Arabs fall out of love with ‘Turkish paradise’ as property boom eats forests

Arabs fall out of love with ‘Turkish paradise’ as property boom eats forests

SAKARYA - Doğan News Agency
Arabs fall out of love with ‘Turkish paradise’ as property boom eats forests

Despite stern objections from environmentalists, property developers continue to build villas on the wooded hills overlooking Lake Sapanca in the northwestern province of Sakarya, but Arab investors recently stopped flocking to the region as the “Turkish paradise” turns into concrete.

“Deforestation in the district of Sapanca has been climbing since 2005. In the past, the main cause was illegal forestry when smugglers were cutting down trees and selling wood in the cities. In the past five to six years, however, the main problem is the construction of villas. Forests have recently been opened to construction by the administration and permits have been given to build on 20 percent of the wooded plots,” Kocaeli Environment Engineers Chamber President Sait Ağdacı told Doğan News Agency on June 8.

According to Ağdacı, more and more “villa villages” are developed on hills and marketed to investors from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The prices range from 400,000 to 1.5 million Turkish Liras. “Only five years ago, a plot of land here was worth 50,000 liras. Now, the price is between 250,000-300,000 liras,” he added.

Environmentalists slam the government for letting developers get required permits from the municipality by quoting a recent regulation that allowed construction in areas that “lost its quality” as a forest. “These areas are still forests, so this regulation cannot be applied here,” Ağdacı said.

Deforestation in the region affects wildlife too. A local species of roe deer, for instance, has not been seen in the area for the past five years, according to Ağdacı.

Many locals confirm the concerns of environmentalists. Kemal Bucan, who has been living in the Dibektaş neighborhood of the district since the 1960s, said even riverbeds have been dried and opened to housing.

“The green is gone, everywhere is concrete now. It is worse than Istanbul here,” he said.

Some local property developers and real estate agents do not agree with the critics, though.

“There is no deforestation here. We do not harm the environment. These are projects marketed to Arabs and they bring significant contribution to the local economy,” real estate agent Murat Önder said.

However, Levent Reşat Erdoğan, another real estate agent in the town, admitted errors.

“These hills were opened to construction 20 years ago to get the votes of landowners here. This is the vice of politics. We are all guilty, especially the ones with the greatest ambition to earn money,” he said, warning that even the Arab investors stopped flocking to the region recently. “Because we have ruined nature, which is what had attracted them. They do not come here in great numbers anymore,” he added.