One of the last master shoemakers in Amed

This report was published by ANF English on 7 August, 2022

Shoemaking was a traditional craft of Armenian masters in Amed. In the capitalist throwaway society, the profession is dying out. Kasım Oğuç is one of the last shoemakers in the Kurdish metropolis.

One of the professions traditionally practised by Armenian masters in Amed (tr. Diyarbakir) is shoemaking. The craft has a history of almost a thousand years in Amed and is in the hands of the last masters.

Kasım Oğuç, who originally comes from the Hizan district of Bitlis province and has lived in Amed for more than 50 years, learned the shoemaking trade from his older brother. His brother learned from his uncle, his uncle from his great-uncle, and he was trained by an Armenian master. Nowadays, this profession is dying out. Oğuç has been working in his own shop for 45 years. He grew up in the old city district of Sur, where he also opened his first shop. A few years ago, he moved to the central Yenişehir district.

A dying profession

Oğuç says that there is no one to continue his profession: “I had many apprentices, but only a few of them continued in their profession. After that, they quit. Now only one of my apprentices continues our profession in Istanbul. My children are not interested in shoemaking either. It is a difficult profession that requires patience and care. Sometimes you can get tired of this profession for a moment. But in the end, I earn our bread here. I can’t give up this profession and just do something else. Once you get used to it, you are also completely into it.”

“You must constantly improve your ability”

Kasım Oğuç has not lost his ambition and wants to continuously improve. He says: “We meet models that did not exist years ago. The most important thing is to improve your job. Of course, there are difficulties, and you must learn to overcome them. When I started this profession, I couldn’t hold the hammer. I must have hit my finger many times. But with time you become a master. As the models and products increase, you have to evolve. For example, when leather coats came into fashion at a young age, I started painting them in Amed. Then we started repairing leather coats. Now we also repair suitcases. If you don’t improve in your trade, you are not a master.”

“The economic crisis has hit us too”

The economic crisis has also affected shoemaking, states Oğuç, pointing out that prices are not what they used to be. The price of a product he bought a few months ago has doubled in the meantime, he notes. “If we repair a shoe today, 15 TL is too much for people. Maybe they are right, but we can’t buy products at the old price. Our customers don’t believe us if they wait and watch us. Today there is more work for us, but our earnings have gone down. Because we do buy expensive materials, but we try not to pass this on to the clientele.”

Working as a pensioner

Oğuz remarks that the economic crisis is not only reflected in businesses, but of course also affects families: “The economic crisis is inevitably reflected in one’s own family. One of my children is studying at university. Even though we are starving ourselves, we must take care of him. Another child is at high school, one is preparing for university, they too have expenses. Somehow our wheels are turning, but not at the level we would like. I have to work for the future of our children. Even though I am already a pensioner, I still have to work.”