Courageous women of Black Sea resist natural degradation
Yücel Sönmez – ISTANBULThe women of Turkey’s Black Sea region, who are known for their courage and hard work in a tough environment, have become a symbol of the protection of nature during the latest protest against the Green Road project targeting the region.
Women’s efforts to protect the natural fabric of their mountainous region and their lifestyles hit headlines a few weeks ago when footage of Rabia Özcan, who was dubbed by the media as “Havva Ana” [Mother Eve], appeared defending local forests against mine construction companies.
Özcan is not the only courageous woman in the tough lands of the Black Sea, as many others are part of local groups and platforms resisting construction projects for mines or hydroelectric power plants (HES), which have been criticized for damaging streams and the environment.
Nazlı Demet Uyanık, 27, has been resisting the Kavak HES project in the town of Arhavi in the eastern Black Sea province of Artvin since 2012. Calling themselves “sparrow-hawks,” the women of Arhavi have been staging protests for the protection of their area without informing male family members.
“Arhavi is very precious for me. It is the land where my ancestors lived and where I grew up. People cannot think of themselves apart from the nature here, their lives are totally shaped within nature,” said Uyanık.
“We are continuing this resistance to protect our living spaces and future, as well as nature. At the same time, this is also a struggle for honor. It is not about being successful, it is about having the courage to start this resistance from the very beginning. We will continue our resistance to the very end,” she added.
Nurşen Yerlikaya, 55, one of the protesters against a mining company’s construction work in the Cerattepe neighborhood of Artvin’s Kafkasör highlands, said women are more determined than men in their resistance.
“I can’t sleep with fears that construction may start. We are on duty here and we won’t leave this place. We are not afraid of anyone because we are right. Everyone only cares about money nowadays; nobody cares about nature or water,” said Yerlikaya.
A total of 271 HES projects are currently ongoing in Turkey’s eastern Black Sea region.
Özcan, or “Havva Ana,” was among the locals in the Rize province to halt a road construction against commando forces, capturing the nation’s attention after protesting the demolition of untouched forests by rebuking the security forces with a large stick in her hand.
“We do not want this road. We are the people who constitute the state. The state is nothing without us,” she said in video footage shot at the construction site on July 11, defying waiting gendarmerie forces.
Although the Rize Administrative Court suspended the execution of the controversial road project on July 13 following a case filed by the environmental activist group Fırtına İnsiyatifi (Storm Initiative), trees were still cut down in the Ausor, Haczane and Husor highlands in the Çamlıhemşin district of Rize on July 14.