Ahmet Do'an — A Person, Who Thinks How to Pay Back to Kyrgyz Republic for Its Hospitality and Uniqueness
A coder from Turkey, unlike Kyrgyz citizens themselves, is traveling through the country in search of inspiration for his son, friends and for those who think that they lack of free time in their lives. GO KG is launching 'GO KG Friends' section, where we will publish content of our list of media friends. This time it's EHOT's interview with Ahmet Do'an about his life, philosophy, and photographs, on which sometimes it is hard to recognize our country even for us, locals.
Ahmet, can you tell us, how long have you been living here?
I moved here in December 2007 from Istanbul. So, it's 8 years already. In Turkey everybody knows about Kyrgyz Republic. This is a familiar country. But, I didn't know how it looked like, what it is, and what kind of people live here. I had friends from Kyrgyz Republic in Turkey, so I did not feel like a stranger here.
Did you have some kind of an image of the country before visiting? How different was it from the reality?
I guess I saw something quite different from what I expected. Before coming here I read a lot about the country, talked to people, who have been here. I knew that we have a common history, common ancestors, what traditions and customs are, I know Chingiz Aitmatov, but the thing that really impressed me is mountains. I grew up in Turkey, in the steppe region, of course we have some hills, but they don't go into any comparison with yours. I still get surprised every time I wake up and see these high mountains with snow peaks.
I've seen your Instagram account, your photos are just great.
Thank you, it's very nice to hear.
How did you come to this?
Two years after I came here, I got married, and we got a child. Before that, I was not interested in photography — I traveled a lot, visited different places here, but never took photos. When my son started growing up, I bought a camera to capture moments of his childhood. I thought it would be nice to capture him with these backgrounds during those trips. I have not studied photography professionally, I just read a lot and realized one thing — it's not only technique, but rather a vision and an ability to capture a moment. It has to do more with some inner faith. I was recently in Turkey and I realized that a person sees something every day and doesn't notice the hidden beauty inside it. The same thing happened when I returned here. In my country the idea of Kyrgyz Republic is not quite correct, and I wanted to show them that it is a truly beautiful place. My mother argues, says that there is nothing more beautiful than her home country. Sometimes I argue with her and try to convince her that there are places in Kyrgyz Republic, which are at least equally beautiful.
Photos: Ahmet Dogan
I would like to travel more throughout the country, I would like to change the attitude towards the nature. I hope that what I'm doing will help to create more recreational areas, like in Ala-Archa. I have been there recently and I saw a deer up in the valley. It was so nice to see it and to know it's safe. In Turkey, in America, in Europe, those animals can be seen only in specialized places, but here you just need to drive 40 minutes from the city to see this miracle. You know, it's amazing, it's a God's gift.
I like taking my son with myself. In the mountains, there are villages and pastures, inhabited by shepherds, and I like it when my son plays with their children. I like people and places there, they are open and pure. These people in the mountains show you everything, they are very kind. A local child can walk with you for two hours in the mountains showing you the local beauty in his torn shoes. I love trips to the mountains, not only because of the photos, but rather, because of such people. Such visits make you think about the sublime. It's been 8 years since I started living in Bishkek, and when I climb into the mountains and see Bishkek, quite a small city, there is a time to think about life, about how many good people live on earth.
You have a full-time job, so how do you manage to find time for those trips, is it just weekends?
My colleagues also ask me where I fing so much time, they say, we are working as much as you and we don't have time for anything else than work. My family and I prefer outdoor activities. Recently, I had a day-off, and I was going to a mountain river in Alamedin Gorge, I left in the afternoon, and I've got great shots. It took a very long time to get home due to the traffic. It was dark. And in the night sky, I saw the Milky Way, just like on a Turkish channel TV show '360 degrees' and I was just thrilled. A couple of times a month I try to organize trips with friends or colleagues. If I can't get to mountain rivers, I try to take them somewhere else in the mountains. Not all of my friends were happy I take them to those places, but it was just in the beginning. Recently, a friend told me that in Istanbul he wasn't very fond of hiking, and now he is waiting for them impatiently.
You said that you do not sell your works, is that true?
I am convinced money does not bring happiness. If I was doing it for money, I would not have so many friends, many of whom have expressed a great desire to visit this country after publication of those photos. I want lots of my friends to visit this country, to get acquainted with its culture, nature, people. Therefore, in this way I'm trying to pay back to it — I live here, I eat and drink here. In Islam, there is this concept of 'sadaqah' — and, following this, I thank your country. It is enough for me that I have job as a coder in SEBAT. I have no desire to have more money or a more expensive car.
By the way, there's a Lada Niva on your Instagram page, is that your car?
No, actually I have a Subaru Forester. I am tired of it sometimes, but I it's enough for me. Money can't buy happiness. I always give my car to those who may need it.
I'm bringing up my son and I'm trying to show him that the world consists not only of everyday routine. In Istanbul, he saw only a mass of people, buildings, and streets, and here he could see mountains, rivers, see something new. My son often asks me if we are going to mountains, and he always knows the answer. This is what I was trying to reach — that he would become curious. I recently bought him a bike at 'Dordoi' bazaar, of course, I don't allow riding it in the city, but during the trips I allow him to ride it wherever he wants and to play with anyone he wants. And the experience he gets from this, for me is the most important thing. During those visits, my son has seen many animals. He is madly in love with them. All parents want only the best for their children, and all those trips instill in him a love to nature and animals. Here, in the city a child can easily throw something at an animal. Growing up, this child may hit someone on the streets. I go to a park with my son and there he sees a squirrel. It stopped being afraid of us on the third day — my son started throwing his food to it, and the third day we began to feed her with it. And now he understands that those are living beings. This is very important in this world, where nobody will ever save you except another person. Different people live in this world, they speak different languages, practice different religions, but at the same time, everybody wants their children to live in a better world. I believe that we must begin with our children. Introducing my child to the beauty of this world, I'm trying to keep cruelty away from his heart. The country consists of people and children are our heritage. Working with kids, we make the better future.
Many said that I moved to a small city from a large modern Istanbul, and that I lost a lot. I absolutely do not agree, because I think people here can do much more.
Photos: Ahmet Do'an
You mentioned other countries — which countries have you been to?
Not many, I have been to China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and some other countries. I was offered a job in Almaty, but I came back because I did not like it. Too crowded. Don’t think that if a city is small, it is a bad thing. In this regard, Kyrgyz Republic is more attractive. There are beautiful mountains here, and beautiful clean rivers flow from those mountains. Many people don’t appreciate it, and they don’t want to understand that this is a real wealth. This is noticeable only to those, who live in countries with no such clean drinking water. I was born and grew up in a beautiful location, then I went to work to Istanbul. But a man always seeks home and in this regard, the Kyrgyz Republic is a very attractive place for people like me. A beautiful place, where people have not yet been much spoiled by money. People here can spend less and thus it is easier to live. In this regard, I am very happy here.
In your opinion, how is this country different? What does interest you personally about Kyrgyz Republic?
Kyrgyz Republic is closer to nature. For example, when I buy products and I hear that they are natural, I trust that. In Turkey, if you see a 'natural' label on eggs, you know that those eggs are from a factory. Here you know that chicken is also from farms. In Turkey, for example, skiing is not cheap and not very accessible, and here there are at least five ski resorts I know around Bishkek. Here people like the nature and picnics and in Turkey there is a problem with that. It's really great when it's so easy to get out into nature. People here are wonderful, I really like, how many people of different nationalities consider this country their own. I talked with some students who speak a pure Turkish, and, at the same time, I notice that they have clean, bright thoughts. It costs a lot. According to my observations, and the observations of my colleagues, these children are totally from different regions — Naryn, Karakol, Talas. You feel that they, as adults, will keep it and will stay good people. For example, one of those students treated me very well in Issyk-Kul, took me to all the places, where you can make good photos. There I met an old man, who helped me when my car’s radiator broke down. The man was 60 years old and he still works. Life here is really difficult, but what's surprising, it does not deprive people of humanity. We’ve talked with him for two hours. He did not take any money from me. In Turkey, if you're talking to a stranger, he distances himself from you, because he thinks you want something from him. Here people are more kind and I like it a lot. I believe that money is not so important in this world and these people prove I'm right.
Have you visited all the regions of the country?
Yes, I have been to each of them.
Is there a region you like more than the others?
Definitely Naryn and Kadamzhai. Probably because of the local people, especially children, I have talked a lot with them. When they email me their questions, it is very important for me. There, as you know, we have our SEBAT schools. I’ve also noticed that teachers and instructors, who work in Naryn and Kadamjai have also picked up the mood of the local people. They are very united, fair, and just. For example, I know people who worked there for 20 years and still maintains friendships with local people. My observations suggest that people in small towns are more kind. At first, I researched a lot about Naryn. Was it that cold? The answers were it was indeed. But the people there are warm. Talas I also like. There are a lot of wonderful people and no less beautiful places. I often go there, and if I'm driving, I get there in six or seven hours, while the road usually takes only four. I just can’t go without stopping on the road of Suusamyr, by springs or rivers, I just stop to admire and to take photos of the nature.
Is there anything touching to you about a photography?
