Residents of the Black Sea province of Artvin mobilize to stop police and a mining company from destroying a pristine wilderness area to make way for a gold mine
Locals from Artvin on Turkey’s eastern Black Sea coast have rallied to save the local Cerattepe natural area from being destroyed to make way for a gold mine, despite attacks by police and a number of detentions.
Nur Neşe Karahan, the head of local environmental association Yeşil Artvin Der, was detained on the morning of Feb. 17, along with at least five others, including other members of her association and a local member of the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP).
Police also fired tear gas at houses in the area, causing fires in the gardens of some residences.
Locals of the mountainous provincial center moved to block access with their vehicles to the Cerattepe area late on Feb. 15 after learning of the deployment of large number of gendarmerie forces to the area to aid Cengiz Holding in establishing a gold mine in the area.
Locals have been fighting plans to construct a gold mine in the area for the past quarter century, expressing fears that the establishment of a mine would produce an ecological catastrophe in the area through possible cyanide poisoning, while also opening the way to landslides due to the removal of forest cover.
Company representatives arrived with a police escort at 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 16, but were unable to ascend to the proposed mine because locals had blocked the way to the mountainous area with their vehicles. Police subsequently began to advance after attacking locals with tear gas and plastic bullets, while also bringing two tow trucks to the area in an effort to remove cars blocking the path.
Hospitals in the area were also warned about a sudden influx of injured people.
Locals, however, quickly regained their defensive positions as soon as the effect of the tear gas wore off.
Minister orders police to fire on protesters
Interior Minister Efkan Ala reportedly ordered police to “fire and advance” in the face of local resistance.
“We were able to convince all the ministers, but we couldn’t convince [Ala],” said Republican People’s Party (CHP) Artvin deputy Uğur Bayraktutan. “‘Fire and advance,’ the minister said. Everyone was persuaded, just he couldn’t be persuaded.”
Bayraktutan subsequently launched a hunger strike in front of the Artvin Governor’s Office to protest the attempted construction.
Shopkeekers across Artvin posted signs on their doors, saying their shops would be closed in the event of an attack in Cerattepe.
Organizing under the motto “Altınsız olur, Artvin’siz olmaz” (Without gold, yes, without Artvin, no), protesters also conducted solidarity protests around Turkey on Feb. 16, with rallies in Trabzon, Ankara, Samsun and Istanbul, including one at Cengiz Holding’s headquarters in the city.
More rallies are scheduled for across Turkey on Feb. 17.
Residents of the area first mobilized to prevent Cengiz Holding and the police from destroying the area in June 2015, forcing the company and the state to withdraw from the area.
One month later, residents of the adjacent province of Rize also rallied to stop the construction of the Green Road Project, an ambitious government to join the highland communities of eight Black Sea provinces by road and open the area to more development and tourism, particularly from Gulf Arab countries. Critics say the project will destroy the area’s ecosystem. During the protest, an elderly woman who became popularly known as Havva Ana (Mother Eve), challenged police forces, saying: “The roads between the alpine meadows will not be joined. We absolutely do not want this. The [Rize] governor is calling us marauders. We’ve been here since we were children. Who is the governor and the district governor? I am the people.”