Thousands of people have continued to protest against plans to construct a gold mine in a pristine area of remote northeastern Turkey.
Provinces around Turkey, including in Antalya, Istanbul and Ankara, have seen demonstrations since Feb. 16, when police and gendarmerie forces fired tear gas at hundreds of environmental activists, locals, and representatives from advocacy groups protesting against the plan in Cerattepe, an upland area in the Black Sea province of Artvin.
“It is again the responsibility of the people of Artvin to protect our natural assets and forests, whose protection is defined in the constitution,” said Green Artvin Association head Neşe Karahan late on Feb. 18 during the protest, which started at a public square at 5:30 p.m. in downtown Artvin, where more than 2,000 people had gathered.
The huge crowd marched from the square toward the building of the Artvin Governor's Office, where police officers took extensive security measures. Representatives from the Green Artvin Association also took measures to prevent any clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
Expressing her gratitude for the nationwide support for their demonstration, Karahan said she and other environmentalists had been protesting mining activities in the region for 250 days.
“For around 250 days, we've been holding sit-ins with no discriminative statements,” she said, stressing that the demonstrators had not engaged in any violent acts.
A governmental body dealing with Turkey's forested areas has denied allegations that trees have already been cut down to open space for the construction of the mine.
“One or two dry and broken trees were removed as they blocked the construction work in the area. Unlike it was alleged, there have been no operations to cut down any trees,” it said in a written statement.
Facing determined resistance from hundreds of protesters, security forces fired tear gas on Feb. 17 to disperse the demonstrators who erected barricades, set rubbish bins on fire and made bonfires with tree branches in a bid to block the construction work in Cerattepe, an area in the alpine meadow of Kafkasör.
“We have been resisting over the last 20 years. We understand that the intervention will be different today. But we do not have any guns or weapons. We are only defending living creatures' right to live with our bodies. The people of Artvin are showing an extraordinary resistance. We will resume the resistance today too,” Doğan News Agency quoted Karahan as saying during the protests on Feb. 17.
On Feb. 18, caterpillars owned by the Cengiz Holding, a Turkish group of companies operating in the construction industry, started preparation work to build the mine in the area.
Cerattepe is considered by many to be one of the most environmentally important areas in Turkey, with its rainy climate and tall mountains creating a lush alpine environment.