“How can you fight against state authority?” says one. “They already started the construction, they will finish it no matter what.” says another. From Istanbul to Lisbon, millions feel desperate and impotent in the face of the great alliance of governments and multinational corporations for the destruction of the ecosystems.
But there is another story being told, also by millions of people around the world. A story of resistance, revolt and hope. Told by peasants and villagers confronting soldiers in Anatolia, and by the youth inside the teargas cloud in Gezi. They are stories that go against “You cannot stop them, you are wasting your time”s, that prove wrong all varieties of “There is no alternative”…
So what, if the men in suits have all the paperwork done? So what, if they started the construction? Maybe years later we will refer to those projects as “the half-drilled well” or “the unfinished shopping mall”, who knows…
Northern Forests Defence in Istanbul made a compilation of recent victories against mega-projects. (http://nefesol.kuzeyormanlari.org/nerelerde-kazandik.html) These are only some of the thousands of stories, a small but inspiring subset of environmental justice struggles (more can be found here: http://ejatlas.org/ ).
Loç resistance started in 2009 with the initiative of only two people, and mobilized all the locals against the hydro-electric plant construction. Following several mass protests, when bulldozers entered the valley, the locals organized several actions including the occupation of the the construction zone and a one month long vigil in front of the contract-holder Or-Ya energy company, after which the court decided to suspend the construction. In 2009 the court stopped the execution of the project. While the legal process (due to claims of the company) is still ongoing, the people of the Loç valley haven’t let the company in their lands for six years.
(more: Loç Vadisi Koruma Platformu, http://www.locvadi.com )
In 2008, Anadolu Group got the license for a coal power in Gerze, Sinop, and the locals got organized to launch a legal and political resistance.
The peak moment of the struggle was on September 5th, 2011, when protesters of all ages and backgrounds confronted water cannons and teargas bombs. The brutal attack that injured more than 50 people sparked anger and unity, which gave rise to long-lasting action. In 2012 and 2013 the Environmental Impact Assessment Report was reviewed twice, but the Ministry of Energy declined in both cases on the grounds that the required changes were not done. The project was officially revoked in February 2015.
(more: Yeşil Gerze Çevre Platformu – YEGEP )
In this moving story, Kazım Delal took bank credits to pay for court expenses against Ambarlık hydro-electric plant project and, when the money was not enough, he sold his only cow for the cause. After the victory, he moved on to another hydro-electric plant project planned in the main fresh water resource of Rize.
Also known as “Citizen Kazım”, Kazım Delal started a years long struggle against destruction of ecosystems, faced several detentions and many trials. He became the symbol of determination and resistance in Turkey.
The locals of Fındıklı have been successfully resisting against dams in their region for 8 years. With various actions including protests, debates, presentations and vigils, they mobilized virtually everyone and didn’t let a single step forward in the construction attempts.
(more: Fındıklı Derelerini Koruma Platformu)
The resistance against Güneşli dam in Hopa made it to the headlines when the company (Erva) wanted to organize a public information meeting (part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process), but company representatives couldn’t even enter the town due to public pressure from the locals. Following the mass protest in Hopa, many in Istanbul took to the streets in Taksim and occupied a textile shop belonging to Erva.
Soon after, the company announced it cancelled the project.
The decades long resistance in Cerattepe, Artvin made two mining companies give up their projects: Cominco Madencilik transferred its license to Inmet Mining, which left the town in 2009. This is the only example in the world of a mining company abandoning a site.
Ignoring court orders, the ministry gave the license to yet another company in 2012 and the locals relaunched their campaign to defend the rich biodiversity of the region.
(more: Yeşil Artvin Derneği http://yesilartvindernegi.org/ )
The AKP government announced three hydro-electric plants on Katıklı river in Tortum, Erzurum. The locals blocked access to the construction site, confronted gendarmerie forces, faced massive detentions of hundreds of people. After a long Environmental Impact Assessment process and many lawsuits between the company and the locals, the project was cancelled.
#8. Munzur, Hydro-electric plants
The projects on the Munzur river, planned in 1983, included 4 dams and 6 hydro-electric plants. After decades of struggle (including camps and festivals in support of the resistance), the court ruled in 2010 that the conservation of the natural site had “high public interest”. In 2012 the Ministry of Environment and Forestry relaunched the projects that didn’t have Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conflicts. The locals filed another lawsuit. In an exemplary case, the state council decided that natural reserves were not even subject to EIA process as their status already obstructed such construction works.
