Turkey’s opposition MPs back protests against Rize stone quarry project
Protests against a stone quarry project that threatens the environment in northern Rize province are seeing support from opposition lawmakers.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Mahmut Tanal joined by other lawmakers criticising both the project and the government of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for sacrificing livelihoods to fuel corporate excesses through the project, which supported by a company with close ties to the government.
The project aims for stone production totaling 15.7 million tonnes, Bianet news site said, with the stone to be obtained from the quarry to be use by the İyidere Logistics Center and Port, an affiliate of Cengiz Holding, which maintains close ties with the AKP.
Villagers from İkizdere district, who have maintained their protest despite a nationwide lockdown, say the project is taking place on protected land.
Meanwhile, CHP’s Tanal has filed criminal charges against Cengiz Holding, sharing a copy of the criminal complaint on his own Twitter account.
Cengiz Holding first applied for a permit on January 19 to develop a basalt quarry on 13.45 hectares of forest in İkizdere's Cevizlik village.
Known as one of the “big five” companies for its history of gaining contracts from the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Mehmet Cengiz, the company’s chairman, is known to have close ties to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The company has won large contracts from the government in a number of controversial deals. In 2017, Cengiz Holding submitted permits for mining projects near Cerattepe in northeast Turkey that were blocked on environmental grounds by an administrative court. They however submitted a new application which won them a permit to continue construction.
This situation echoes in the current situation in Rize. In their application for the İyidere center, Cengiz Holding’s project sparked environmental concerns because it was to take place on a natural protected area that was labeled a “New Destination for Thermal and Winter Tourism" by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. However, the company was awarded the contract without an environmental assessment deemed necessary.
The project started on April 21 after a presidential decree for urgent expropriation in the İşkencedere Valley area. In their application, the project could be expanded to 37.02 hectares and its operating period would be until 2025. However, it could be extended if ore was found or an increase in production was planned.
Villagers’ resistance to the project at some point prevented further development of the quarry site and earthmovers used in it were pulled back. However, protestors have been met with resistance from the security forces deployed to protect the site. On April 25 soldiers were deployed to go home to home nearby to warn residents to remain indoors, ostensibly using COVID 19 restrictions as the excuse.
There have been instances in which the protestors were also met with force. Yakup Okumuşoğlu, a lawyer and a member of the Environment and Ecology Movement, shared a video from İkizdere where gendarmerie forces tear gassed elderly villagers who were protesting against the project.
Other opposition MPs from the CHP and pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) traveled to Rize to join protestors, often documenting the response of security personnel.
“People do beekeeping and animal husbandry for a living. They get their drinking water from this region. They say that it is a unique place in the world that needs to be protected, they do not want it to be plundered,” Tanal said, according to bianet English.
The Ecology Union released a statement that criticised the project and the government for its double standard in applying COVID-19 restrictions.
"While citizens struggle for their lives during the pandemic, the government continues to pillage and destruction projects all across our country," says the statement. "Curfews and pandemic measures are not applied for ravenous companies."