated with any development.

Readers Questions

1 – Did you know about the biodiversity disaster happening in Turkey? I knew a little but did not realise that it was happening to this extent?

2 – What do you think of Tristan’s dedication and his tattoos?

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Natalie

Hi. My name is Natalie Sayin and I am the author of The Turkish Travel Blog. I am an eccentric,Internet addict with a passion for history. I really shouldn't travel because I can not read maps and always lose my way! But hey, that never stops me and it is part of the fun! Leave a comment below to join the discussions.
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Comments

  1. Mesut says

    Lets be honest here; you are all here have a certain level of income and live more than average of Turkish people.

    I do not think Turkish government does these thing because it like to cleanse wildlife. I think it is to make their citizens quality life nearer to yours.

    You all love to sit and critize from the afar, why imagine yourself and honestly answer if your quality life is like average Turks, could you critize still?

    • says

      Mesut – I do not have a lifestyle and income higher than the average Turk. In fact I know Turks who earn twice as much as I do. My neighbour from Ankara owns two properties. I don’t. My neighbour from Milas retired when he was 45. There is no way I can do that.

      Also nobody said the Turkish government was doing it to cleanse wildlife. The article said they have not done any studies at all so they don’t know the effect that it will have on wildlife

      I ain’t criticizing from afar. I live permanently in Turkey and have Turkish citizenship so that gives me just as much right to comment as the next Turkish citizen. In fact, if you read my other 295 articles that I have written about Turkey, you will find that I have praised this country an awful lot so please do not make out that I am standing on some higher pedestal because I am not.
      Natalie wrote about..Gaziantep Castle : Remembering the Veterans

  2. Jessica says

    So sad. I feel helpless in situations like these. Glad to see Tristan does not feel this way and is taking action against this initiative. I do thank him for that and wish him the best in his efforts. As for the tattoos, I think they are excellent and a true manifestation of his passion.

  3. says

    Amazing story and very good detailed information. Well researched! Tristan is an amazing person! How great that you got to meet him. :)
    Also, I love your blog in general. I’ve traveled to Turkey but did not see nearly as much as I’d like to. I left knowing that I wanted to go back. You have outlined so many wonderful places for me to go when I go back. Looking forward to your next post. :)
    Mindy and Ligeia wrote about..Dao Tong: An Elephant Rescue Story

    • says

      Make sure you try and get back soon Mindy and Ligeia. There is still so many more articles to come on other great places to visit. So happy you liked the country.

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