For more than a decade, 42-year-old Tuğba Karahanoğlu led a happy and busy life in Istanbul, where she worked as a software developer. But then a growing interest in organic food and healthy living led her to abandon city life and move to Seferihisar, a coastal district in Izmir province.
“I left behind a circle of friends whose subjects of conversation always revolved around physical appearance, or shopping, or the next hip place they’d be at that weekend,” Tuğba said.
In Seferihisar, known for its agriculture-based economy, she began a business growing organic seeds with several other local farmers, and soon met her future husband. Hakan, a 49-year-old electrician, had similarly abandoned the urban sprawl of Izmir city in search of a simpler life.
“The city started to suffocate me due to political and economic reasons,” Hakan, said. “One experiences such problems much more intensely in the city.”
Both now live on a quiet estate in Seferihisar, growing produce including artichokes, beans, pomegranate, plum, quince and tangerine as well as a range of oils.
The Karahanoğlus are part of a growing movement of people in Turkey deciding to swap the hustle and bustle of city centres for a more peaceful life in the picturesque countryside on the Aegean cost in western Turkey.
According to the Turkish Institute for Statistics (TUIK), the number of those moving from Istanbul to the wider region of Izmir has risen dramatically over the last few years – from four per cent in 2016 to 14 per cent in early 2018.
There has also been a significant rise in numbers moving from the urban areas of İzmir to more rural regions, especially around tourist towns on the Aegean coast such as Urla, Seferihisar, Çeşme, and Foça.
Motivations vary for such a move, although the cheaper cost and generally secular nature of life in Izmir is often a factor.
Selçuk Dirim was born in the Izmir village of Bağarası, but studied and then worked in Istanbul as an advertising copywriter.
At 32, he returned to Bağarası and began cultivating olives.
“Now I am much more peaceful”, he said. “The environment is cleaner and I never wake up tired. When you are in this business, you produce much more than you consume, and you don’t feel exploited.”
Selçuk currently produces oil from a 250,000 metre square grove of 8,000 olive trees close to the village
“There is an inexplicable joy to it. It is very fulfilling to work with olive trees, the trees that have thousands of years of history,” he concluded.
Miray Dirim, 30, is a trained archeologist from Izmir who also chose a life in the countryside. Having moved to join her husband in his family home in Bağarası, she sells homemade condensed milk from local cows.
The milk is popular with both tourists and villagers alike, and Miray said she loves her new life and the freedom she could not experience while living in a big city.
“I enjoy being close to nature, witnessing the change of seasons, learning about the farm animals, the soil, the agriculture,” she said. “I am quite happy now and would go back to living in a cramped apartment only if I had to.”
Industrial engineer, Can Belidayı, 38, moved with his wife and child from Izmir to the small coastal town of Çeşme, some 90 kilometers away. He said he simply grew tired of urban life, constant stress, noise, and pollution.
“We sold our house in Izmir and settled in Cesme because we wanted a more peaceful and healthy life,” Can explained.
He currently works in a environmentally friendly alternative holiday resort named Çeşme Köy, overlooking the blue Aegean sea.
Guests eat locally grown food and have access to a yoga centre as well as other and activities related to culture and art. There is no TV at Çeşme Köy, and access to the internet is intentionally very limited.
“We don’t want our guests to spend their time on the internet. We want them to enjoy healthy food, clean air, cultural activities – to feel connected to the nature,” Can explained.
But not every story of migration from city to countryside is successful.
Doğukan Sarıkaya, a 32-year-old engineer, had long wanted to swap his urban life in Izmir for a rural existence and finally made the change four years ago. He quit his job and, with four of his friends, tried to create a farming co-op in the region of Kemalpaşa, east of İzmir. Unfortunately, the whole venture failed after just three months when their funds ran out.
“The main problem was that we could not provide a regular income, and therefore we were not able to continue,” Doğukan said. “Also, my ideas about living in a small community have changed. It is much harder to live closely together with other people than I thought.”
Doğukan now lives in the center of İzmir and works in a second-hand book store and café. He has not given up on his dream, however, and says he is just waiting for the time to be right.
“I still want to live in the countryside, but I need more resources and more support to create the right infrastructure for that kind of lifestyle,” he said. “But it’s important that those who move from cities to rural areas do it not just to improve their own life, but also to help the environment and local communities.”