Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Environmental battles along Turkey's Black Sea coast

The mountain town of Yusufeli, slated
to be flooded by the reservoir of a dam
Turkey's little-visited Black Sea coast has become a hotbed of resistance to dams and other environmentally damaging hydropower projects, part of an ambitious national development and privatization agenda that includes the building of coal plants, nuclear plants, and nearly 2,000 new dams, as well as many new mining and other industrial operations.

The Black Sea region’s lush forests and small mountain villages provide a striking backdrop for the fierce battle being waged there, a fight pitting farmers, fishermen, and beekeepers against the powerful government and corporate interests seemingly intent on bulldozing the landscape and damming its life-giving waterways in the name of “progress” and profit.

“We were born hearing the voice of this river and we will die with it” is a commonly expressed sentiment among Black Sea villagers, whose honey harvests, hazelnut crops, and vegetable gardens all depend upon the region’s rivers. Though the threat of dams looms the largest, gold mining and other extractive industries also put people’s health, homes, and livelihoods at risk.

A copper mine and its tailings ponds
loom above the town of Murgul
 
Local activists who have rallied against such threats often end up facing new ones: lawsuits filed against them by hydropower companies, many with close ties to Turkey's ruling political party; intimidation and even violence from police and other security forces seeking to break up protests; vilification as traitors, communists, or even terrorists by government authorities; and pressure from local officials and religious leaders not to speak out against such projects, and to take below-market buyouts for homes in the path of construction.

With a grant from Mongabay's Special Reporting Initiatives, I traveled this spring across the eastern Black Sea, from the port city of Trabzon to the mountain towns of Artvin, Murgul, and Yusufeli, taking in the gorgeous -- but in many cases already blighted -- scenery and talking to local residents and activists about the threats they and their homes face.

Read my first two articles from this reporting trip on the Mongabay website: