Locals fight to stop Canadian firm’s gold mine project in northwest Turkey

Massive deforestation and revelations that cyanide will be used in the production process have sparked a protest movement against a Canadian company’s construction of a gold mine in northwest Turkey’s Ida Mountains, Canada’s Globe and Mail reported on Monday. 

“I was born and raised here. My kids will grow up here. I want this nature to be protected, I don’t want it to be destroyed like this,” a 38-year-old English teacher told freelance journalist Nick Ashdown, an Ahval contributor. 

Some 5,000 people protested earlier this month against Alamos Gold’s mining site, with the demonstrations accompanied by outrage on Turkish social media, according to Ashdown. Environmental activists from the Istanbul-based TEMA Foundation say some 195,000 trees have been cut down, instead of the 45,000 stipulated in the permit.

John McCluskey, chief executive officer of Alamos Gold, said Turkey’s forestry service is replanting in what he says is a heavily logged region. “Under their management, the forests in [the province of] Canakkale have actually grown,” he told Ashdown. “They’ve planted something like three million saplings just in the past year."

Activists say the clear-cutting threatens the region’s plant and animal species, some of which are only found in Turkey. They also object to Alamos Gold’s planned use of cyanide at the site, saying it could leak into a water basin shared with a nearby dam that is the sole water supply for 180,000 people, according to Ashdown.

Jamie Kneen, of Ottawa-based environmental group MiningWatch Canada, says the method in which cyanide will be used in Alamos Gold’s Kirazlı project is risky, recalling a similar project in the United States by a Canadian firm that led to a $130 million environmental disaster. 

Alamos, which is developing two more mines in Turkey, says its projects will directly or indirectly result in 2,000 new jobs, and the country’s economy will take in $500 million from royalties, taxes and fees over the course of 15 years, Ashdown reported. 

Since the passage of a 2004 law, mining projects have increased sharply in Turkey, which issued 40,000 licenses from 2006 to 2008 as foreign firms rushed in to make profits. 

Ali Furkan Oğuz, a lawyer who specializes in environmental cases, told Ashdown that Turkey’s system of environmental impact reports, required before starting projects that could affect the environment, is not up to global standards. “Companies give money to consultancy agencies and ask them to prepare a report, and afterwards the government approves it,” he said.

Kneen said countries such as Turkey with weak rule of law can be attractive to mining firms because of their flexible regulations.

“Part of low cost is low compliance cost, low regulatory cost. Not having to spend a lot of time doing environmental-impact studies, not having to spend a lot of extra money on environmental safety and so on, I think that’s the attraction of international operations for these guys,” Kneen said.

Despite the protests, mine construction remains on schedule, with Kirazlı expected to begin operations in late 2020 and produce an annual average of 100,000 ounces of gold over a six-year period. 

“If I didn’t think I could build a very safe, sound project that would bring a lot of value to Turkey, I just wouldn’t be here,” said McCluskey.