The villagers leading the steadfast environmental resistance in the Akbelen forest of southwestern Turkey have been continuing their efforts to prevent the forest’s demolition for a coal mine since Monday, despite the harsh crackdowns by law enforcement forces.
The Akbelen forest, situated in the Milas district of Muğla, was sold to an energy company, and subsequently in 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture granted the company permission for the establishment of a lignite coal mine, which would cause massive deforestation. For the past four years, the villagers of the region have been engaged in a battle against the planned coal mine. Over the last two years, they have maintained a vigilant presence within the forest to prevent logging.
The devastation began on Monday when tree-felling commenced, following forceful intervention by the gendarmerie against the villagers holding their vigil in the forest.
On Thursday, the villagers and environmental activists carried their resistance to the front of a thermal power plant owned by YK Energy, the company behind the planned mining operations in the forest.
For the last two days, activists and residents have been gathering in the forest, putting in efforts to stop the logging teams from entering the area.
On Wednesday morning, citizens managed to prevent the teams from progressing by obstructing their path, and the teams were eventually forced to withdraw. Shortly after, military personnel arrived on the scene and forcibly removed the citizens. The Gendarmerie also prevented journalists from documenting the incident. The residents and activists who went to the logging area this morning were blocked by the law enforcement officers.
In response to the villagers’ calls for support, numerous people have been coming to Akbelen forest since Monday to join the environmental vigil. As tensions escalated on Wednesday afternoon, protesters attempted to march towards the logging area, prompting a second aggressive intervention by the gendarmerie.
The officers used batons, pepper spray, and tear gas against the protesters, with footage shared on social media revealing that the gendarmerie directly targeted the protesters’ eyes with pepper spray and fired gas canisters into the wooded area.
Green Left Party MPs Perihan Koca and İbrahim Akın, among the attacked activists, were also subjected to pepper spray and pressurised water. In response to the violent intervention, the MPs initiated a sit-in protest alongside local residents.
Amidst the ongoing protests and turmoil, several activists, including the HDP’s provincial executives, were detained. One activist, Deniz Gümüşel, who stood in defiance of the tree cutting on Wednesday morning and was arrested, was subsequently released with the condition of “prohibition of entry into Milas district.”
The struggle to protect Akbelen forest continues as villagers and environmental activists urge for wider support to stand strong against the planned coal mine.