Mining takes priority over environment in Turkey

Thousands flocked to Turkey’s western Kaz mountains to protest the construction of a new gold mine this week, but dozens of similar projects have been ongoing across the country for decades, threatening the ecology above ground and below. 

The introduction of a new mining law in 2004 triggered a wave of new activity, and a rush of foreign mining companies descended on Turkey. From 2006 to 2008 alone, more than 40,000 licences were issued. According to the law, foreign and domestic investors in the sector are required to pay just 2 percent tax, discounted to 1 percent if the enrichment process is carried out in Turkey. In 2018, 539 mining licences were issued to 118 foreign companies. 

The Foresters’ Association of Turkey says the 2004 law has opened even the country’s best-preserved forests to all types of mining, including quarrying.

The association’s 2019 report states that, since the law brought in looser mining regulations, geographical areas with rare ecosystems in the Kaz mountains and the northern province of Artvin had been sacrificed for the benefit of mining companies.

The law, which was brought in after lobbying from foreign and domestic business groups, opened the way to mining in forests, protected areas, national parks, meadows, coastal areas, tourist areas, prohibited military zones and private property.

The amendment was passed in 2004 and came into operation the next year, and by 2007 mining activities had kicked up a gear.

Between 2003 and 2006, permission had been granted an average of 1,218 times a year to mine in forested areas. In 2007, that number rose to 2,089.

The area permitted for mines grew over the same period from 3,637 hectares to 11,168 hectares, and the area granted for mining facilities from 434 hectares to 2,146 hectares.

The report said since 2004 an area of 535,000 hectares of forest land had been reassigned for market use, permanently losing its protected status.

Laws passed under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in power since 2003, have made it easier to gain permission for the construction of processing facilities on forested areas. Since 2015, permission has been granted to build 7,917 mining facilities and 3,409 energy facilities on forested areas over an area of 165 million square metres.

At the same time, Turkey’s General Directorate of Forestry has shrunk, both in terms of budget and staff numbers, over the past five years, the report says, with the number of personnel shrinking by 9 percent since 2013 due to lack of funds.

Besides mining, education and tourism have made a large impact on Turkey’s forested areas, the Forestry Association said. Areas of forest have been carved out for development in these sectors, particularly to build campuses for private universities.

“For Istanbul’s Koç University alone, an area of 193 hectares of forest was used, while an area of 93 hectares was allocated for use by Sabancı University (in Istanbul). The General Directorate of Forestry’s 2017-2021 strategic plan states that since the end of 2015, 6,459 hectares of forest have been allocated to 61 universities,” the association’s report said.