Activist becomes symbol of Turkey’s Green Artvin Association

Activist becomes symbol of Turkey’s Green Artvin Association

For days we have been holding our breath waiting for the resistance at Cerattepe, Artvin to yield results. The positive news we got the other day halting the mine construction work certainly relieved us all. 

I recently spoke to Green Artvin Association head Neşe Karahan, who has become a symbol of the struggle. I congratulated her. “You staged an extraordinary resistance and protected your habitat. You won a great victory at Cerattepe,” I said.

“We don’t call it a victory yet. We regard it as a positive step,” she replied.

“Why? Haven’t the mining activities been halted until a legal solution has been reached?”  

“Yes, but there are still many security forces in Artvin. Security forces from seven provinces have been sent into Artvin. For the tension to ease, we want them to be withdrawn immediately. We are also expecting the company’s heavy machinery and equipment to leave Cerattepe. So the halting of work is positive but it isn’t enough.”

I asked about Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s attitude on the issue. 

“We requested to see the prime minister and he received us. It was very positive. It was constructive. We think he has been misinformed. We told him this. We explained that such mining activity would damage the region. We told him that this was a vital struggle for the people of Artvin. But the meeting alone does not mean they have finally given up on building this mine. We want the total abandonment of the project and we will resist until we achieve this,” Karahan said.

I asked her about why this resistance was so important for Artvin. 

“Artvin is a part of world heritage. It has a special ecosystem. It is sad that they say there are plenty of trees in the area and they can plant 100 for every 10 cut down. It is sad to hear the forestry minister saying this. There can be no such thing. We are talking about an ecosystem - the natural forests of the eastern Black Sea region. Trees are one thing, forests are entirely another thing. We have never focused on just the number of trees. In this special ecosystem there are hundreds of medical and aromatic plants. There are things that should be passed onto future generations that are beneficial for humanity. Their extinction would be a loss for humanity. This is our main priority. The other priority is that Artvin has a sensitive geography. Its structure is prone to landslides and any mining activity in the region may trigger landslides. Everyone here knows that. Previously the project was abandoned legally for this reason, but unfortunately companies have stepped in again for a new project,” she said. 

“Indeed, we have hundreds of reasons for not wanting the mine. If the project goes ahead then our water and everything will be poisoned. This place will cease to be a living habitat. Artvin is also important in terms of wildlife, with precious caracals, deer, and even snakes. We are living in an incredible place, which is why we’re insisting that we have more richness aboveground than underground. The previous national director of forests was a true scientist but unfortunately he was relocated because he resisted mining in this area. When they could not change the report, they changed the director. I could talk day and night about such injustices,” Karahan added.

I asked her about how a second project could be approved after the first was cancelled. She said she believed there was no explanation. 

“The first company withdrew from the project, largely due to the reaction of the Artvin people and the Forestry Ministry at the time. But in 2005 another firm came forward and that’s when the legal procedure began. At the end of 2008, the second company’s license was cancelled. At the beginning of 2009, the Council of State confirmed the cancellation and ruled that mining could not be done there. Nevertheless in 2012 new tenders were held for 250 hectares in Cerattepe and 4,156 hectares around Genya Mountain. This mentality wants to transform all the land of Artvin into mining fields, but this is completely unacceptable,” Karahan said.