Turkish security forces used water cannons and tear gas in the early hours of Saturday morning to intervene against protesters attempting to protect the Akbelen Forest from a coal mine construction plan. The clashes resulted in the arrest of 20 individuals.
The Akbelen Forest, located in the Milas district of the southwestern Muğla province, has been the site of ongoing tensions since Monday when tree-cutting operations began. Local residents and activists have been staging a protest to halt the deforestation.
On Saturday morning, the gendarmerie and police surrounded the protest campsite, where demonstrators had been holding a vigil. Journalist Umut Taştan reported that one woman fainted and was taken to the hospital after being thrown to the ground by the gendarmerie, who did not allow anyone to leave the vigil area or enter from outside. According to Bianet, a jammer was also brought to the vigil area and the protestors were cut-off from the outside world.
Despite the relentless attacks by the gendarmerie and police over the past six days, the resistance in Akbelen continues with determination both within and outside the blockaded area.
Citizens who have been prevented from entering the vigil area have started obstructing the traffic and impeding the logging trucks belonging to the Turkish General Directorate of Forestry. During a forceful intervention against protesters who were blocking the path of the cutting teams, one person suffered broken fingers.
On Friday, Green Left Party MP Burcu Gül Çubuk was targeted during a harsh intervention. She was forcibly brought to the ground by the gendarmerie in an attempt to arrest her but was released upon identification as a parliamentarian. Çubuk was trying to prevent the anti-riot vehicle from interfering with the protesters.
Journalists also faced the heavy-handed tactics of law enforcement. Documentarian Kazım Kızıl took to social media, stating, “AFP’s Bülent Kılıç, independent reporters Berkcan Zengin, and Murat Kocabaş, along with many other journalists, were affected by the intervention.” Kızıl said that Kocabaş was kicked in the groin, Zengin’s camera was broken due to the water from the water cannon and he himself was assaulted with a shield on Friday.
Green Left Party MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu brought to the attention of the parliament on Friday footage of Kazım Kızıl being directly hit with tear gas in the eyes while documenting the forest area on a previous occasion.
Meanwhile, following the commencement of tree cutting on 24 July for the planned coal mine in Akbelen Forest, lawyers representing local residents made a third application to the court to halt the operation, arguing that it would irreversibly damage the environment. However, on Friday, the court once again rejected the request to suspend the activity.
Four-year-long battle for Akbelen Forest
The Akbelen forest, spanning 740 acres, became a focal point of controversy when the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry sold it to a company closely connected to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The company, YK Energy, aimed to establish a lignite coal mine within the forest, and received permission to proceed with the project from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in 2019.
Despite persistent legal battles launched by residents of İkizköy, the village leading a four-year environmental resistance against the project, attempts to halt the mining operation through lawsuits have been unsuccessful so far. However, there is an ongoing collective lawsuit involving İkizköy and two neighbouring villages, seeking to challenge the project.
In July 2021, protestors initiated a camp-out vigil in response to the felling of around 100 trees, leading to a temporary halt in logging activities until 24 July when Turkish law enforcement conducted a dawn raid on the vigil.
Legal experts argue that the forest’s sale by the General Directorate of Forestry and the issuance of a lignite mining permit by the Ministry of Agriculture violate the Turkish constitution by prioritising commercial interests over environmental protection.