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Opposition supports ongoing resistance to preserve Turkey’s Akbelen Forest

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Opposition politicians have shown support for the ongoing resistance of environmental activists and villagers in Turkey’s southwestern province of Muğla to prevent the felling of trees in Akbelen Forest for a mine operated by two holdings close to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

YK (YENİKÖY KEMERKÖY) Energy, Limak Holding and IC Holding’s joint venture, has taken action to include a part of Akbelen Forest in the village of İkizköy into the mining area that supplies lignite to thermal power plants.

YK Energy had obtained the necessary permits from the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry to operate a lignite mine in Akbelen Forest, but they faced resistance from locals, who have been struggling both physically and legally to protect Akbelen since 2019.

On July 17, 2021 a logging team from the District Forest Management of the General Directorate of Forestry of Turkey entered the forest and cut down around 30 trees before İkizköy villagers reached the area. Since then, the villagers have staged a nature vigil in Akbelen Forest, together with activists and environmental organization members they reached through social media.

According to Turkish media reports, the villagers and activists who have been defending the forest for four years faced a new logging attempt on Monday morning, an effort that has continued throughout the week.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and an accompanying delegation on Friday visited the area and were greeted with slogans of “We will win by resisting!”

The CHP leader listened to the activists’ concerns and told them he has been closely following their resistance.

“But this pine, this tree, is not just your tree; it is the tree of 85 million people. … There are birds in that forest, there are turtles and thousands of living beings. If I don’t protect the rights of each one of them, I would not have fulfilled my duty,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

He also talked about “the gang of five,” saying that they are “draining people’s blood.”

Kılıçdaroğlu on many occasions referred to Cengiz Holding Chair Mehmet Cengiz, Limak Holding CEO Nihat Özdemir, MNG Holding Chairman Mehmet Nazif Günal, Kolin Construction CEO Naci Koloğlu and Kalyon Construction Chair Cemal Kalyoncu as the “gang of five” for having won nearly all the large tenders during President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s time in office.

“Don’t think that such incidents only happen here. Wherever you go in Turkey, similar events are occurring. … I will fight [with you] until the end,” he said.

According to a tweet by video journalist and documentarist Kazım Kızıl, Kılıçdaroğlu’s path was blocked when he got into his vehicle to leave the area after the statement. Due to the activists’ reactions, Kılıçdaroğlu made the decision to go to the logging area.

The Gazete Duvar news website reported that while gendarmes allowed Kılıçdaroğlu and the delegation to enter, they prevented people from following using batons and pepper spray.

Opposition Future Party (GP) leader Ahmet Davutoğlu, an election ally of Kılıçdaroğlu and a former prime minister, also visited the forest with his wife, Sare Davutoğlu, on Thursday.

The politician made a speech in Akbelen Forest and released a video of it on his Twitter account.

“We owe gratitude to the people of Akbelen and all the villagers in these neighborhoods. We stand behind their resistance. They are fighting for a just cause. … We also thank our esteemed lawyers who are engaged in the legal battle. … This vigil will continue,” Davutoğlu said.

The GP leader also called on the AKP government to “stop this massacre immediately” and to not sacrifice the trees for financial gain.

Meanwhile, the Turkey branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) announced that the resignation of Ebru Özdemir, the chairperson of Limak Holding’s board of directors, from her position as a member of the board was under way.

WWF said the development was “due to the inconsistency of … Ebru Özdemir’s professional activities with our foundation’s principles and being contrary to our foundation’s bylaws.”

According to data in the Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change Ministry’s Environmental Impact Assessment (ÇED), Limak Holding has received approval for 52 projects in 13 provinces since 2014, in addition to the large number of contracts awarded by the public sector.

Over the years, Turkey’s AKP government’s environmentally irresponsible policies, particularly regarding the mining industry, have been subject to widespread criticism. Environmentalists and local communities have expressed concern that the AKP’s policies prioritize economic interests and favor pro-government mining companies, often at the expense of important natural habitats.

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