The reasons why the Turkish government is apathetic towards environmental issues

Translated by: Melissa Clissold /
Orjinal Metin (tr-8/6/2019)

Hello, good day. I would like to discuss the governments’ apathy and disinterest towards the objections that society has given towards the incidents we have experienced lately in Mount Ida with regards to the gold mine. In fact, this is not only limited to Mound Ida. This was experienced most strikingly during the Gezi Park incident. There are incidents occurring in Hasankeyf. A lot of incidents have taken place regarding hydroelectric power plants. We can see that all across the country, in different places and different times, citizens have come together to protest different environmental issues such as the construction of mines or the building of roads etc. Yet, we have seen and we still see that the government has remained apathetic towards these protests and have in fact tried to suppress them – firstly they have acted in an apathetic manner, then have showed their own reaction and finally have tried to suppress these in harsh ways. The first reason for this that comes to mind is the fact that the government does not have much sensitivity towards the environment.
This is the first and simplest explanation. In fact, those who are managing the country are actually ready to debate all of this under the subject of ‘the environment.’ Because, as it is known, through certain word games they are trying to show how respectful they are towards the environment – stating that, for example, the amount of trees that are planted are equivalent to those being cut down. They are trying to show that all of this is not a disrespect of the environment, but actually through observing and looking out for the environment, it is a way to develop the country. We have witnessed this in all incidents up until now. There is certainly an environmental aspect to all of this. Of course, all objections from citizens are coming from an environmental point of view. But the reason why the government is replying to these objections is not because of the environment.
I know it sounds a little confusing. Let me try and sum it up in the following manner: The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), from a certain date onwards, especially with Erdoğan taking power completely into his hands, from the moment that we have moved towards a ‘one-man’ management system, he sees any request from civil society as a threat against him. And he replies in this manner. First he tries to claim that this request is wrong, unfounded, and that it is trying to skew the truth. Of course he seriously trusts the media, of which he holds the reins. He uses social media if necessary and activates trolls if necessary. In this way, he tries to show that these claims are lies or uses word play; we have seen this recently with regards to Mount Ida, asking questions or making statements such as “Actually that isn’t Mount Ida, in fact that place isn’t there, the situation isn’t like this or that” or “Trees had started to be cut down ages ago, why are they speaking up now?” He is exaggerating certain facts. In fact, there is a struggle in which he is trying to disregard the entire situation. He is trying to reply to the claims and make them ineffective.
But from the moment he has realized that he has not been able to deem these claims ineffective, he is trying to criminalize the situation. He is trying to claim that there are different intentions behind this situation; that there are different intentions behind this incident, these resistances. Gezi was the peak of all this. He defined it as a way in which internal and foreign powers were trying to bring down the government. The first case was dismissed, then re-opened again. People are being put on trial – notably, Osman Kavala –  with the claim that the Gezi resistance was a plot to bring down the government as opposed to being an environmental resistance. We have not yet come to the same place when it comes to Mount Ida or Hasankeyf. But if civil society continues to resist without giving up, if these resistances manage to resound effectively, we can consider that similar situations may occur.
There are two main reasons to criminalize these incidents. The first reason is to prevent an ideological or political discourse from being formed that can push him aside in the face of these incidents and those resisting. It is despair. The second reason is that by criminalizing these actions, he is trying to mobilize his own fractions. By creating new conspiracies and enemies, he is trying to ensure consolidation amongst his base. During Gezi, Erdoğan’s statement “I’m struggling to keep the 50% at home” was a clear reflection of this. The government, that does not answer to certain requests and objections of civil society or believes that answering may damage its own political status, chooses the easy way out. Oppression through violence, through security forces and through the judiciary; and also through creating counter-movements. Meaning to bring those he “struggles to keep at home” against other fractions, for political gain.
Indeed, this is experienced in many authoritarian regimes. A regime that limits the spaces for civil society, a regime that dislikes requests, expectations and objections coming from the bottom-up. Because, they see these requests not as a way to prevent trees from being cut down, but as a dig towards the government that wants to receive a share. This is true in some respects. But this regime – the Erdoğan regime – no matter what subject is at hand, does not associate itself with replying to these in a positive manner. Let’s put it this way: The expression ‘civil society’ has not been banned. In fact, it is a phrase that is used often by the government. But only if it is under the supervision of the government. From time to time, on different occasions, under the guise of being civil society organisations, support for the government has been expressed by many. This happened between 17-25 December, it happened during the fall out with the Güenists, it happened during Gezi, during the elections, during the referendum. Certain institutions defined themselves as Civil Society Organizations and positioned themselves next to the government. These institutions, in return, were supported by the government; certain financial opportunities were presented to them.