Locals occupied and blockaded the gold mine site in Bakırtepe where cyanide leaching methods would be used. The legal struggle started in 13 March 2013 when the government gave a license to the project. The locals won all the lawsuits so far. Even the objections from the ministry and the company were overruled. The expert opinion stated that the region was a worship zone and therefore part of cultural heritage. Bakırtepe will soon be listed as UNESCO heritage site as well.
(more: Bakırtepe Çevre Platformu https://www.facebook.com/bakirtepecevreplatform )
In February 2014, Dicle University administration ordered that 3000 trees in the Dicle valley and Hevsel gardens to be cut down. In response, students mobilized for a vigil in the site. On the 20th day of the vigil, the city governor announced that the cutting down was stopped and the area would be reforested.
Then on November 14th, 2014, the government changed the status of a large part of Hevsel gardens (7.5 million metre squares out of 8.6) to become construction site. Following the lawsuits filed by civil society organizations, the court canceled the status change in May 2015.
In July 2015, Hevsel gardens entered UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
The resistance against a hydro-electric plant project on the main water source of two cities started in 2009. After several years in protest, the court overruled the Environmental Impact Assessment Report and stopped the execution.
During the resistance, the local football team would enter the field with a banner against the project. To avoid their appearance in the finals (where state officials would be present), the match schedules were modified so they would play against the toughest team. When that match went 0-0 until the last minutes and the referee letting the opposing team’s fouls go unnoticed, a verbal argument started in the field. Using this as a pretext, the police entered the field, attacked the players, and injured 4 people. It was of course the players who were punished after this incident, and not the police.
In another highlight story, the retired imam of the village prayed against hydro-plants in a protest, saying “O my allah, we are here to protect our river. Make us attain our goals, my god.”
The villagers are now expecting the cancellation of the project that was suspended by court order.
The struggle against the hydro-electric plant in Ahmetler Canyon, a touristic site which also provides fresh water for 14 villages, started in 2013. In December 2009 the local government of Antalya decided that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not needed to launch the project. The locals were informed about this decision only in 2012, much later than the 60-days legal reclamation period.
When the company staff came with construction trucks, the locals together with civil society organizations set up tents and started a permanent vigil, blocking the roads to the site. There were four reported cases of armed attacks to the villagers by the company employees, as well as police attacks with tear gas and batons.
In November 2014, court overruled the exemption from EIA, which makes it virtually impossible to continue the project.
In 2010, the archaeological site of the ancient city Phaselis was leased for the construction the “Dream of Phaselis” hotel. The local youth got organized to spread awareness in the population and to mobilize against the project. Many local actions were accompanied by a petition with 95.000 signatures. The court first overruled the Environmental Impact Assessment exemption, and then canceled the licence.
#14 İztuju beach, Privatization
The worldwide famous İztuzu beach, the spawning place for the Caretta Caretta sea turtles, was leased to a company for eight years, which received a strong protest from the locals. A vigil that lasted weeks led the court to stop the privatization in January 2015.
The Yuvarlakçay resistance against water commodification and ecological destruction continued for 11 months in 2010. It was also the first example in Turkey of a hydro-electric plant project cancelled due to local resistance.
#16 Yırca, Coal plant
It was March 2014 when the Energy Minister participated in the ground-breaking ceremony for a coal power plant in Yırca. In early 2015, the locals launched a campaign against the project. The security staff of the company attacked the villagers by spiked clubs. One night, the company cut down 6000 olive trees in the region and caused national anger. With massive support from all around Turkey, the resistance grew and on April 2015 a court order cancelled the project. To celebrate, the villagers organized a plantation feast in May.
In the internationally famous Gezi uprising in June 2013, millions took to the streets initially against the destruction of a public park for a shopping mall project. While in some aspects more visible in Gezi than in other local struggles (and in some aspects less visible), all these resistances ended up deconstructing the growth-über-alles narrative of the state and the there-is-no-alternative narrative within the society.
Gezi is still a park and still belongs to the people.