Youth ‘coming up with new methods to defend nature'

Youth ‘coming up with new methods to defend nature'

Barçın Yinanç - ISTANBUL
Youth ‘coming up with new methods to defend nature

Young generations are coming equipped with very different concepts, activist Defne Koryürek has said, adding that nowadays a child knows the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian better than an adult.

Every year we used to see you with a ruler in your hand in the early hours of Sept. 1 — at the end of the fishing ban — measuring the size of the fish in the market in order to save the bluefish (lüfer in Turkish) from being wiped out. You have led dynamic campaigns for better fishing policies. What do you see looking at the current situation?

What I see essentially is that we have not registered much progress. We are still living in a period where the intention is to have big profit margins over everything that you find cheap. One of the cheapest things to find is nature — and fish is a part of it. People say, “fish will never finish; it’s like sand in the sea,” and react when hamsi (anchovy) is sold for 2 Turkish Liras per kilo or feel being ripped off when a pair of bonito is sold for 5 liras. There is an economy that is not built over a reflection on “where we stand, where that bluefish stand in our planet.” 2012 was probably the best year (for the campaigns). I cannot say our campaigns, especially between 2012-2014, have helped the fish, but still if we have created even the slightest awareness in terms of understanding ecology, even if this represents a drop (in the ocean), I would feel proud of that.

You are also among the pioneers of the slow food movement in Turkey. What do you see when you currently look at the slow food movement.

The late Muhtar Katırcıoğlu, who made Siyez known (the oldest type of wheat still in existence in Turkey), Ahmet Örs, Nedim Atilla and Aylin Öney Tan are among the pioneers. We came after them but probably have attracted attention as we came with our projects, like the one on bluefish, or the one that gained international recognition to Siyez, by earning the Slow Food Presidia title.

As the founder and the head of “opinionated palates,” below the Slow Food Turkey movement I was the only one from Turkey to be invited as a regional pioneer leader to Slow Food’s international administration and worked for four years in the international council. Today, Turkey has no representative in the council, because Turkey is no longer shining with its projects. Not that it has no leaders capable of organizing successful campaigns. I left “opinionated palates” to younger generations, who are very capable.

But organizing ecological campaigns have become rather difficult. This is not just valid for Turkey. Even in Western countries, ecology activists are seen as number one threats to society. Ecology is seen as a rising threat all over the world. The British daily The Guardian published a section called “The Defenders,” including the names of all ecology activists that were murdered at the hands of companies, but the murderers were not found. Aysin and Ali Büyüknohutçu — murdered in 2017 — from Turkey are on the list as you know.

 Youth ‘coming up with new methods to defend nature

But perhaps this attests to the fact that ecology activism has made itself heard; sadly the increased perception by some as “threats” might mean activists succeeded in attracting attention to their cause.

No doubt. What I meant to say is that you can’t canalize people towards activism. If today people are going to Kirazlı (small town in the northwestern province of Çanakkale which has seen large demonstrations against a foreign-owned gold mine project) on their own without being part of an organized movement, we will not see this being followed up with the establishment of an NGO. People decide with their free will and cultivation to be there. This is a cloud-like process. People from very different identities, from the pious to the ultra-secular, understand that what is happening in Kirazlı is wrong and can meet on that understanding.

That’s why we will see in movements in the future certain parameters like the ones endorsed by (the teen activist) Greta Thunberg, like non-violence. There is a need to pick the slogans with extreme care. It is not black and white like it used to be. As long as we do not otherize each other and endorse a language that helps embracing each other; -something I see much more among the young generations, it will become easier to act shoulder-to-shoulder even in the absence of an organized movement. The organized movements that we know; like being familiar with going on a strike, knowing on setting up a union or an association, to work to elect a president to that organization, to work for that president... that way of being organized is difficult. But people will go more and more to places like Kirazlı with their increasing cultivation and fight more for climate change. That’s for sure. Something is cooking. I don’t know how we will read these years two generations from now, but certainly, we are at times where some things are transforming.

Especially the young generations are coming equipped with very different concepts. This is true even for five years old and above. The other day, a teacher told us that a student asked her whether she was vegetarian or vegan and appeared to know the difference between the two much better than the adults. This is happening in Ayvalık, not in a megacity like Istanbul. Things are changing, but change will not come with old methods. That’s why I think we should not stand in front of them, we have to leave the space to the young generations. That’s why I don’t want to belittle when they do and undo. We better not be of those oldies that sneer the music young people listen too.

Coming back to the slow food movement, it would be unfair to argue that not much has been achieved.

Actually I would not limit it to the slow food movement. The Wheat Association has played an active role. There are seed bartering network campaigns organized especially in western Anatolia. The municipalities are also active in that respect. We are realizing that the global economy, which we wanted to be a part of, is at the same time the destruction of global ecology. What any movement should do is to question “what can we do” other than opposition based on objecting. Objection is the easiest way. “Don’t touch my water; don’t touch my seed.” Indeed people are right in their outcry, but we have to create solutions.

Three years ago you left Istanbul and now live in a village near the Aegean town of Ayvalık. Next to your house, there is a separate “residence,” a project of “hospitality and cooperation.” Tell us about it.

We want to open a working space for projects on subjects that we believe are the main issues of the times in front of us, like ecology, agriculture and gastronomy. Our starting point was, “if our daughter were to write her thesis, what kind of a working environment would we have created for her.” So that’s the environment we try to create at the residence. While we are also offering the meals, it also has a kitchenette. Our expectation is for him or her to share at one stage, to be part of our village either with a contribution to a panel or a workshop. We have a 13-person selection body and applications are made online.