SAVING THE ALIKIR RIVER, TURKEY

By Birhan Erkutlu and Tuğba Günal

Many things have happened since we were last in contact.

After we started our struggle against the Hydroelectiric Power Plant projects in the valley, we began to face lots of threats in various ways. The source of those threats was the company Metamar that had already begun building one of those projects in the valley which is very close to our living space.  They started buying the lands surrounding us which are not related to the project in any way. They cut down all the trees on those lands. We tried to protect the ancient oak trees but they cut them all down in front of our eyes. This was all while the lawsuit we began in order to protect them was still going on. For several weeks they had run heavy machinery on those lands. They fired guns and one of the workers directly threatened to break our bones. He went to prison for one month because of this threat but straight after being released he was at work again. Cameras were placed on one of those lands facing us. We complained and they had to change the direction of the cameras.

While using an excavator on another piece of land they had bought just above our land, they cut the main vein of our natural spring. We had to carry our water with buckets from the river which is hundreds of meters down from our land. The crops in our garden which are our basic food source dried up. Again, we had to file a lawsuit. The court gave our water back with an interim decision after 3 months. The case is still going on.

The threats we faced were not limited to the surrounding lands the company bought. They were spreading rumors to the local villagers that we are atheists and terrorists which in Turkey is a very common way to provoke the people. Because of those rumors, many of our friends who tried to visit us were threatened. The local mayor of the village who supports the HPP projects and is friendly with the company gave a petition to the government that we are doing illegal things on our land, and that the women are immoral. Our complaints about this issue are still waiting on the public prosecutor’s desk. Twice, during the nights, we have faced gunshots towards our living area from the nearest road and they run away. Police couldn’t find the people or any evidence. The cases are closed.

The company wanted to buy more lands around us last year. We competed with the company and won the auction for the two lands that the Treasury put up for sale. In doing so, we considered the price of life and we trusted in the power of solidarity.

At the end of the auction, we bought the lands for 100.000 Turkish liras with hundreds of peoples support, with the intention of making it green again. One of the pieces of land was occupied by the company and all the trees were cut by them before we bought it. We managed to buy the other piece of land before the company cut all the trees down. Now, after buying those lands we have started the process of becoming a foundation.

We have had to face several more similar stories in the last years which have involved threatening us physically, mentally and materially while we are peacefully trying to protect nature and our home.

An extremely sad example of how far those threats can go against the defenders in Turkey was the murder of a couple living next to our valley. Ali and Aysin Büyüknohutçu were struggling against the mining projects which are destroying the beautiful wild cedar forests. The murderer said he was paid by a man working for the mining company. Later he was found dead in the prison. Officers said that he hung himself. The case is closed.

Through our struggle in solidarity 2274 acres of land in the Alakır Valley – formerly completely unprotected- became protected areas, and the construction of two hydroelectric plants were stopped.

The lives of millions of living beings were saved.

We are grateful for all the solidarity and support from individuals and projects around the world.

For more background info on the Aliker Nehri project please refer to the Guardian article published in 2018

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