The following descriptions of territories of life across West and Central Asia were collected from the ICCA Consortium membership in the region. Cases have been grouped based on the ecosystems where these ICCAs exist.

Tahtacı Türkmens in the Kaz Mountains of Turkey. Photo: Engin Yılmaz


Tahtacı Türkmens in the Kaz Mountains of Turkey

Forest nomads: traditional ecological knowledge, rites, and sacred sites

Source: Engin Yılmaz, Yolda Initiative
Location: Kaz Mountains (Mount Ida)
Community: Tahtacı Türkmens (Forest Nomads until 19th Century)
Practice(s): Traditional Forestry, agriculture, and pastoralism

The territory of Kaz Mountains is an area of high biodiversity in the Anatolian shores of the Mediterranean that provide habitats for unique plant taxa, a diversity of freshwater fish, many reptile and animal species and rare birds, such as the Krüper’s nuthatch (Sitta krueperi), Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus). Having a major role in the evolution and maintenance of the area, the Tahtacı (wood-cutters) Turkmens are a nomadic forest community known to have inhabited the area for at least six centuries (Selçuk 2004). They are considered descendants of the 13thcentury Ağaçeri (tree-men). They are a subgroup of the Alevis, practicing a heterodox belief system within Islam, with vivid connections with paganism and interpreting nature as sacred. Forest, trees and the land are at the heart of the sense of the sacredness of the Tahtacı Türkmens, and their social and cultural identity is closely embedded in the Kaz Mountains area. Their rituals are mainly around the forest and the trees, for instance, the old trees in the forest are called ‘ulu ağaç’ (mighty trees) and it is forbidden to cut them as they are all sacred. Prickly juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus) and myrtle (Myrtus communis) are also considered sacred and it is forbidden to cut them. The significant traditional ecological knowledge of the Tahtacı Türkmens encompasses the forest ecosystems and their governance and management, but also traditional agriculture and smallscale pastoralism, all developed through centuries of nomadic lifestyles.

In the 19th Century, the Ottoman Empire forced the Tahtacı Türkmens to settle and its Forestry Directive of 1870 disregarded the Tahtacı Türkmens’ traditional governance rights. For livelihoods, they were forced to become forest workers, employed by the state, and controlled by forest officers on their own land. This even worsened after the 1980s, when forest management started being passed on to private entrepreneurs. Finally, in 1993, part of their land was designated as a National Park.

Tahtacı Türkmens are recognized as ‘forest villagers’ and their rights to forest resources are limited to harvesting residues such as bark, deadwood and branches for household consumption. They also have the ‘right’ to be employed in the harvesting, thinning, afforestation, and forest product transportation activities. The designation of the National Park has even restricted access to the land for sacred rituals. The Tahtacı still maintain their traditional beliefs and some of the traditional institutions, but their functioning is much weakened. The authorities allow the Tahtacı Türkmens to enter the National Park as a community only during the time of their traditional pilgrimage, from 15th to 25th August each year.

Today, the area is facing multiple threats from ‘development’ projects, including mines, thermal power plants, dams, and intensive recreational investments.

Tahtacı Türkmens in the Kaz Mountains of Turkey. Photo: Engin Yılmaz

In recent years, there has been one rare and significant large-scale protest against the installation of a gold mine owned by a Canadian company. One could imagine that the traditional forestry, agriculture and pastoralism of the Tahtaci Türkmens could be ‘rediscovered’ and ensure the sustainable use of the Kaz Mountains for centuries to come. However, the chances of this being welcome and supported seems meagre in the current context.

Despite the deep connection with the land held by the Tahtaci Türkmens and the fact that the rich traditional ecological knowledge they hold and apply is fundamental to maintaining and conserving the high biodiversity in the area, their rights and ability to govern and manage the land are not recognized.

They still have traditional institutions regarding decisionmaking within the community, based on their belief system. Yet, in many aspects, these traditional institutions no longer function as an integrated body. Additionally, they have faced oppression and injustices, particularly for the last two centuries. They have also been oppressed for centuries for being Alevis. Currently, the majority of the community is reluctant to openly oppose policies that harm their lives.

Panorama in Arslanbob. Photo: Wikicommons


Walnut forests in the Tianshan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Arslanbob: living in the largest walnut grove in the world

Source: Aibek Samakov, ICCA Honorary Member, and Azamat Azarov, University of Central Asia
Location: Arslanbob village, Bazar-Korgon, Jalal-Abad province of Kyrgyzstan
Community: Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities
Practice(s): Herding, collection of Non-timber forest products, tourism

Arslanbob forest is the largest natural walnut grove in the world, spreading over 11,000 ha in the Fergana and Chatkal mountain ranges. These walnut forests have remarkable biodiversity. However, the area covered by walnut forests has been substantially reduced and ongoing anthropogenic pressures on existing walnut groves thwart their successful regeneration. All forests are now under the exclusive ownership of the state. To prevent unsustainable use of the forests the government has declared some forests as protected areas but this action does not take into account that the local people depend on the forests and the resources they need for their livelihood.

