Eco-Genocide in Turkey
AKP destroyed much that is good in Turkey during its 10 year reign. Democracy, human rights, self-reliance of citizens, respect in institutions, press freedom and the value of truth. Yet, none of its crimes against the society is as egregious as the genocide it is committing against Turkey’s fragile but world-renown eco-systems. Humans forget and recover from ten years of bad government. Habitats don’t. AKP is stealing from our children to line up the pockets of its pet constituencies: the construction and building industries.
“Turkey’s rich natural heritage under assault“, published in Science last week, highlights the scale and extent of these threats, in particular all the environmental laws that were changed in the past two years to make it easier to replace Turkey’s crucial habitats and protected areas with mines, dams, tourist resorts, and other types of “development”. As Jennifer Hattam states, this “arbitrary, development-obsessed environmental policy-making is greatly threatening Turkey’s ecosystems”.
Consequently, Turkey’s astonishing amount of biodiversity, especially for a temperate country of its size, is being destroyed rapidly, partially in the past decade during which “Turkey’s Great Leap Forward” has put the country at the risk of “cultural and environmental bankruptcy”. In addition, Turkey lacks the biological ‘‘charisma’’ of many tropical countries and suffers from the international misconception that, as a nation that wants to enter the European Union, it must have adequate funds and priorities to support conservation. These factors, combined with the Turkish public’s general disinterest in conservation and the government’s unrelenting ‘‘developmentalist obsession’’, have created a conservation crisis which began in the 1950s and has peaked in the past decade.
With Turkey’s biodiversity facing severe and growing threats, especially from the government and business interests, the country is now entirely covered by crisis ecoregions, most of them critically endangered.
Turkey currently ranks 140th out of 163 countries in biodiversity and habitat conservation. Although Turkey’s total forest area increased by 5.9% since 1973, endemic-rich Mediterranean maquis, grasslands, coastal areas, wetlands, rivers, and even some old-growth forests are disappearing, while overgrazing and rampant erosion degrade steppes and rangelands. The current developmentalist obsession, particularly regarding water use, threatens to eliminate much of what remains, while forcing large-scale migration from rural areas to the cities. According to current plans, Turkey’s rivers and streams will be dammed with almost 4000 dams, diversions, and hydroelectric powerplants for power, irrigation, and drinking water by 2023.
Unchecked urbanization, dam construction, draining of wetlands, poaching, and excessive irrigation are the most widespread threats to biodiversity. Preserving Turkey’s remaining biodiversity will necessitate immediate action, international attention, greater support for Turkey’s developing conservation capacity, and the expansion of a nascent Turkish conservation ethic.
This is not all
The National Geographic article I quoted from above doesn’t even begin to scratch the eco-crimes committed by AKP for trifling monetary gains. Remember Van Earthquake? Well someone should, because AKP has all but forgotten about it. Thousands still languish in poorly-equipped tents, as teachers staged a protest march to bring poor working conditions to national attention.
Van Earthquake was not a natural disaster. It was caused by years of collusion between AKP-elected local administrators and the construction industry, which rewarded shoddy building practices and changed zoning laws to allow constructors to make more money in return for putting people in harm’s way. Needless to say, the industry lavishly supports AKP’s election campaigns. Veteran Turkey watchers will remember the devastating flash floods in Istanbul, Bodrum, Antalya, and the Black Sea region that are caused by the practice of building on river beds.
AKP is now in the process of auctioning the concession to build a third bridge across theBosporus, which will traverse the last forested lands in the province, choking off the fresh air supply for 16 million inhabitants.
In Beyoglu, Istanbul’s Greenwich Village or Soho, the municipality is giving permits to rich development companies to tear down the city’s authentic 19th and early 20th century cultural landmarks, like the Emek Theatre.
Also in Istanbul, under the guise of urban renewal, another cultural treasure, the Gypsy (Roman) neighborhood of Sulukule has been torn down to give way to cheesy condos. This is a “one stone for two birds” victory for AKP. The Romans dominated Istanbul’s underground entertainment industry, by providing thousands of belly dancers and musicians. This sinful life is now condemned to cheap mass-housing districts outside the city, a 400 year old micro-culture uprooted over night.
This is not the only human toll of AKP’s mindless development binge. In the Black Sea region, hundreds of villages that clung to their Caucasian lifestyles and quaint languages will be forced into poverty or a meaningless life in the slums ofIstanbulonce the hydro-dams are built.
However the National Geographic article is wrong on one item. Turks do know the value of their environment. TheBlack Seavillagers forum put up a heroic struggle to stop the dams at all cost. The brave judges who issued injunctions against these structures were immediately relocated somewhere else by the notorious High Council of Judges and Prosecutors. Several villagers are in prison pending charges of resisting arrest. As with the case of any civic and peaceful protest movement inTurkey, the police moved in immediately to break the spirit and backs of those who dared the defy authority.
Is there no alternative?
The author, having been trained as an economist is well aware of the tensions between conservation and development that rage across the emerging nations. He would firmly choose for development, because the fight against poverty and human misery should take precedence over eco-preservation. However in Turkey this is not what it comes down to. Turkey can develop with an alternative plan that doesn’t harm its ecological or cultural heritage.
%90 of Turkey’s US$22 billion worth of gross tourism revenues is generated by two tiny spots: IstanbulandAntalya. AKP could accelerate growth and spread it equally over the country by promoting eco-tourism, ski resources, and cultural tourism. Instead, its flag carrier THY spends millions on sponsoring Kobe Bryant, Manchester United and now Serbian tennis stars.
Turkey’s energy shortage can better be addressed by providing incentives for solar and thermal sources than damming up creeks inBlack Sea. In any case, with a 16 billion cubic meter per annum natural gas deal with Azerbaijan under way, Turkey doesn’t need the couple of miserable megawatts these creeks would add to the national grid.
AKP’s development strategy reflects both a desire to perpetuate its power and an ideology. The over-emphasis on construction and real estate development is part of the effort to nurture a new class of Islamic capitalists that will forever keep AKP in power with their grateful campaign donations. AKP knows that its Islamic business supporters have no chances to compete in industry, high value added services or technology. They simply lack the Enlightment mind set to innovate.
Funneling as much of the new development through the state agencies is also part of a political strategy. In free and competitive markets companies listen to stakeholders who put value on conservation and try to get along with natives. Only companies that get lucrative dam and construction contracts through the benevolence of AKP will become forever enslaved to it.
AKP still clings to the Old Testament ideology that Man is the Master of Nature. God had created everything on earth to serve the Masters. Nothing has value unless it can be immediately translated into hard currency.
AKP is not the worst thing that happened to the people of Turkey. We have endured under pretty miserable Ottoman rulers for centuries. However it is certainly the most vicious enemy of the land, plants and animals. They will not survive.
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