What I like about photos — it is an opportunity to plunge into one moment again and again. I recently published a photo of one of the villages, and my friend, who has not been to those places for more than 20 years, has written that he would like to go there again, and the picture excited his memories so much. Such moments are one of the reasons for me to continue taking photos.
There are still many places I have not been to yet. For example, I haven’t been to Alai. Many of my friends say it's very beautiful. I would also like to visit Altyn-Arashan.
There is a great desire, but not much free time for that. I recently have taken my family to the foothills of the Tien Shan — everybody tried to talk me out of it, because the weather was bad. The weather was really bad, but I have come as far as I could and I don’t regret it. Some of the best photos I’ve taken were during that trip. Also, when I went to Karakol — everybody told me to go along the northern side of Lake Issyk-Kul, but I went along the southern and I visited some great attractions there. The road was exhausting, but there were some truly magical places.
Last year I traveled to Karakol and we came back late at night. There was no lighting on the road between the villages on the south coast, but because of this, I saw the sky the way I’ve never seen it before. Stars in the sky were like sand. After that, I advise people to go to Ala-Archa at night. A bit scary, of course, but it's worth it. You’ll see a beautiful clear sky, black mountains, hear the sound of a river and breathe clean air. My friend and I went there at night to look at the sky and breathe: we took some food and sat down by the river, had a great time talking and I did a series of photos. View of the Milky Way was just divine, I have never seen anything like that in 8 years I spent here.
You know, it’s all about free time and desire — without desire you won’t find any time. I have problems with free time, sometimes after work, I'm tired and I take back my son from the school and just want to go home, but my son says ‘Let's go to the mountains?’ and I am happy, I take him to the foothills, make some photos and we go home. And on weekends I take my son early in the morning and we go for a ride in the mountains. When I took my son to Ata-Beiit, I saw a beautiful place, I saw people going to work early in the morning, others working in the field, all of that created a certain atmosphere, which helped me to make some good photos. Many people spend weekends at home — it's not bad, but I prefer outdoor activities. And when my son says he wants to go to the mountains, I try to encourage his interest and do not disappoint him.
Photos: Ahmet Do'an
Let’s say you've visited all the corners of Kyrgyz Republic, take beautiful photos, what's next?
I really want to start doing some short 5-second videos. Actually, I’ve bought a drone for that. I think when you see, for example, a water flowing in a mountain river, a short video can tell you more than one photo. I would like to draw attention to those beautiful places. I have one project, hopefully, with the God willing, I will finish it soon. During the project I want to visit Suusamyr, make videos and photos of those places for the exhibition at a museum. Not to become famous or make money, I just want people to see those places.
Thanks to local people and a beautiful nature, Kyrgyz Republic has became very close to me. It is important to show people that nature. Every year many photographers come to Kyrgyz Republic, some take pictures for themselves, some do it for their jobs, as far as I know, no one did an exhibition yet. And I want to. I want thereby to introduce our people to other countries. This is close to me, because people here have the same roots with ours. I know it from history, that our ancestors were from these places, maybe that’s why I am so drawn to this country.
On my way to Cholpon-Ata I saw stones with petroglyphs, and in a sense those are photos too, only made six thousand years ago. Thanks to them, we know what happened then. So we are doing the same, we pass our mood, our thoughts, our desires.
Is there anything you didn’t like here? Any difficulties? Do you speak Kyrgyz, Russian?
I can speak Kyrgyz, I don’t speak Russian, because I communicate mostly with people, who speak Kyrgyz. Regarding difficulties — nothing like that except maybe major holidays like New Year celebration — people can drink and behave inappropriately.
What are the problems you see in the development of tourism in Kyrgyz Republic, how would you develop it?
First of all the problem was the with inaccessibility of your country. Now this problem looks like solved. The second problem is that no one knows how you can spend your time in Kyrgyz Republic, here you can do and see a lot for 500 dollars. In Turkey for the same amount you can do much less. For example, recently I was asked to participate in a film about Kyrgyz Republic. And we wanted a scene with horses, so we turned to one old man from a village, and in two hours we were on a site with a herd of horses. In Turkey, it would cost a lot more and would take much more time. Few people know what attractions you have here, in particular, your mountain lakes. These places can attract tourists. I would like to mention that I don’t mean building hotels, roads, infrastructure, because it is important to leave those places untouched. Leave untouched, but do not forget about them. For example, I was in Ala-Bel 10 times over the last eight years. Many of my friends have not even heard such a place exists, though they have been living here for 15-20 years. They are afraid of those places because they are not well known. I'm working on it, so that people can learn about them. Everything will come. The war is not yet won.
Translated by Aigerim Kadyrova.