The walnut forests are managed through governmental forest administrations. These government agencies rent out plots to local people for the collection of walnuts and livestock grazing. Grazing, felling of trees for fuel, and overharvesting of nuts and other non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as morels, hawthorn and wild apples are often cited as threats to the walnut forest. NTFPs processing is not well developed and as a result, the local communities do not produce value-added products from their NTFPs. Both community-led and external assessments highlight that there is a great potential for developing value-added NTFPs.

Tianshan Mountains. Photo: Jerry界/Pixabay

At the same time, local people point out that the illegal cutting of burls by outsiders (sometimes by forestry officials themselves) constitutes a much greater threat. Burls are smooth, knotty growths on tree trunks, often used for making high-end furniture and decorations.

In recent years, the local communities have been developing community-based tourism with support from international donors and projects. A growing number of households are offering various services for tourists such as lodging in guest houses and yurts, cafes, taxi services, horseback riding, etc. Such projects aim to reduce the pressure on walnut forests by generating alternate sources of income for local households. The Arslanbob forest also has a spiritual significance for local people, including several pilgrimage sites.

Arslanbob. Photo: Azamat Azarov

State ownership of the forests and short-term leasing schemes prevent local communities from regaining the sense of ownership of the walnut forests they once had. There have been several attempts to revive and promote community forestry and co-management, however to date such initiatives have not been effective.

Panorama in Arslanbob. Photo: Wikicommons


Saphari forests in Machakheli valley of the Western Lesser Caucasus Mountains, Georgia

Saphari forests: community-managed and governed areas of the globally unique Colchic forests

Source: Irakli Goradze, UNDP Georgia
Location: River Machakheli valley, Khelvachauri Municipality, Ajara Autonomous Republic, Georgia
Community: Machakheli valley community, Georgian
Practice(s): Beekeeping, subsistence agriculture, hazelnut growing, viticulture, tourism

The Machakheli River valley is part of the Colchic biogeographic region in the western Lesser Caucasus Mountains (South-West Georgia), belonging to the Caucasus Ecoregion – one of the WWF’s Global 200 Ecoregions, also a globally recognized biodiversity hotspots i.e. one of the world’s 34 biologically richest and most endangered terrestrial ecosystems. A key component of the ecoregion is the Colchic forests ecosystem, amongst the oldest and best-preserved examples of temperate broadleaf rainforests worldwide. In 2021, Colchic forests and wetlands were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

In 2012, the Machakhela National Park was established in the Machakheli valley, governed by the National Agency of Protected Areas. It is bordered by nine villages with a total population of about 3,000 people. The local community initially opposed the establishment of the protected area, partly because it also included their community-protected forests (saphari, ‘protective’). These forests contain sites of springs and chestnut trees, which are important for honey production and provide protection against landslides and avalanches. Officially, the saphari forests are governed by the forestry agency. However, the communities continue to govern and manage these forests informally. Previously, realising the importance of the saphari forests to local communities, the Forestry agency officials supported their protection by not authorising logging operations. However, with the inclusion of the saphari forests in the newly established National Park, local communities were concerned that the protected area administration might change established governance arrangements and management practices.

Vil. Lower Chkutuneti. Photo: Irakli Goradze

In response to the villagers’ claims, a boundary delimitation study was initiated in 2015, involving representatives from the communities themselves, local government authorities and the national park administration. The delimitation committee recommended that the protected area boundary be revised to exclude saphari forests. The national protected area authority accepted all these recommendations, and the protected area boundary was changed to exclude 1,400 ha – about 20% of the original territory. As a result, the community governance and management of the saphari forests continue as before. In return, locals agreed to include in the National Park some forested areas which were not considered as saphari forests.

The successful collaboration on the boundary change has improved the relationship between community members and protected area governance authorities. The communities have subsequently been interested in declaring the saphari forests as part of the restricted use ‘core’ zone of a proposed Protected Landscape. Following discussions with the communities and the municipality, a study implemented by UNDP in 2018-2019 developed a draft zonation plan for the proposed Protected Landscape that mainly situates the core zone on the saphari forests. The draft outline of the management plan for the landscape also includes these forests. The Protected Landscape would be governed by the local municipality through a management committee consisting of a combination of local members and others approved by the Mayor of Khelvachauri Municipality. A draft national law on the establishment of Machakheli Protected Landscape was initiated in 2022 and it is now being considered by the parliament of Georgia.