Yavuz Baydar
Aug 19 2019

Now, Anatolia’s natural resources are up for grabs

The Anatolian Peninsula — extending to Thrace, bordering Bulgaria and Greece — has one of the richest, most diverse collections of flora and fauna in the Mediterranean and Black Sea basin, but with the recent acceleration of the government-approved destruction of its natural environment, all that may soon be history.

Since Turkey’s municipal elections, which shook the ground under the Islamist-dominated regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, eyes have anxiously turned on projects that environmentalists — rather weak and mainly ignored by the centrist opposition parties — say will inflict irreversible harm to life conditions in general in Turkey.

Destructive measures to modify the natural textures of Anatolia, accompanied by freak construction projects, have been part of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) but the apparent acceleration of what environmentalists brand as “hostile attacks” is not a coincidence.

Shattered by the economic crisis, Islamist-dominated rulers in Ankara see the selling or renting of valuable land on the peninsula or at the seashore as inevitable channels to stay in power, while business circles, local politicians and party nomenklatura are eager to grab a piece of the cake by winning lucrative contracts, often sidelining the law.

In other, perhaps related, developments, forest fires have flared up, with more than 25 blazes reported in various locations. Suspicions are high, given that the affected locations are of high value — potential settlements or tourist resorts near the sea — that the incidents may not be accidents.

In direct proportion to the escalation, popular resistance to the AKP’s policies, which had been visible in the opposition alliance taking over the municipalities in six major cities in the western half of Anatolia, focuses these days on ecological issues. An increasing number of locals, backed by activists from metropoles such as Istanbul and Izmir, are engaged in protest marches, peaceful assemblies and petition campaigns on several symbolic cases.

The strongest attention is on Kaz Mountains, a large ecosystem near Troy, a mountain known anciently as Ida, marked as the cradle of Greek mythology, whose flora is a paradise for biologists for its richness.

When it became clear that a Turkish company, Dogu Biga, a subsidiary of the Canadian giant Alamos Gold, had cut more than 150,000 trees for a gold-digging project, it led to a massive mobilisation in Canakkale.

The revelations were perhaps the last drop in the area, where tensions were suppressed by authorities, when local environmentalists had filed nearly 40 legal cases against a dozen hydroelectric power plant construction projects.

Similar issues pop up elsewhere with increasing frequency. A report by the Cumhuriyet newspaper raised questions about the construction of Akkuyu Nuclear Plant on the southern shore of Anatolia, near Mersin. Engineers told the newspaper of “grave oversights in the construction,” which, they said would cause a natural calamity in the area. Even a basic house would be built more scientifically, they warned. There were no reactions from the authorities.

Due to the construction of Istanbul’s new, gigantic airport, not only 13 million trees of the only remaining forest in the vicinity of the city were chopped down but there are near-daily incidents of planes hitting large flocks of birds, whose natural habitat had been in the area.

Elsewhere as in Uzungol, once a marvel of nature on the eastern Black Sea mountains, or in another lake, Salda, in the mid-Anatolia, concrete projects have destroyed the textures, as companies, whose owners are linked with the AKP, are declared the winners of public tenders to build public parks, whose aesthetics have been severely criticised by the architects’ chambers.

Will these trends continue? The problem with Turkey’s opposition in general is its disorder and lack of coherence in organising the public discontent. About half of Turkey’s population — if not more — is discontent with the ways Erdogan is running the country.

The way the anger and protests emerge — and fade — are signs of the absence of clear-sighted leadership in challenging these ways. Coupled with the extremely weakened critical media, the half-hearted approach of the main opposition to issue-based resistance cause a vicious cycle and disbelief in democratic race.

Nevertheless, the targeting of the natural resources show how deep corruption in Turkey has gone as opposition voters’ motto in the recent local elections — #everythingwillbejustfine — fades away, once more.