How green is Turkey’s Justice and Development Party?
For some, green is the color of Islam, while for others, it represents nature. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a contradictory relationship with the different concepts the color represents. While it is at peace with the former, the same cannot be said for the latter.
In the eyes of its opponents, the AKP is an enemy of nature. Green areas in cities have been sacrificed for residential settlements; whereas big infrastructure projects, mines and hydroelectric plants were constructed at the expense of nature in rural areas.
The AKP, on the other hand, defends itself by claiming it has done more afforestation than any previous governments.
That might well be true. But afforestation does not compensate for the loss of a forested area.
“A forest is not just about trees. It has an ecosystem. It has its own climate; thousands of different animals live in it. Afforestation is about planting trees to an area. You do not bring the bird from the forest you have cut down. It takes decades for the planted trees to grow and create their own microclimate. So the approach of ‘we cut down trees but we plant an equal number of trees’ is the wrong approach that degrades forests to only trees,” Istanbul Forestry Faculty Professor Doğanay Tolunay told me recently.
The public is highly sensitive to forest fires. Many suspect forests near certain settlements are being intentionally burned in order to open that space to construction.
While forest fires are important and the public should maintain its vigilance about it; there is an even bigger danger the public is less attentive too, according to Tolunay.
“Forest areas are allocated for several other activities in the name of public good. They have been allocated for universities, hotels, mines, dog shelters, prisons and depots,” he said.
According to the figures at hand, many more forest areas have been allocated for different purposes compared to the afforested areas.
Some 650,000 hectare forest areas have been allocated for such activities, according to Tolunay. Each year, an average of 10,000 hectares of forest areas are burned, whereas 50,000 hectares of forest land are being allocated; in a way, that makes it irreversible for them to become forests again.
“I am not against opening forest areas for the public good. But other options should be sought first and resorting to forest areas for a specific public good should be the last option,” he said.
The third airport is being constructed over 7,000 hectares and 90 percent of it is in a forested area.
Even if the government were to argue it might plant trees to an equal amount of land, it is not going to compensate the loss of this huge ecosystem in the vicinity of Istanbul.
Ironically, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has confessed on several occasions how the construction frenzy came at the expense of nature.
“We have betrayed Istanbul,” he said once. “We have dirtied and wrecked Ayder,” he said on another occasion, for the breathtaking Ayder plateau in the Black Sea Province.
While these statements have not stopped the construction frenzy in Istanbul or elsewhere; on the contrary, the government’s pledge for an amnesty on illegal construction ahead of the June 24 elections has given a fresh boost to those who have rushed for new construction activities in order to benefit from the amnesty.
While the majority of the AKP’s constituency consist of pious conservatives in the country, ironically it seems the urge for green in this segment is on the rise. Not in terms of religion, but in terms of nature. After 16 years in the government, it is the first time Erdoğan promised “people’s gardens” where people can “roll over on the grass” during his election campaign.
He has promised the land of Atatürk airport will be transformed into a “people’s gardens.”
But then again, he did not back track from the Canal Istanbul project, which many experts believe would mean an ecological disaster for the city.
As it stands, green policies are going to remain one of the most controversial and contradictory policies of the AKP.