The Turkish word “Yoruk” translates in English as “those who walk”.
The Yoruk are Turkmen nomad shepherds originating from the steppes of Central Asia. During the course of successive migrations they reached Anatolia first, then the Balkans, Macedonia in particular. The first historical records concerning the Yoruks date back to the Ottoman Empire when their nomadism was exploited to strengthen strategic posts after territorial conquest.
At present only a very small percentage of the population leads a totally nomadic life: most Yoruks, instead, have adopted a type of seasonal nomadism. In Turkey, during the summer months, due to the excessive heat, the Yoruks move to the Taurus Mountains, camping from April to September, tending to livestock and taking care of the production of milk and other dairy products which will be consumed and sold during the following months. It is clear from what is already happening that this way of life will be completely abandoned by new generations.
In Macedonia things are different: the Yoruks have settled in the villages of Alikoč, Kodjalija, Kaluzlija, Supurge and Prnalija, which lie on the hills around the town of Radoviš at the foot of Mount Plackovica. The Yoruks constitute an ethnic minority here and consequently they experience some disadvantages such as isolation. A fundamental occupation in these villages, other than livestock, is the cultivation of tobacco.
Tobacco manufacturing requires a long process. During the summer months there’s work in the field which needs to be done, leaves to be harvested and dried for the winter months. Once it’s “ready”, unrefined tobacco is cheaply sold to the local government which, in turn, sells it to the factories.
The Yoruks are Muslim and their most important festivities are Şeker Bairam, Kurban Bairam e H’derlez. Around 90% of the population fasts for Ramadan. The Yoruk community in Macedonia has preserved many traditional customs. The most interesting ones concern weddings. Weddings last two days, from Saturday to Sunday. The ceremony is full of dancing and propitiatory rituals for the couple’s good luck and the bride’s fertility. One of these rituals is the “k'na gecesi”: the hands and feet of the bride are traced in henna and washed in the village fountain the next day. The wedding represents an important collective event which contributes to keeping together the community. Traditional costumes, specific and peculiar folk traits preserve the sense of identity of the Yoruk community.