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Turkey Artvin mountains gold exploitation and environment opposition

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Police in northwestern Turkey’s Black Sea province of Artvin used tear gas against about 1,000 activists who protested against Cengiz Holding Mining Company’s decision to fell up to 3,500 trees during its preparations for the mine.

Police used tear gas against about 1,000 activists who attempted to enter the city by passing over barricades, according to the Hurriyet Daily News publication.

Around 3,000 protesters have gathered in Artvin over the past week to express opposition toward Cengiz Holding Mining Company’s decision to fell up to 3,500 trees during its preparations for the mine.

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Police have been dispersing protesters nearly every day since security forces began closing off roads on February 15 ahead of the arrival of bulldozers and utility vehicles.An unreported number of protesters have been detained in the latest protests, the outlet added.

On Friday, activists demanded the resignation of the governor of Artvin.

Zaman Turkey writes that the people of Artvin are trying to stave off a nightmare that has been haunting them for over 20 years now. The residents of the Cerattepe region in Artvin have pursued their fight since the 1990s to abolish gold-mining activities, which are likely to destroy one of the 200 ecological areas of the world prioritized for protection. The people of Artvin were involved in another protest last week because pro-government businessmen do not refrain from turning Artvin upside down for corporate purposes. Artvin locals seem to be determined to combat this tyranny.

Interior Minister Efkan Ala gave permission for police to shoot those who resist. Riot police reinforced with additional teams from neighboring provinces did not hesitate to use tear gas and rubber bullets against people for days, injuring many protesters. Green Artvin Association Chairwoman Nur Neşe Karahan and some others were detained. In order to understand what happened in Cerattepe, we should take a look at what has been happening there from the 1990s to the present day.

The Canadian mining company Cominco, which obtained the first operating license in the region in 1992, withdrew in the face of public protests in 2002, turning the license over to another Canadian company, Inmet Mining. In 2005 a lawsuit was filed, with the Green Artvin Association being the spearhead, and the license was consequently revoked in 2008. The annulment was upheld by the Council of State in 2009. Following this ruling, Inmet Mining also had to leave the region.

In Turkey, when enemies of nature are obsessed with an area, first they draw back and keep silent for a while and then they attack when they get another chance. The same thing happened in Cerattepe, too. Despite the legal obstruction on mining, court rulings were ignored, and this amazing natural space was included on the list of 1,343 mining areas announced to be licensed through public tenders in 2011.

In 2012 the Özaltın construction company was granted a license for Cerattepe and Genya Mountain. The people of Artvin protested again, and a lawsuit was filed, demanding the removal of the license. At the same time, Özaltın teamed up with the company Eti Bakır, which is owned by Cengiz Holding, the company Özaltın collaborated with during the public tender for the operation of its licensed area. The Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning promptly approved the Environmental Impact Assessment (ÇED) report prepared by the company intending to carry out gold-mining using cyanide.

Again with the leadership of the Green Artvin Association, 283 plaintiffs including nongovernmental organizations and individuals filed a lawsuit in 2014 demanding the cancelation of the ÇED report. The court handling the case invalidated the positive ÇED report in January 2015 on the grounds that the project would end Artvin’s status as a habitat. However, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning then accepted a slightly amended version of the same ÇED report presented by Cengiz Construction.

In mid-2015 over 760 plaintiffs represented by 61 attorneys took the new ÇED report to court in what is Turkey’s biggest environmental court case in terms of number of plaintiffs. But when Cengiz Construction attempted to enter Cerattepe without waiting for the court’s verdict, relying on its close relations with the government, the people of Artvin started a vigil. The gendarmerie sided with the company and closed off the roads as a move against the public, whose protection is indeed supposed to be its duty. The state with all its bodies, along this private company, is pushing the limits of the Artvin residents’ patience.

Currently, there are a total of 325 mining licenses stretching over all the mountains in Artvin. These areas intended to be opened to mining, including Cerattepe, are actually resources of life in Artvin. They contain the places hosting Artvin’s groundwater resources. The Çoruh Valley has already been devastated by hydroelectric power plant projects. These are not only projects of energy but also of displacement: seven dams, two of which are being built on tributaries of the Çoruh River, are going to force out 16,000 Artvin locals.

The people of Artvin always say that what is above ground is more precious than what is underground. This place is located within the Caucasus biodiversity hotspot, which is one of the 34 prominent eco-regions in the world in terms of richness and being endangered. This is the largest natural and old forest ecosystem in the geographical region of Europe and Central Asia. In the abovementioned ÇED report, it is stated that the project is situated within the forest area and that 50,300 trees are to be felled.

To hand this site over to mining companies basically means to erase Artvin from the map with its natural assets, people, history and culture. The fabric of the Black Sea region was spoiled so much that it caused environmental disasters in recent years, as you may already know. Deforestation, hydroelectric power plants and wrong infrastructure projects destroyed nature and also contaminated the water and as a result, wind, tornados and excessive precipitation have come to the region, and the risk of landslides has increased.

Mines are not a must, but protecting our natural assets is an essential responsibility and obligation. We could do without gold, but not without Artvin.

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