Western Turkish municipality fells trees for overpass, sends opposition into soul-searching

Western Turkish municipality fells trees for overpass, sends opposition into soul-searching

Western Turkish municipality fells trees for overpass, sends opposition into soul-searching

Some 158 trees were cut down in Yalova for allowing the construction of an overpass, prompting criticism from activists and dissent within the main opposition CHP. DHA Photo

The municipality of Yalova in western Turkey has caused an uproar after cutting over 150 trees in the city center for the construction of an overpass Nov. 27.

The decision has sent the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which won the municipality in the March 30 local elections after a very tight race that included a vote recount, into soul-searching over its urban policies.

Melda Onur, one of the most active CHP lawmakers who gave support to campaigns against the government-backed construction of a coal plant on an olive plantation near Soma, and a municipality-led mosque project in a protected grove in Istanbul, called on her party to apologize.

“As we are trying to protect Gezi Park, the Validebağ grove or the olives in the Yırca village, how are we going to be able to defend this plunder? We cannot be hawks against the government and ravens when it comes to ourselves,” Onur said via Twitter.

But Yalova Mayor Vefa Salman defended himself, saying that most of the trees were sycamores and current technology lacks the ability to cut the trees in such a way as to make their replanting possible. “We don’t have a choice other than to cut them down,” he said.

Local activists slammed the mayor, arguing that although not on the same scale, the mindset was the same as the one that approved the felling of millions of trees in Istanbul for mega-projects such as the construction of a third Bosphorus bridge and a third airport in the city, touted to be one of the largest in the world.

“We oppose trees being felled, particularly when the explanation for their cutting is that it is a necessity while alternatives are not being considered,” said Hakim Menteş, a member of the local NGO Yalova Platform.

The group, which left a black wreath in front of the municipality building to protest the move, said they had made proposals regarding the new traffic arrangement but these had been ignored.

“A few days before the elections, Salman posed next to a poplar tree that was felled near Atatürk’s mansion in the city, calling it ‘a massacre.’ We want him now to measure the distance between that poplar tree and those who were cut [by the municipality workers],” said Zeki Öçal, a lawyer member of the NGO.

Trees to be ‘donated’

In an attempt to assuage the criticism, Salman announced that all the trees felled will be distributed to the poor and some municipal workers for their heating during winter as an act of charity.

Ballots in Yalova had to be recounted after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won by a single vote following the local elections of March 30. The victory was awarded to the CHP’s candidate, Salman, by a very slim margin following the vote recount.