This is the land where Alexander the Great slashed the Gordian Knot, where Achilles battled the Trojans in Homer’s Iliad, and where the Ottoman Empire fought battles that would shape the world. Tourists are mesmerised with its caves, rock houses and fantastical stone formations and fabulous history. More than 70 per cent of Turkey's population lives in urban areas that juxtapose Western lifestyles with more traditional ways of life.
However, this beautiful country has an underbelly where the earth is believed to deliver death rather than riots of exotic flowers, orange blossoms and grapes.
The people in Tuzkoy, a famous tourist spot, are dying or suffering from Mesothelioma - a cancer of the lining of the chest or abdomen. Nearly half of the deaths in this impoverished village are from this rare cancer. According to the experts the affliction is caused by a mineral that is found in abundance in the area. It is dubbed as ‘cancer village’. The number of cases of Mesothelioma in Tuzkoy has been about 600 to 800 times higher than world
standards. The situation is so alarming that a relocation of all residents is under way.
There is a plan to demolish the old village, bury it in 1-1/2 meters of earth and plant over it.
The Turkish government hasn’t yet made a final decision on whether to bury Tuzkoy under dirt, pave over it with asphalt, or just try to keep people away.
Tuzkoy’s inhabitants are believed to have inhaled fibers of the mineral erionite in stones and paints they used to build homes as well as in roads and fields. This mineral is found in volcanic rock and classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency on Cancer Research, the cancer arm of the World Health Organisation. The other carcinogens in that group include asbestos, arsenic and tobacco. Erionite is found in various parts of the world, including in the US state of Nevada but the cancerous material there is generally found far deep underground. Unfortunately it is very close to the surface in Turkey. People use the rocks which have erionite and build houses with them.
However, people are also blaming to the lifestyle: “The people ... spend all day in smoke-filled coffeehouses,” said farmer Muharrem Sevim, a 44-year-old father of three. It sounds strange but there is only one doctor, one nurse and one midwife at Tuzkoy. There are two cemeteries in the village and both are full. They are now opening a third cemetery. Villagers make a living mainly from agriculture, livestock, and from a nearby salt mine.