Pastoralism in Munzur


As dusk settles over the Munzur Valley like a greyish-purple mist, plumes of dust sweep through its villages, kicked up by hundreds – often thousands – of hooves. The dirt lanes that meander between old stone-and-mud houses (and newer homes of brick and cement) fill with the sounds of bleating and baa-ing and the occasional moo. Villagers separate their sheep, goats, and cows from the main herd, guiding them into outdoor pens or the stables that are built beneath almost every house. After hours of grazing in the foothills or on the floodplain, it’s time for the animals to settle in for the night. 


Flocks come in for the night


For centuries, life in Munzur has revolved around agriculture – mainly pastoralism. While most households grow kitchen gardens, and some sell their produce, people have typically relied on herding as their primary source of sustenance and income. Though this has been changing for the past several decades, as increasing numbers of families have adopted more modern ways of making a living, much of the valley still depends on sheep, goats and, to a lesser extent, cows. It’s no surprise that several of the region’s most important saints happen to be miracle-working shepherds.


Livestock is raised for meat and milk, which is converted into yogurt, butter, several types of cheese, and ayran (a drink ubiquitous in Turkey, made from a blend of yogurt, water, and salt). Herding families keep whatever they need for themselves, then sell their sheep, goats, and dairy products to buyers, often in cities outside the Munzur Valley, such as Elazığ. Even families that have given up herding as a primary occupation usually own a couple of cows, and maybe a few sheep, to provide fresh food for their own household.