Sunday, 4 November 2012

Digging Deep.


The bulldozers have now left our bit of forest and we've had a few days of peace, but we are very aware that our quiet existence could end any time despite the promises of the forestry department.  Hopefully, any company might think twice before they try to redevelop this bit of nature: our village has a badass reputation to live up to. In late 1995, sitting on the terrace as the sun went down, we noticed that all the trees around our garden had red crosses on them. Hubby went off to the village to see what was going on and came back with gut-wrenching news.  A cement company had leased the forest behind the village and was going to cut down all the trees and strip-mine the whole area for dolomite. The access road to the mine was going to go around our house.  There had been no warning of this, no planning meetings, no surveys and not one member of the village had been consulted. The owner of the cement company had a relative in parliament and the mine was a done deal.  The first company men started to arrive in their jeeps, swaggering around as if they owned the place and got their first surprise - a volley of rocks. Jumping back into their vehicles, they sped off.  The owners turned up to negotiate. They would pave a village road - the villagers were not interested. A new school was offered - who would want to bring up their children in a mine?  The Turkish Green Party leader, Bilge Contepe,  and the most effective local environmental activist, Saynur Gelendost got involved and found us a wonderful  young lawyer Nurcan Akça who suggested we commission an environmental survey to see if we had any endangered flora or fauna. On a local level, we were busy painting banners and involving radio, TV and newspapers and collecting stashes of large rocks at each end of the village to dissuade any one heading for the forest. (I offer a belated apology on behalf of the village to the Bodrum motor cross club who, choosing the wrong day to ride through, must have wondered what they'd done to deserve a pelting of rocks by a group of very angry headscarved ladies) Semkay


A group of women wound themselves in the cloth used to wrap corpses and tied themselves to trees. The protest continued all winter until the inevitable confrontation happened in April 1996. The company enlisted the jandarme to protect them as they tried to bring their equipment into the village. The main road was blocked with petrol-soaked tree trunks and the whole village turned out to face the military police. We put the children in the mosque for safety and the women stood at the front facing the armed jandarmes. Shots were fired and arrests made, and finally the soldiers forced their way through. Six villagers spent 56 days in gaol but the rock throwing  and disruption continued. 



Eventually the environmental report found rare plants in the forest above the village which gave the lawyer a reason to open a court case to stop the mine.  Finally realising just how much they had underestimated the resolve of the villagers and tiring of the sabotage and constant difficulties in getting to the mine, the company found another village who fell for their bribes and left us in peace, although it was 4 more years before the mining licence was revoked in court.
Sorry for the poor quality of the pictures but they are firmly stuck in my album so I had to photograph them rather than scan.




23 comments:

  1. Absolutely fascinating stuff, Annie. Well done you all. The photos are amazing, especially of the women wrapped up - truly inspired. Thank goodness the people of the village stuck to their rocks and the saw off the cement company.
    Axxx

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    1. Hi Annie , I think you were the only person to read my original post. Blogger went a bit odd after I'd posted it and deleted half a page. It was so late, I'd forgotten what I'd written. The cement company's buildings are on the edge of the village - overgrown ruins - I say a little prayer of thanks eery time I drive past.

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  2. It's a wonderful story and I remember you telling me a little about it. Turkish women are amazing aren't they? People think they are so submissive but when they have a cause worth fighting for, there's no stopping them.

    You must be pleased that this good weather has enabled you to stay on longer in the house this year?

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    1. Turkish women are definitely not to be messed with. The Green party head, environmentalist and lawyer were all female. I'm really enjoying the weather - sat outside preparing the olives I picked this morning.

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  3. WOW!!! Good for the people who stood up and pelted the cement company workers with the rocks.... A job well done. :-)
    Looks like a Halloween picture of the women wrapped up in white...but it sure looks effective for the purpose....
    Thanks for sharing your interesting post and hope this doesn't come up again about some other issue.
    I sure wouldn't want any mine near my home either....

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    1. It is really an eerie picture - especially knowing that the white cloth is winding sheet for the dead.

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  4. B to B, This is one of the most inspiring stories I've read in a long time and definitely, the best news I've read today. Your village's persistence sets such a stellar example for so many people and places facing similar environmental devastation by what we like to call the global 'construction mafia.' As you probably know, they're hard at work here in Istanbul. We need some of your village's spirit desperately.

