ISTANBUL — Campaigners fighting to protect woodlands earmarked for coal-mining in southwest Turkey on Monday pledged to maintain their fight as tree-felling came to an end.
Locals have held a four-year vigil in Akbelen forest to hold off logging that paves the way for a lignite mine near the village of Ikizkoy in Mugla province.
Chainsaw teams that arrived to start felling trees a week ago have now finished their work, following violent confrontations between police dispatched to guard the operation and residents.
“They massacred our forest,” Nejla Isik, from the Ikizkoy Environment Committee, said at a meeting with lawyers reported by the Duvar newspaper.
“They destroyed our trees, which we have been protecting for four years, in eight days. As residents of Ikizkoy, we do not break our promise until the end. We will fight to the last drop.”
The protest at Akbelen is the latest stand-off in Turkey between environmentalists and developers uprooting green areas for mines, quarries and other projects.
Plans to turn Istanbul’s Gezi Park into a shopping mall and luxury flats led to a protest in 2013 that sparked nationwide demonstrations against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at the time Turkey’s prime minister and now its president.
The office of Mugla’s governor announced Sunday that work to clear the forest had been completed while also condemning of “provocative, ugly and intentional attacks” on police during the process. The governor’s office said the area would be “rehabilitated” by planting 130,000 saplings.
Some 40 people were detained during the protests, according to a statement by the Gendarmerie General Command on Sunday. Those arrested had “attacked and resisted” law enforcement officers and face ongoing judicial proceedings, the statement added.
Protestors posted videos on social media showing the police using water cannons and pepper spray to prevent people entering the area.
The 740,000 square meter (183 acre) forest has been cleared to mine lignite, an inefficient fuel commonly known as brown coal, for two nearby thermal power plants run by IC Ictas Energy and Limak Energy, companies with close ties to the government.
Turkish rights groups described the battle to protect the forest as a “struggle against Turkey’s violation of its environmental obligations” under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change and the 2016 Paris Agreement.
“The attack on Akbelen forest is a severe intervention in the right of the local people … to live in a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment,” groups including the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights and the Rights Initiative Association said in a joint statement.
According to a 2022 report by Climate Transparency, a Berlin-based climate action platform, Turkey generates 32% of its electricity from coal. Despite its goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2053, it currently plans to increase coal-produced electricity by 20.4 gigawatts.