Grassroots Resistance against new coal-fired power station in Turkey

The residents of Gerze are shouting out loud, but it is as if their voices are being confined in an unbreakable silence.

The story of Gerze dates back to 2008, when one of the biggest corporations in Turkey, Anadolu Group, decided to build a thermal power plant in their region.

Since then, a case of government supported violence, oppression and media negligence has been unfolding. The battle lines are drawn, locals are resisting with what they have against the plans and the corporation ignores their wishes, keeping up with its construction plans.

For the last three years, this little village has been resisting this giant corporation. Anadolu Group is one of the biggest companies in Turkey with 47 factories and 81 affiliate companies in Turkey and in 12 other countries.[1] It is a a conglomerate pursuing diverse professional activities in the beverage, automotive and retail industries. It recently began investing in the energy, communications, electronics, food and health sectors as well.[2]

Anadolu Group, has decided to build a coal based thermal plant in Gerze. However, there are some problems with the plan: first of all, the people of Gerze don’t want a thermal plant in their region because coal, no matter how clean the production is, releases huge amounts of CO² into the atmosphere; the plant will seriously jeopardize the quality of the soil and the air in the area. It is suggested that coal based thermal plants provoke catastrophic consequences such as soil erosion, acid rains and mercury contamination. Furthermore, none of the regions’ cities, including Sinop, are industrialized places. Their main income is based on fisheries and agriculture. In fact, a great majority of the fish caught in Turkey come from a few miles away from the construction zone. The impact of the plant on these fish stocks could be devastating, given its location right on the sea shore.

While the world is trying to reduce CO² emissions, Anadolu Group still insists on investing in fossil fuels. Critics such as Greenpeace claim that if all Turkey’s coal based thermal plants are built according to plan, Turkey’s CO² emissions will double.[3] Moreover, the coal used in the proposed plant will be imported from neighbouring countries resulting in more CO² emissions from transportation.

The plant will compromise a unique region with diverse wildlife and extremely rich ecosystems. Critics assert that those regions are not industrialized and they do not need such large amounts of electricity. The plant is constructed not to feed the region itself, but for the benefit of industrial cities hundreds of kilometres away, like Kocaeli and Istanbul. In the case of Gerze this is an economic and environmental injustice par excellence: the locals of Gerze are forced to live with hazardous waste, unhealthy water, soil and air; they will lose their income as their livelihoods are intertwined with the health of nature surrounding them. And they will be forced to do so without ever being consulted or compensated.

The residents of Gerze have been actively resisting the thermal plant for the last three years. Their resistance is not confined to signing petitions but has included residents throwing themselves in front of construction machines and risking their lives.

The grassroots resistance in Gerze is supported by a few local groups and some larger environmental NGOs. However, it has been largely ignored by the mainstream media If it wasn’t for some brave independent journalists, social media and independent news sites no one would have heard of the struggle going on in Gerze. This isolation makes the issue more worthy of attention not only on national but also on international level. A determined struggle is taking place in Gerze, only made silent by media complacency and made violent by the state interventions.

The main reason for this disappointing silence is of course money: Anadolu Group spends a lot on PR and advertisement for the hundreds of items its produces. According to their annual report promotion, sales and advertisement expenditures amounted to some 450 million Turkish Lira (Around 160 Million Pounds) in 2010.[4] It would be naïve to expect that such amounts do not create an inevitable pressure on the media which is dependent on such revenues to survive.

Anadolu Group has other allies as well. The police have placed themselves firmly behind the powerful party at the expense of of its citizens’ wellbeing. The people of Gerze are facing increasing violence from the police while trying to save their lands, as if they were criminals. Elderly people, women and children are beaten up by the police who come equipped with armoured police vehicles, pepper spray and truncheons.

The following is an account of one of the many people facing this violence:

“We were tipped off on the night of 4th September that they were going to arrive, and started to block the possible entry points of drilling machines. Very early in the morning of 5th, first the gendarmerie and then the police came to the village and they told us to withdraw from the blockade points or they would use force to make us go away. We resisted. They attacked us first with pepper spray and then truncheons. Most of the recordings you can find on internet are from this part of the struggle. Around 11h30, a first group of people were transferred to hospital. Yet the tension continued until 20.00h …However, the most brutal part took place around late afternoon, when police and military combined their forces to attack us. We do not have much record of this attack because most people had already exhausted their batteries or memory cards trying to record what happened earlier that day. We were a very large group, standing in front of [a] police armed combat car and we had a very serious intervention with pepper spray. Well, when I say a large group, it has to be noted that many of those people were retired, older ones. I saw many of my former school teachers there, some fallen on the ground, passing out or in worse conditions. There were also children; people had brought them along, thinking the police would not interfere with such a vulnerable crowd in a cruel way. They were wrong.

I don’t know the exact number but 6 or 7 people were taken into custody that day, some released right away. After midnight, there was only one person still remaining in custody, and he could get out only on 21 December. In the mean time, prosecution managed to take in another five people with all sorts of excuses, only to let them go the week after….more than hundred people have trials. Some trials are concluded and some of the people risk five years of jail time if they are caught in a protest again.

The core of the issue is that they try to break our resistance…”[5]

Anadolu Group claims to be working for a sustainable future, reducing its CO² emissions. It claims to take fully into account social, environmental, ethical and economic dimensions of its undertakings in all the countries. Their report states: “a good company offers good products to its customers. A perfect company, however, tries to make the world a better place. This is what Efes does.”[6}

It seems these principles are only on paper. Andalou Group are prepared to countenance brutal force to gain control of natural resources. This force is voluntarily put under their command by the state authorities. Backed by the silence of the media, they will make their atrocities invisible to the rest of the world.

This is why, it is extremely important to listen to the calls for solidarity from Gerze. Because if we don’t hear them, no one will.

 

References

 

[1] Anadolu Efes Action Report, 2010 (Turkish)

[2] Anadolu Efes Action Report, 2010 (Turkish)

[3] http://bukapaginaltinda.org/ (Greenpeace Campaign, in Turkish)

[4] Anadolu Efes Action Report, 2010 (Turkish)

[5] Personal correspondence

[6] Anadolu Efes Action Report, 2010 (Turkish)


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