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    1. We were rather naive in going against this company. One of the partners got killed in a very "mafia" way the next year. I don't think were realised quite what danger we were putting ourselves into.

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  5. Hello:
    This is all rather terrifying. But it does show that, with determination, the individual, or group of individuals united, can succeed against almost impossible odds.

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    1. The realisation that council and government bodies had absolutely no interest in the plight of the village was the saddest lesson we learned. We are now a very tight knit community because of the struggle.

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  6. Power to the People! I love stories like this. All too often small communities are pushed around by the big boys of industry. It's marvellous that your village fought back and even more marvellous that they won. The photo of the women tied to the trees is quite haunting, I do wish I could see it close up!

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    1. Thanks for dropping by Lilli. I wish I had better photographs - I think we were too involved in the event to stop and take decent photographs. It's a time I never want to live through again - I don't think anyone had a proper night's sleep for a year.

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  7. . . this is just like Okçular's battle eight years ago to stop a quarry and cement factory on Kocadere Valley - a stunningly beautiful, pristine place. Fortunately, I'd discovered Alkanna mughlae, a critically endangered endemic member of the Borage family, in the valley. A few of the plants had only been discovered two years previously at two sites which are kept secret to this day. In our valley they grow in profusion, making it the most important site for one of the world's rarest plants. Also in the valley can be found Lyciaslamandra Falzliae, a critically endangered, endemic Fire Salamander only found in a very restricted arc from Dalyan to Üzümlü - again there are plenty in the valley.
    The fight to stop the rape and pillage lasted for a year and got very nasty indeed with armed villagers standing guard over us and our house (no exaggeration). There were full page colour adverts taken in newspapers and posters plastered everywhere, claiming out house was illegal and denigrating J and I - they even got a closure notice on our home at one stage and it took about 18 months before the judge threw it out.
    It was an horrendous and yet inspiring and uniting period; the village won, the valley is protected and we have a place in Okçular's heart that no amount of money could buy.
    Thanks for sharing your village's battle - it reminded me of how lucky we are to live here and how wonderfully courageous and kind these 'ignorant', 'uneducated' village people are. Long may they triumph over the arrogance of 'business'.

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    1. We are lucky to live with these honest, hardworking people. Unfortunately, if a village doesn't have a catalyst like yourself, the villagers begin to believe the developers and think they have no right to their environment. As we were head to head with the military police, the officer told me to get out as I had no say in this fight. When I shouted back that I lived here too and the forest belonged to everyone in Turkey, he told me in no uncertain terms that the forest belonged to the government and we had no rights over it. He couldn't even begin to grasp the concept that the government should be the servant of the people.

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  8. Hello, sorry to have missed your last few postings. Last week got away from me. I read about the bulldozer that came close to your wall and was glad that your husband was able to convince the crew to move elsewhere with the road.

    This posting today really shows the power of working together against bureaucracy, I'll never forgot the hundreds of thousands of young people who protested the VietNam War here in the states. Their protest finally led to the end of that war. I so wish we'd protested the invasion of Iraq by our leaders. Peace.

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  9. It's so difficult to protest against things - you have to put your whole life on hold and devote 24/7 to the "cause". With peoples' busy lifestyles, it's understandable that we let really important issues slip. Students since the 80s don't have the same social consciousness that rippled though the 60s and 70s.

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  10. Amazing and inspirational. Remind me never to get on the wrong side of villages ladies! :-)

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    1. The ladies ride the donkeys and drive tractors in our village .

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  11. I'll get this translated and show it to our neighbours here.

    I think our developer thought he could just do as he pleased...friends in high places....and has been surprised that people he thought of as hicks from the sticks got together, got a lawyer and are contesting him in court.

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  12. A wonderful account of true community direct action, with a heart-warming result. It seems so wrong that only the interests of big business really seem to matter to those in power until the people fight back. Well done.

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  13. Fly - I hope your neighbours get a little inspiration from our experience.

    Perpetua- If the business had done everything officially we probably wouldn't have stood a chance, but because they assumed that country folk wouldn't question their actions, we won.

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  14. Well I'd certainly never cross the village ladies! Love it when things like this happen - just shows what can be achieved when people don't back down to the big companies.

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  15. What an amazing story! It must have been incredible to witness their passion and persistence - I've heard quite a few stories of Turkish villages standing up against big companies and winning! Wish this was the case more often around the world...

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