• Home
  • Beyond Borders: The Enduring Friendship of a Fisherman and a Stork Named Yaren

22 March 2024

Beyond Borders: The Enduring Friendship of a Fisherman and a Stork Named Yaren

The friendship story of Adem Yılmaz, a fisherman living in Eskikaraağaç village in Türkiye, and a male stork, Yaren, won the hearts of millions. This year, these two friends met for the 13th time.

Fisherman Stork Yaren

Adem Yılmaz and Yaren reunited again on 1 March 2024. Image: Alper Tüydeş

For the past thirteen years, when February comes to an end, Adem Yılmaz, a fisherman living in the Turkish village of Eskikaraağaç, finds himself eagerly counting down the days until he will reunite with his cherished friend from distant lands—that friend being, none other than Türkiye's most popular stork, Yaren.

The extraordinary friendship of Yaren, a male stork whose name means 'best friend,' and Yılmaz began thirteen years ago in the serene environs of this small village, nestled along the tranquil shores of Lake Ulubat.

Eskikaraaağaç, which has hosted an annual 'Stork Festival' since 2005, is also known as the 'Stork Village' of Türkiye as every year, as the seasons shift, storks embark on their long journey from Europe to Africa. Situated with water on three sides, Eskikaraağaç village transforms into a tranquil haven for these amazing creatures.

To the villagers of Eskikaraağaç and indeed to the people of Türkiye, the storks are more than mere visitors—they hold a sacred significance and a spiritual connection. As the storks soar towards distant horizons, their wings carrying them over lands and seas, they pass through the sacred grounds of Makkah, where Muslims journey on pilgrimage. For this reason, these birds are treated with respect and are also called "pilgrim storks" by Turkish people.

Male storks arrive a week before female storks to prepare the nest, usually using the same nest. And for the villagers, the arrival of the storks heralds the promise of spring, infusing the air with joy. They eagerly welcome the graceful birds, the symbol of hope and renewal. With laughter echoing through the streets, children run from one end of the village to the other, shouting, "welcome storks."

In this village, people are careful not to shake the trust that nature has in them. The stork families make their home among the villagers, nurturing their babies with unwavering devotion. And when the seasons turn once more, the storks bid farewell to the village and its people until their joyous return next year.

This cycle of nature brought Adem Yılmaz and Yaren together for the first time on a March morning in 2011. Yılmaz, who moved to Eskikaraağaç village after retiring, usually gets on his boat after the morning adhan and goes fishing. During one of these morningsa fragile silhouette descended from the skies, and a thin stork landed on his boat. “He was tired, and I felt that he was hungry. I offered him some of the fish I caught. He agreed. This was the beginning of our friendship," remembers Yılmaz.

Adem Yılmaz and Yaren, March 2024. Image: Alper Tüydeş

For 13 years now, during Eskikaraağaç’s stork season, Yaren accompanies Yılmaz every time he goes fishing, and on the days when Yılmaz is not out fishing, Yaren sits on the tree in his garden or waits for his friend at the pier.

Following the unveiling of this heartwarming friendship by photographer Alper Tüydeş in 2015, a ripple of anticipation spread across Türkiye and beyond as millions eagerly awaited the annual reunion of Yılmaz and Yaren. When Tüydeş told the story to his close friend, documentary director Burak Doğansoysal, the director thought, "I must make a documentary of it; it is an incredible story" and started shooting 'YAREN' in 2019.

Yaren and his partner Nazlı, March 2024. Image: Alper Tüydeş

During the documentary’s filming, Yaren brought his partner Nazlı to the boat for the first time, which Doğansoysal describes as one of the moments he cannot forget. Following its release, 'Yaren' was awarded the 'Best Documentary' award at the Prague Film Festival in 2020. Yılmaz, who was invited to the Czech Republic to receive the award, could not help but think about his friend Yaren's long journeys during this trip. "If even I can get this nervous when I get on the plane, who knows what difficulties and troubles Yaren must have experienced while travelling longer distances every year,” he ponders.

Burak Doğansoysal describes the friendship between Yılmaz and Yaren as “like the fairy tales we heard as children.” Stating that “this friendship explains, in a very fairytale-like language, man's deep-rooted bond with nature and his need for nature. It gives the message that it is possible for nature and humans to coexist and live in harmony." 

Yılmaz worries about Yaren when he is separated from him. “When he finally comes, it means the world to me. I worry about him for six months when he is gone. I wonder if he is okay, where he is gone, and if he’ll come back.” 

Burak Doğansoysal takes a more realistic approach, stating that “this is the reality of life; one day, Yaren will leave and will not return. I guess because of my job; I am used to hunting scenes of predators and thousands of animals that die from disease, fatigue, or as prey during migration. I will be sad if Yaren does not come, but I will accept it naturally. When that day comes, I will worry about Uncle Adem.” 

In 2021, Karacabey Municipality installed a 24-hour live camera near Yaren's nest due to popular demand. That same year, excitement swept across Türkiye as Yaren and his partner Nazlı welcomed five babies. In a social media survey, the babies were named Karaca, Kısmet, Eda, Umut, and Beşnumara. Two months after his birth, Beşnumara, Türkiye’s only living stork with a satellite transmitter, started migrating and reached Chad in ten days.

After enduring six months of agonizing separation from his cherished friend, Yılmaz’s heart swells with joy as he and Yaren were reunited once more on 1 March of this year. The joyous tidings of their much-anticipated reunion, captured and disseminated by the photographer Alper Tüydeş, spread rapidly across Türkiye, bringing solace and delight to the hearts of many who had been eagerly anticipating this momentous occasion.