Environmentalists in Turkey are raising the alarm over what they claim are government-sanctioned deforestation efforts. The recent incidents in Akbelen and on Mount Cudi (Çiyayê Cûdî) have sparked widespread protests and calls for a unified response to protect the country’s natural resources.
Akbelen, in Muğla province in southwestern Turkey, is known for its rich forest areas. The government’s decision to clear these forests for coal mining has been met with fierce resistance. Protesters, including local community members and environmental activists, have staged sit-ins and demonstrations to halt the deforestation, but the government maintains that the mining project is crucial for the country’s energy security.
Tree cutting in Akbelen Forest continued even after the Governorate of Muğla announced “the work is finished”, Members of the public, noticing that the deforestation was ongoing, headed for the area where the trees were being cut down. Their path was blocked by soldiers as they marched under the slogans, “Freedom to the earth from Akbelen to Cudi,” “Murderer Limak, collaborator state,” and “The people will hold Limak accountable.” While the gendarme commander claimed that the trees were being pruned rather than cut down in the area, members of the public insisted that trees were being cut and toppled. But after a few members of the public were allowed to enter and observe the area, they said that the trees were no longer being cut down and that the forest workers had been removed from the region.
Meanwhile, in the Kurdish-majority city of Şırnak (Şirnex) in the southeast, allegations have surfaced that Turkish soldiers have been deliberately starting fires on Mount Cudi. A video, allegedly filmed by the soldiers themselves, shows the mountain and the neighbouring Besta region engulfed in flames, with one soldier heard saying, “mission accomplished.” The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, however, refutes reports of fire in the area.
In Antakya, Hatay, villagers continue to resist the plans of Turkey’s Housing Development Administration for construction on olive groves and agricultural land. Villagers had initiated a vigil at their fields, refusing to vacate their land and olive groves in spite of an official decision to expropriate and nationalise them. But construction machinery was brought onto the land at dawn on 29 July, guarded by gendarmes and riot police. The gendarmes blocked the roads leading to the fields to prevent the villagers from getting through, so the villagers managed to get to their land by crossing the river, where they were once again blocked by the gendarmes. They started a protest, stating: “They blocked the roads so we got to our lands by crossing the river. There are a lot of us now, but there will be even more of us. We will not abandon this place. Our MPs should support us. See our situation. Stand with us.”
A de facto ban on civilians entering and leaving certain rural areas of Hizan (Xîzan) in Bitlis (Bedlîs) province has been applied due to ongoing military operations. The region, known as the “Hazelnut Forest”, was declared a “Special Security Zone” on 14 July. Although the ban was officially lifted on 28 July, the military blockade in the area has not been removed. An operation involving a large number of soldiers and village guards is continuing in the area, where there are many villages. The operation has intensified around the villages of Hûzeran, Best, Sûreh, Xûlepûr and Kekulan, where Güven Özcan, a member of the armed People’s Defence Forces (HPG) lost his life during an armed clash with soldiers. In the village of Xûlepûr, hazelnut trees are being uprooted by excavators brought to the area. It is reported that soldiers are destroying the wooded areas to make way for roads.
These incidents have sparked protests across the country. In Urfa (Riha), a group of young people led by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Youth Assembly organised a protest march against the forest fires on Mount Cudi. They marched under the slogan “Çiyayê Cudî dişewitînin deng bidin” (Mount Cudi is on fire! Make your voices heard!).
Environmentalists argue that these incidents are part of a broader pattern of environmental destruction in the country. They claim that the government is prioritising economic interests over the preservation of natural resources, leading to widespread deforestation and environmental degradation.