Turkey's Survivalist Mecca

How the apocalypse became central to the economy of one 600-person village

Sirince on the morning of December 21. (Ceylan Yeginsu)

As the prophesized doomsday hour approached the quaint Aegean town of Sirince on December 21, balloons were launched into the air as if to release months of Internet-fueled hype based on a misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar. When the balloons disappeared behind the hills, a local resident stated the obvious with a chuckle: "We're still here."

Sirince, a Turkish village of 600 residents located above the ancient city of Ephesus, was believed by many new-age radicals to survive the so-called apocalypse. Hotel bookings, local hearsay, and media hype suggested that foreign visitors would flock to the village by the thousands. But on the day, foreign tourists were scarce with Turkish tourists, journalists and energy enthusiasts making up the vast majority of visitors.

"The whole doomsday prophecy was a farce, the world was never going to end today; only its energy was going to change," said Oksan Icpinar, a bio-energy enthusiast whose interpretation of doomsday was an energy shift, which he believes took place at 1:11 p.m. in Sirince. Icpinar explained that many tourists had been put off by the mockery and hype of the event and cancelled at the last minute. Many hotel owners agreed.

Sirince has been associated with " positive energy" for years. An international organization called the Blue Energy Group has played a significant role in promoting the village in this capacity, saying it has " mystical energy" due to its apparent proximity to the birthplace of the Virgin Mary.

Omer and Charlotte Samli, owners of the Terrace Houses, have had bio-energy observing tenants, who have stayed at their houses for 6 years. One tenant, Grace, asked to stay in each room to measure the energy before she committed to renting the whole house.

Icpinar, who visited Sirince for the first time on "doomsday," said his personal energy changed as soon as he entered the village. Dangling from the balcony of Kirkinca boutique hotel, he shouted comments at a group of girls he mistook for tourists. "I'm normally so shy and would never act like that," he said sheepishly "But here I can't stop myself, it's the energy," he said.

When asked why Sirince has such an impact on his personal energy over others, he said the question was like asking why god had brought us into this universe. "This is a deep subject, but everyone's energy will change after December 21. Some people will be more aware of it, and some won't."

Icpinar claims that his awareness caused him to run up to the sacred shrine where some Christians believe the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven. "All this happened after clock struck 1:11 today," he noted. Some " doomsday" prophecies claimed that Noah's Ark would ascend onto the same hill to save Sirince residents when "the world ends."

Having lost his girlfriend in the 1999 earthquake in Turkey, Icpinar said he had been waiting for this day to shift his energy and finally help him move on. But despite Icpinar's erratic behavior that drew attention in the village on Friday, it was nothing compared to the apocalyptic predictions that had originally been forecast for Sirince. "We were warned that some foreign groups would commit suicide," said environmental activist Erdal Ipci, who attended the doomsday event to campaign for environmental awareness.

While the energy observers stimulated local business during the off-peak winter season, most business-owners' expectations were quashed by the end of the day as "doomsday" t-shirts and memorabilia remained stacked on shelves without any buyers.

Significant investments were made on pop-up shops to prepare for an influx of tourists, but stock remained in boxes. Even the local "doomsday" fruit wine that was crafted especially for the event was difficult to shift. And most of the furniture and equipment costs for the events and attractions surpassed sales.

"We expected chaos, foreign tourists, celebrities, but all the hype scared them away," said a couple who specialize in bio-energy and semi-precious stones. They believe that doomsday was never about destruction but about an era welcoming a sixth sun -- a source of new energy.

Regardless of the business flop, many locals have enjoyed the "doomsday" festivities. The normally quiet winter streets of Sirince filled with music and a variety of people sharing stories and mulled wines.

"It's amazing how much the media has spent on this non-event," said hotel owner Ilkan Kirkinca who mingled with tourists around a bonfire on the eve of the 21st. "One journalist told me it cost $2.7 million to broadcast from Sirince, which is unfortunate considering the outcome, but good in terms of publicity for the village," he said, optimistic that the spotlight would bring more tourists in winter months.

Back in his hotel, Icpinar sat in front of the fireplace reflecting on the day's events while feeding wood into the flames. "All I feel is new energy flowing. No malignity, no regret. I'll definitely come back, I'll come again," he said.

Locals charged visitors to take comical photos in doomsday-themed cut-outs.

Newsstands sold apocalyptic tabloids as the last newspapers on earth.

Two Turkish tourists from Izmir dress up as the Virgin Mary and Jesus to participate in events.

Special doomsday fruit wine crafted by locals went unsold.

A local villager dressed up in traditional attire and served tea as crowds gathered for the doomsday countdown in Sirince's central square.

A Selcuk Islamic scholar used the Sirince " Doomsday" events as an opportunity to hand out the Koran to visitors and children.