By Burak Bir
ANKARA (AA) - The co-founder and honorary president of one of Turkey's foremost non-profit environmental organizations, Hayrettin Karaca -- or as he was known, Grandpa Earth -- died on Monday at the age of 97.
Taking to Twitter to express the group's sadness, the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats (TEMA) said: "We are deeply sorry for the loss of our Founding Honorary President and our Grandfather, Mr. Hayrettin Karaca."
Karaca was a scientist and one of Turkey's most influential environmentalists. He was born on April 4, 1920, in the northwestern Balikesir province near the Marmara Sea coast.
After graduating from high school in Istanbul, he took the helm of his family's apparel business, making it one of the country's most successful industrial enterprises.
Despite his success, he was more interested in literature and nature than in business.
In his later years, Karaca handed down the company to his son and began his frequent visits to Anatolia, taking photographs of the trees and plant patterns.
In his 50s, he launched Turkey's very first private arboretum in northwestern Yalova province, which quickly picked up a global following among botanists. He collected a myriad of seeds for the arboretum both in Turkey and abroad, visiting botanical gardens and widening his circle of nature enthusiasts.
The garden is also home to some 14,000 species and serves as conservation for endangered species.
Karaca's passion for planting saplings and for wildlife drove him to launch the TEMA Foundation in 1992.
Since its foundation 28 years ago, TEMA has been the country's leading environmental advocacy group, reaching nearly 500,000 members, as well as active volunteers and receiving the Land for Life Award from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in 2012.
Lester Brown, the head of U.S.-based Worldwatch Institute, praised Karaca's works towards nature when he visited Turkey and said that if one day an "environmental saint" was to be named, Karaca would be the first person to receive this title.
As one of Turkey's pioneering environmental activists, Karaca had received many field honors, including UN Forest Hero Award.
He is known for his aged red sweater and his emotional speech during the Forest Hero Award ceremony at the UN.
"It is not possible to say that we are going through a very positive period for our forests. We can't tell the difference between forests and tree cultivation. This results in the destruction of our forests on a global scale [...] Of course forestation works also contribute to life, but the ecosystem services forests provide are always greater, one can't even compare the two," he said.
Below are some of the many awards he received over the years:
- Honorary doctorate from Karadeniz Technical University in 1990
- The UN Environment Program's Global 500 Roll of Honor in 1992
-Turkey's Environment Ministry's environment certificate in 1992
- International Olympic Committee's award for the environment in 1993
- Lions Club International's the Melvin Jones Fellowship recognition in 1994
- Association of Practitioners of Environmental Technology's (CEVRETED) honor award in 1997
- Ankara Association of Journalists' Man of the Year award in 1999
- Grand National Assembly of Turkey's honor award in 2005
- Right Livelihood Award in 2012
- UN forest hero award in 2013
Apart from these, Karaca received many other honors not only for his environmental work but in many other fields as well. He also holds a PhD and awards in culture and the arts.
Also, a book by Sengun Kilic Hiristidis on his life, called Grandpa Erosion (Erosion Dede), was published in 2008.
Karaca's funeral will be held at the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul on Wednesday.