In honor of Halloween, I present to you the only legendary monster story I was able to unearth in Turkey – the monster of Lake Van
You would think a country with as much history as Turkey would be chock (cok) full of legendary beasts and monsters. After all the Greeks and Romans were here and they had tons of monsters, the country is filled with tombs and ruins, so you would expect some ghosts, and the landscape is eerie in places like Kula or Cappadoccia. However, in asking my students about monsters, ghosts, and ghouls – I usually get the answer “We don’t have them in Turkey.” Which just strikes me as pretty weird.
One of my advanced students told me that people don’t like to talk about the supernatural and that may be the cause. This is quite different from Morocco where stories such as Aisha Kondeisha, a ghost Djinn that kills soldiers and lures men from their families are used to scare children.
The only story, thus far that I’ve been able to pry out of my close-mouthed students is that there is apparently some sort of sea monster that lives in Lake Van, a mineral water lake in the far East of Turkey.
Situated at 1719 meters above sea level it receives a few short streams but has no outlet. That is why its waters are unusually rich in sodium carbonate and other salts extracted by evaporation and used as detergents. Swimming in these brackish, “soda” waters, where the only surviving fish is the herring, may result as an original experience, indeed.
Due to the annual inflow, higher than evaporation, the lake level continues to rise: several peninsulas have become islands during the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 1986-1995 time period a dramatic 2.16 m rise in water level occurred.
There is little left from the original dense wood along its shores. The only remains of ancient woods are in a very small region on the southwestern shore. The intensive pasture of huge Kurdish herds and deforestation for firewood erased even the memory.
So, that is Lake Van, but what about the monster?
I found this story on CNN about the creature.
Sightings of the Lake Van monster were first reported about two years ago, but further evidence was offered on Tuesday: bad quality amateur pictures of something long and dark moving in the middle of the lake.
After each sighting, professional camera crews have rented boats to try to capture the alleged beast clearly on film, but were unsuccessful each time.
The subject became an obsession for 26-year-old Unal Kozak, a Van University teaching assistant who has been talking to eyewitnesses since the first sightings.
Stationing himself at spots where most of the sightings were reported, Kozak says he saw and filmed the so-called monster on three occasions. Kozak also wrote a book on the creature, including drawings of the monster based on the descriptions of some 1,000 witnesses.
He says the creature is about 15 meters (49.5 feet) long. Public opinion is divided over whether the Lake Van monster is a clever hoax to attract visitors to a region that could use some tourist revenue.
The city of Van is in an underdeveloped area of eastern Turkey that for years has lost out to holiday resorts in the west of the country.
The pictures have been sent to Cambridge University for examination, and Jacques Cousteau, the world-famous marine biologist, is expected to visit and examine the lake.
Finally, here is the video footage of the monster.
I have to say, I’m fairly disappointed not to find any kind of legends of tiny people like the Menehune of Hawaii, of creatures like Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest, like the Pine Tar Creature of New Jersey, or the many ghosts and demons that haunt the UK or surround Lake Toba in Indonesia. I’ll keep searching, but it seems that either Turks won’t talk about their monsters or they are just too practical a people to have such stories.
In any event, I can see why Halloween has a 0% zero impact on Turkey. Most of my students have never even heard of it. However, if you are looking for monsters on your holiday to Turkey, head to Lake Van.