The Old Koy Laws – village guards, stinky fruit and be careful where you put that graveyard.

On 3rd May 2012 the Turkish parliament debated and then passed an amendment to the land buying laws here in Turkey. The new amendment isn’t in effect yet, it still needs to be signed and then published in the official gazette but I received an early copy the other day and so I spent an eyeball bleeding morning translating it and putting it into context.

The context is the important bit because when amendments are made to laws here they are published as individual laws – for example this is Law 6302 and it’s title roughly translates as The Law Amending the Law on Land Survey – but they pertain to previously published and much more detailed laws. For example the four articles of Law 6302 are not standalone, they relate to, amongst others, Law 2644 Land Registry Law published in 1934 and Law 2565 Military Forbidden Zones and Security Zone Law published in 1981. You can’t really understand what they mean unless you know what they amend and what the rest of that law still says. Just knowing the amendment is like having only one piece of the puzzle.

Whilst I was working my way through the multiple layers of amendments which form the basis of Turkey’s legal system I came across the full text of a law I had heard mentioned many times but never read – The Village Law – and it made fascinating reading.

I live by The Koy Law, it determines, in very practical terms, how my village operates and it applies to anyone who is a member of a village, or koy, that uniquely Turkish, democratic invention that manages the lives and habitations of us peasants who gather together and call ourselves koy (it actually uses the words “peasant”).

The law is extensive, it was passed back in 1924, at the very dawn of the republic, and it was still being amended last year when a provisional additional article was added. Whilst large chunks of it have been repealed much of it is as it was back in 1924 and is still in force.

Article 13 details the responsibilities of the villagers, the compulsory tasks they have to undertake and how they must manage their village to reduce risks of disease. Keeping your village clean is important (!!!), for example:-

“Clause 7 – in the village and the houses around the village to keep the streets clean, each to sweep the front of its own house;”

Which explains why village ladies industriously sweep the road outside their own house only as far as the boundary to next door where they leave a neat pile of dust!

There are whole lengthy articles on how to manage rubbish – “stinky rotten fruit is taken out and buried and so wholesome things remain.”

And how to manage your graveyard – “The village cemetery in a place away from the village and the street, not on the water course, with a wall around the cemetery to stop the animal from entering and away from sweepings of fertilizer spill, take good care of the graves of everyone;”

The law enjoins people to work co-operatively, particularly in emergencies – “Accidental burning or destroyed the whole village help the poor to (re)make their homes;” and “remove money from a bank for the whole village and farm, garden, and give those wishing to take the seed and deposit the money then collect their debts every year;” In other words, help the poor people when it’s needed and extend credit in times of hardship.

Village guards get a lot legislation woven around them, their responsibilities, their uniforms, their pay and their age come in for a lot of legalise over the years – not sure who our village guard is, think it is Erkan who also is the village plumber, delivers the post, reads the water meter and issues bills; given he is rail thin, all elbows and knees and not too sturdy I reckon I could take him in an unfair fight!

The law instructs village guards as to how they should report bandits, how they can be held to account, and in one of the most recent amendments to the law, how old they can be. Retirement age from the arduous job of Village Guard has now been set at 55 years of age. I think some legislator wandered into a village and discovered a tea shop full of 90 year old guards and decided maybe the time had come to put a limit on how old and decrepit they could be!

I love this law, I could go on listing it’s clauses all day, because it is Turkey, in it’s purest form and I love the whole philosophy running through it, it tried so damn hard – it includes articles on how to give hospitality to travellers, enjoiners to bring books to the village, rules for democratic debate of village affairs, safeguards to stop one family taking over the running of the village. It really is quite an amazing law and you have to respect the men back in 1924 who first wrote it and now I better go bury some stinky fruit!

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