Therefore, the issue is not with regards to the civil societies just discussed being banned, but it is with regards to civil society organizations and initiatives that exist despite the government – whether they are discussing the environment, fundamental rights and freedoms or any other issue – being banned. There is a recent example to show that this is not only with regards to the environment: what Mazlum-Der, one of the most prominent Islamic human rights organisations, has underwent. When the management of Mazlum Der started acting distant and critical towards the government, especially with regards to the Kurdish issue, they were overthrown, eliminated through a government-supported coup. Mazlum-Der is still continuing its existence, but when you look at its activities, it is very passive towards human rights infringements occurring in Turkey; but it is very active when it comes to human rights infringements occurring across the world, especially the Islamic world. Therefore, we see that, the government is OK with a Mazlum-Der that stays under its supervision, not one that criticizes the government. It allows this and opens the way for such civil society organisations. But blocks the ways of others that choose not to act in such a way.
Meaning, you could come up with a statement regarding Mount Ida or Hasankeyf within the limitations that the government has drawn. It is possible to ask for certain things but without criticizing the government. As you know, the government, during different periods has hosted various artists, women’s rights associations, or people who have certain roles within civil society. Where are they hosted? At Beştepe, or Istanbul Dolmabahçe. With the permission of the government, here you can debate women’s issues, cultural-art problems, in fact you can even discuss human rights issues too. But if you go beyond this, if you request anything beyond what the government wants, then you are alienated immediately. The truth of you being a civil society representative is covered up and certain bad intentions or ulterior motives are sought after.
The ruling powers are being dragged within this vicious cycle. But this has started to evolve towards a complete deadlock. The government truly managed to mobilize its own fractions to a certain degree against Gezi. But after a certain point, especially nowadays, I truly do not think that they have the same chance that they used to have to criminalize and demonize civil society activities that are taking place with regards to the environment or human rights etc. There is a very difficult period ahead for them. There are signs that have been given by the judiciary that show that it may not be as close to the government as it used to, the different decisions of the Constitutional Court that came about with the different decisions that the Supreme Court has made one after the other. We see a disintegration occurring. 
On the other hand, we also see that there is a disintegration within the ruling party. The probability of new parties being formed is increasing, and these parties are starting to take up positions that support civil society and come up against the government. Therefore, I truly don’t think that the government is as powerful as it was during Gezi. But I am also certain that President Erdoğan will start listening to these requests and start taking steps towards resolving them. This looks like it will be a long process.
And of course they will try to identify this with the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – due to the fact that the CHP looks active at the moment. But as far as we see, the CHP – from the strategy that has been present from the Justice Walk until now-, is truly trying to put aside its own identity to bring together people from different walks of society. And the Justice Walk was successful with regards to this. In the latest elections and the successes of the local elections, we see that their policies have truly been successful in the big cities. This line was followed during the referendum and was also quite successful. But the ruling powers will try and show this as “a conspiracy of the CHP.” But as a I have said, they do not have the same political power or societal support they used to in order to avert all this. Remember what happened in Soma. The people and families in Soma were mistreated. We remember everything; the photos, everything. The government is attributing immunity to itself. The government does not want anyone to impose or request anything from it; it wants people to ‘ask nicely.’

Let me add a note here: Whenever I speak of the AKP ruling powers and I mention ‘state’, certain nationalistic environments have been criticizing me stating “It is not state, but government” or “It is not state but ruling powers.” This is a completely different issue to be discussed. It’s in my mind, but I wanted to mention this here. There is no such state, sacred state that they have in their heads. They believe that the state will never fail, and they have an expectation that it is not possible for Erdoğan to control the state. They are truly mistaken. For a very long time in Turkey, the state equals Erdoğan. And they have to accept this reality. I promise that I’ll broadcast regarding this issue another time and will end this topic here.
Yes, that’s all I have to say. Good day.

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