The environment has lost at the polls

The environment has lost at the polls

Turkey’s most eye-watering environmental struggle has been ongoing in the Black Sea for years.

Nobody knows better than the person who was born right at the side of a stream that water is the source of life. For this reason the environmental movement in the Black Sea features such a passion that it is hard to find an equivalent in the world.

However, when we look at the results of the local elections, we see that this has not quite been reflected at the ballot box.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) which has pledged to dry up the streams of this country with hydroelectric power plant (HES) projects has won 42.31 percent of the votes in İkizdere, 56.84 percent in Hemşin, 46.56 percent in Fındıklı, 55.82 percent in Çamlıhemşin and 55.88 in Çayeli.

The northeastern province of Artvin is one of Turkey’s regional paradises. It is among the 200 protected ecological regions in the world. There are 60 species of trees, 100 different species of plants and 21 species of mammals living here. They have fresh water sources.

The local population here has been fighting for 20 years to prevent the uprooting of this land through mining. As a result of this struggle, they managed to cancel the mining license, but the AKP government decided to re-license the region. Experts got together and prepared a report declaring, “If this mine is built, then Artvin and its district Borçka should be abandoned.”

Naturally, one expects the local community to demonstrate its reaction in the polls to the political power that would destroy their province and their district. However, when you look at election results, the AKP’s vote in Artvin was 46.33 percent and in Borçka, it was 54.17 percent.

In Arhavi, in the Artvin province, which faces an environmental pillage, the AKP votes were 47.7 percent.

The people from Hopa, from the east Black Sea coastal town, trying to protect its streams and its valley with all their might has voted for AKP at a rate of 40.78 percent.

The Kaz Mountains (Mount Ida) of northwestern Turkey have been riddled with holes through drilling for good. Then you look at the AKP votes in Çan, you see that they reached 52.51 percent and 43.19 percent in Ezine.

While we are here slamming those who are submerging Hasankeyf, along the Tigris River in southeastern Turkey, the rate of Hasankeyf’s votes for the AKP is 33.17 percent.

The population of Erzurum, who has been fighting for years to stop the HES project to be built in its district Tortum, granted 42.40 percentage of its votes to AKP.

The central Anatolian city of Konya’s Karapınarlı district is threatened by draught because of the thermic power plant, but the people of this town have voted for AKP at a rate of 44.39 percent.

In Şırnak where a battle against coal is being staged, in Dersim where there is a struggle against the dam, in Sinop and in Mersin where the nightmares of nuclear power plants are being imposed, in Manavgat which says “No” to HES votes did not go to the AKP, but it would be naïve to assume that this was based on environmental sensitivity. Other sensitivities were active in those cities.

People went to the polls in this local election with extremely overflowing sentiments; it is not possible to deny this.

Communities were so oriented by polarizing discourses and hate-instigating words coming from the center that the local population deprioritized their life zones, trees, lands and streams.

In a place like Turkey, maybe we are not supposed to expect environment to be the first motivation of people in a general election; however, we hoped that it would come to the fore more in the local struggles in local elections.

In this sense, the election results were a disappointment for me. However, as its name suggests, this is a struggle.  

Environmental rights, which cannot defend themselves, will be continued to be demanded by people who care about them, both at local level and nationwide.

For the next door neighbor, when he is cutting his tree, this does not only concern him, but it also concerns us. He may not like his tree, but that tree is also our tree; just like the streams of Rize, forests of Artvin and mountains of Çanakkale.

These places belong to all of us. And we will continue defending the rights of these places despite their own people.