Hundreds of marchers from all over Turkey staged a sit-in protest over the weekend in the capital’s Gölbaşı district after being blocked by police from demonstrating in central Ankara against environmentally destructive practices.
The marchers, who walked from villages and cities across the country under the motto “We will not surrender Anatolia,” planned to stage their protest and make a public statement in central Ankara but were blocked by police from proceeding past Gölbaşı on Saturday. The group then staged a sit-in in Gölbaşı to protest the stance of the police, an action that continued Sunday.
“We are faced with an unprecedented destruction of Anatolia due to people’s habits of excessive consumption. All of its resources are being seen as commodities,” said Ayşegül Boydaş, a member of the group’s South Aegean convoy. She called for this kind of thinking to be immediately be abandoned and nature to be protected by the Constitution.
Murat Sarı from the Eastern Black Sea convoy criticized the police response to the protesters. “When thousands of trees were cut down and the people were deprived of their right to water no one did anything. Now we are seeking our rights but we are treated as if we are doing something illegal,” he said.
The idea of a mass march to Ankara came from people who have suffered due to dam construction in Alakır, a district of the Mediterranean province of Antalya, said Dicle Tuba Kılıç from the Southeastern convoy.
“This march is totally independent from institutions and organizations. We were desperate before the march but we achieved our goal on the way to Ankara,” Kılıç said. “Anatolian people continue to keep some values alive. We have recognized that there are a lot of people wanting to lead and keep these traditional lifestyles.”
Over the last 50 years, Boydaş said, an amount of wetland areas larger than the Marmara Sea has dried out in Turkey, while mountains have been handed over to mining companies and forests have been put up for sale. “We used to be a self-sufficient country. But we have turned into a country that even exports wheat due to the [government’s] erroneous agricultural polices,” she said. “The people migrated to urban areas from rural areas and these places have become empty.”
Özgür Küçüktülü from the Central Anatolian convoy criticized plans to build 2,000 hydroelectric power plants across Turkey, calling access to water a basic human right. “If a small hydroelectric power plant that creates less than 10 megawatts of energy were to be created on each river of Turkey, this would meet only 2 percent of all our energy needs according to the reports released by the World Energy Council,” he said. “Is this worth plundering all of Anatolia?”
Thousands of trees have been cut down, diminishing the habitat of many species, due to the construction of dams and power plants, according to Mehmet Ay from the Black Sea convoy. “They say they paid for the right to use the water. But all creatures have a right to water. It is not for sale,” he said.
“Nature does not belong to any corporation, state or person, so it cannot be sold to anyone,” another participant said.
Mining practices could have a catastrophic effect on Çaldağı, a district of the western province of Manisa, said Mehmet Duyan from the Aegean convoy. “Sulfuric acid will be used for the mining activities [there] and this will cause acid rain in the region,” he said. “Especially on hotter days, the Sulfuric acid will be carried to many places through evaporation and the wind.”
Pervin Çoban Savran, the leader of the last Anatolian nomads, the Sarıkeçili Yörüks, criticized the erroneous practices of Environment and Forestry Ministry. “We no longer believe that the existing system will help us meet our demands,” he said. “Instead, we will stand up for our rights and put an end to this process. We will not return [to our homes] until our demands are met.”