Construction plans for Turkey's Caretta beach triggers protests
The number of activists attending the vigil against construction has risen to thousands.A vigil held against the privatization of the protected beach of İztuzu on the Mediterranean coast will enter its second week today, with activists mobilizing to prevent a company from building recreational facilities on the site, a major nesting ground for Caretta Caretta turtles.
Local activists were prompted to action after officials from DALÇEV, the company that won the tender to operate the beach facilities, entered the area with three construction vehicles around midnight on Dec. 29, 2014, after a court lifted a stay of execution order on the privatization process.
The incident triggered fury among local activists, who spontaneously gathered near the beach and launched their resistance. They celebrated New Year’s Eve in İztuzu and thousands of activists are now attending the vigil.
“We were three in the beginning. Then we became five. Now our number has reached 2,000 people,” said Tuğba Özge Musaoğlu, a local who was among the first to join the impromptu protest.
One of the last untouched seashores along Turkey’s coasts, İztuzu is located within an archaeological site and has a special protected status that bans any construction on the site. The sandy beach is also globally known for being one of the main breeding grounds for loggerhead turtles, also known as Caretta Caretta.
But the beach’s environmental importance has not prevented the authorities’ privatization attempt, which was eventually won by DALÇEV last June, a local company that also has British partners.
“We wouldn’t even lay our towels in the areas were the turtles deposit their eggs. And then, one morning, we learned that construction machines had entered the site. This place was ours and we want it to remain like that, because it is the locals who will take care of it the best,” Musaoğlu said.
The particularly photogenic giant turtles are on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to the destruction of their habitat.
Activists have remained at the entrance of the İztuzu beach after Gendarmerie officers refused to allow activists to hold a vigil inside the protected area.
Legal trouble has ensued following the privatization, as the process was initially suspended by a court order on June 23, 2014. But the stay of execution was lifted in late September, with the Muğla Governor’s Office ordering the authorities of Ortaca district, which İztuzu is a part of, to evacuate the facilities at the beach. The privatization was then challenged by the Ortaca Municipality, with the Muğla Administrative Court ruling for a stay of execution for a second time. The same court lifted the order on Dec. 22, giving the go-ahead to the company to take over the facilities. But only three days later, a district court again ruled to suspend the execution of the privatization.
Adding fuel to the legal turmoil, the Environment Ministry on Jan. 5 confirmed that the tender land had now been taken over by the firm "in accordance with the cancellation of the stay of execution order."
Human rights abuse
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Mahmut Tanal, who joined the protest at İztuzu, said any action regarding İztuzu would amount to a human rights violation. “This would seriously hurt Muğla’s tourism, economy and the right for people to live in a healthy environment. What the state has to do is protect and develop the environment,” Tanal said.
For their part, officials from DALÇEV claim they came to the site after the latest ruling lifting the stay of execution had been announced. “We should normally have taken over in June. But the facilities owned by the Ortaca Municipality were not given to us. The municipality opened several lawsuits against us,” said the company’s executive committee head, Ramazan Oruç, emphasizing that if they did not undertake any action it was due to their “respect for justice.”
He also dismissed claims that their arrival to the site near midnight was an attempt to raid the facilities.
“The governor’s office announced the court decision at 5 p.m. So we entered the facilities [at night]. We are not here to occupy. We would have entered during the morning if the decision had been announced during the morning,” Oruç said.
The recent transfer of authorities regarding privatizations to governor’s offices instead of municipalities has hurt locals as it means they have less control over decisions on such sensitive matters.
A recent hospital project for sea turtles near İztuzu also raised controversy with activists objecting to the construction of the facility within the protected area. Their action was successful in obtaining the cancelation of the project but prompted Environment Minister İdris Güllüce to accuse them of fanaticism.
Many international environmental and animal rights groups, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), expressed their opposition to the establishment of a hospital in İztuzu.