2016 was a particularly challenging year for the people of Turkey. The uncertainty of what’s to come and how to proceed in such an atmosphere marked this year.
I remember protesting in the middle of Taksim Square in 2011. We had occupied the Square and were sleeping in tents, demanding answers from the then Prime Minister on energy policies. I was not even arrested after spending 12 days there. In 5 years, a lot has changed. Now we risk arrest when we protest anything, anywhere. I’m not even sure what constitutes risk anymore. I know for a fact though that pursuing fossil fuel based energy policies is the biggest risk and threat against our lives, against life on this planet. And, I am pretty sure I will not get to live in Asgardia or Mars. So, no planet B for me! I will not go into detail of the events of the past few years in this country, because even recounting the tribulations in the last few months or even weeks would take significantly longer than this post intended.
Scene from Aliağa, from the movie Disobedience
Instead I will talk about the dichotomy of Aliağa. Aliağa lies in the İzmir peninsula of Turkey. Hands down, one of the most beautiful regions in Turkey. But despite its beauty, its historical importance, its nature, Aliağa has been chosen to suffer the consequences of coal and fossil fuels for decades. There are more than 70 coal power plants planned in Turkey and 4 of these were to be in Aliağa, on top of the currently active one as well as several industrial facilities. All the proposed plants are in close proximity to the ancient city of Kyme, an archaeological site categorised as top conservation priority, which means that construction or interventions can only be permitted for research and conservation purposes. The beautiful Foça Forests nearby the industrial region, hosts an unwelcome coal ash dam that contains all the waste of the industrial area, in the middle of it like a big scar. The plan is to expand it by acquiring the cultivable land next to it that has olive trees. Fossil fuels are poisoning the air, water, soil and all flora and fauna and turning the city into a forsaken land.
Aliağa has been resisting since the 1980s. One of the biggest and quite possibly the first protest in Turkey against a proposed coal power plant got people to form a 60km long human chain back in the May of 1990. Thus the dichotomy of its beauty and the planned fossil fuel facilities there, then encounter the fact that people of Aliağa resist, beautifully.
Since nearly 200 nations including Turkey signed the Paris Agreement to end the fossil fuel era, scientists underline the importance of sticking to the promises of the Agreement and limit global warming at 1.5°C. As social movements, in order to push Turkey to acknowledge this reality, thousands of us gathered in Aliağa to carry our fight to another level in May 2016.
We call ourselves the Initiative Against Fossil Fuels. Aliağa is not different from Amasra, Bursa or İskenderun where there are plans for more coal power plants. The cities are our home, the forests are our breath, this is our livelihood. We cannot and will not let coal companies destroy our livelihoods by building these plants of the last century around our homes and on our Home. In order to help Turkey break free from coal, we set out to write a new, clean chapter for its sustainable future.
And we are on our way! Aliağa (and the rest of the planet) had a historic win 6 months after the Break Free mobilization held there with people from across the country in May. Not very surprisingly, the company (Azerbaijan State Oil Company (SOCAR)) behind several of the fossil fuel plans in Aliağa, did not declare publicly that it was abandoning the STEP project. Instead it was communicated to its financiers in August 2016, following several inquiries about the project’s environmental, social and cultural consequences to the financiers by our partners at Bankwatch and Re:common. There is still no word from SOCAR. But that’s alright. We are not expecting fossil fuel companies to declare the end of their era. We will do it for them.
Aliağa and Turkey are now celebrating this victory. The defenders of life in Turkey will keep resisting the greed of fossil fuel companies to establish a decentralised, clean and efficient energy system for all of us — not dozens of deadly, polluting coal plants surrounding and suffocating our communities. Knowing you are doing the same for our common home; Earth, and standing with you all in solidarity redeems us of the feeling of isolation. We have one planet and we will continue to fight for it. We stand together with the global climate movement.