TEMA, The Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats

Hayrettin Karaca (Our Grandpa Earth)

“I have received many awards but my greatest awards are only two. One of these is when a child showed me to his friends on a mountain 2500 meters high and said, “run, run, Grandpa Earth is here.” The other one is the biggest award vouchsafed to a man, I don’t believe there is any bigger award than this and this is that I am a citizen of the Turkish Republic. Each award gives a responsibility to the awardee. I live with this responsibility and this is what calls me” says our Founding Honorary Chair, our Grandpa Earth Hayrettin Karaca. He was born in 1922 in the Bandırma district of Balıkesir. His father was Hocazade Halil Efendi and his mother Mrs. Zehra. After he graduated from high school, he took over the family business tricot – weaving and made it one of the most successful industrial establishments in the country. The Karaca company was a pioneer for export in Turkey.

Hayrettin Karaca's love of nature started in his youth. In his fifties, he founded the first private Arboretum in Turkey. Wherever he went, locally or abroad, he collected seeds, visited botanic gardens, and made contacts. Currently, the Karaca Arboretum in Yalova is recognized by botanists all over the world. The arboretum accommodates 14 thousand species and at the same time, it is a gene protection center for endangered species in the country.


At his local trips, Hayrettin Karaca took pictures of the monumental trees in Turkey, started protection work for them, and warned the officials against the dangers the habitat and biological diversity are facing. During these visits, he also noticed a fast desertification threat that results from human impact. He saw that plant species were disappearing and also met destroyed pastures, dried waterfalls, and forests that were destroyed because of fires or that were cut down by the villagers to get fields. Hayrettin Karaca understood that he could not stay silent about this disaster he had observed and at 70 years of age, he acquired a new career, which was the leadership of environmental work in Turkey. Together with his industrialist fried, A. Nihat Gökyiğit, in 1992 he founded the TEMA Foundation (The Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats).

Be it at a village café for 5-6 people or be it a scientific conference for academicians and government officials, Hayrettin Karaca never gave up speaking and working for raising awareness of the environment, whatever the audience was and how many they were.

Hayrettin Karaca has many awards granted by national and international associations. He has also been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by various universities for his work. Presidency Culture and Art Award, Right Livelihood Prize that is also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize” and the United Nations Forest Hero are a few of Hayrettin Karaca’s awards.

TEMA Foundation Founding Honorary Chair, our Grandpa Earth Hayrettin Karaca passed away on January 2020 at 97 years of age after he displayed an exemplary combat to protect nature, attracted attention to Turkey’s nature and the danger of erosion by going to each village in Anatolia. This land will remember him forever.


A. Nihat Gökyiğit (Our Grandpa Leaf)

Our Founding Honorary Chair, our Grandpa Earth, A. Nihat Gökyiğit, who said, “Production is a must in order to be fred of poverty as poverty puts a pressure on the nature. However, it is also very important that production is friendly to nature. We need to embrace the eco-economy concept and not only the economy. This means that we need an economy that does not neglect ecology, but makes it central and a world that develops economy around it because we have to be friendly with nature.” A. Nihat Gökyiğit was born in Artvin in 1925. He completed his degree at Robert College in 1946 and his master’s at Michigan University in the department of Civil Engineering in 1948.


In 1956 he was one of the founders of the TEKFEN group company and he served there as Board Member and Chair; from May 2015 on he assumed the Tekfen Holding Founding and Honorary Chair.

He was one of the two founders of TEMA Foundation and he was also the leader and sponsor of the first projects on protecting natural assets and rural development. The Camili Town Sustainable Development Project was granted an award at Johannesburg World Summit Meeting.

A. Nihat Gökyiğit established the Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanic Garden (NGBB) on an area of 50 hectares through the ANG Foundation on his name in memoriam of his wife. He is also the founder of Tekfen Philharmonic Orchestra, which serves world peace as a significant cultural activity.

Gökyiğit was awarded “Honorary Consulate” by Georgia and Kyrgyzstan; Environment Serving Award by Akdeniz Universsity and Honorary Doctorate titles by Çukurova, Boğaziçi and Gazi Osman Paşa Universities.

Our Grandpa Leaf was awarded Turkish Presidency Order of Merit in 1997 and in 2010 Outstanding Service Award by the Turkish Grand National Assembly. In 2009 A. Nihat Gökyiğit received the award Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst&Young.