Turkey: Roads to sustainability

Ecovillage güneşköy threatened by a highway project

Ecovillages are roads to sustainability, yet it appears that the Turkish government prefers highways to destruction. Ecovillage Güneşköy, close to Ankara, and the surrounding forests are in danger. Inci Gökmen and Ali Gökmen, co-founders of Güneşköy, report.

Güneşköy - Sun Village Ecovillage Initiative was started as a cooperative by ten people living in Ankara, the capitol of Turkey. Ten years ago, 7.5 hectars of land, located next to a traditional village was bought. No agricultural activity had been done on the land before, it was covered with stones and the soil was poor. Part of the land was cleared of stones and the soil was enriched organically. Certified organic farming started and was coupled with community supported agriculture. A mudbrick house, a strawbale building, and a big greenhouse was built in Güneşköy. A project for the use of vegetable oil in a tractor for agricultural use was developed.

It become a role model for the neighbours living in the local traditional village, and some of the villagers started doing certified organic farming.
However, a dangerous development threatens this promising project: Two years ago the government initiated a fast train project that will pass right through the land of Güneşköy. Railroad construction would not only demolish the land but ruin all the energy given to the land and to the projects!
In Turkey the priority of present government is to construct highways, train tracks, multi-story buildings for residences, business, shopping centers, etc, all for the 'growth of the economy'. Doing these “mega projects” without consulting the people whose lives will be affected by the changes is a common trend in Turkey. Several villages were emptied for mining activities and the building of small hydro-electric dam projects.
Last summer, the municipality of İstanbul started to build a shopping mall and expensive residences in Gezi Park, in the heart of Istanbul. When they started to cut the trees in Gezi Park, a group of young people started to camp in the construction site to protect the trees and the park. Yet early in the morning the workers of the municipality burned their tents. This catalysed bigger protests in Istanbul and all around Turkey. Millions were on the streets day and night, taking part in some very creative and peaceful protests.
Yet the protestors were treated badly by the police, with tons of tear gas, water canons and brutality used upon them. Seven young protestors were killed, thousands were hospitalised, lost their eyes and were very badly injured. The whole country has been turned into an open laboratory, where the future effects of heavy exposure to these chemicals will be closely monitored in the coming years, as the use of these chemicals is forbidden even in war.
Some of the protestors were charged with being terrorists and put into jails. 2700 students, 60 journalists, and several writers are still in jail for participating in protests and writing in newspapers or books. The seeds of fear were planted in the brains of millions of people in Turkey. The Gezi protests lasted about 3 months - and the park was saved.
We hope to save our ecovillage, too.
In the summer of 2013, the municipality of Ankara began the construction of a 4+4-lane highway, separating the two residential areas with a wall. The highway construction started illegally without waiting for the completion of legal processes. The municipality did not inform the residents living only 10-15 meters away from this highway.
The highway is passing through the land of the Middle East Technical University which was covered by a forest. This forest was started in 1960 by the president of the university, Kemal Kurdaş and the workers, students and people planted millions of trees. The University won the Agha Han Prize in 1994 due to rebuilding of nature and protecting it. Most of the university land was assigned as a natural and archeological site.
There were protests by the university students and the residents of the area against the highway. Yet each time police stopped them by using tear gas and water cannons. On October 18th, which was the last day of a religious holiday, heavy construction machines of the municipality, with the support of hundreds of workers and police, entered the university forest illegally and cut more than 3000 trees just in one night. Most of them were 40-50 year old trees.
A group of residents and members of the university applied to the courts to stop the highway construction. Although it’s been more than 3 months now, there is still no decision by the court. Yet the road construction is continuing day and night. Citizens no longer trust the legal system in Turkey.
These have not been the first crimes against nature. As a result of the “mega projects”, the environmental devastation is so great all over the country. Hundreds of thousands of trees have been cleared for mining activities, dams, highways, power plants, and airports. There are two nuclear power plant projects to be built in this decade. The number of private cars are increasing exponentially in Turkey. There is no serious effort to improve the public transportation. There are no bike or pedestrian routes in the cities. The cars are imported, so is the petroleum. Climate change is a fact, yet in Turkey no effort is put towards reducing its effects.
This is a big dilemma that many nations are now facing: development based on growth at all costs versus a new model for building a sustainable living for all beings now and for future generations. The transition towards a sustainable world should be achieved by public participation, in a peaceful way. In Turkey now, we are putting all of our effort towards this goal and raising public awareness towards a more sustainable direction. In March 2014, there will be elections for the municipalities and we want to see this as a great opportunity for changing the consciousness of the people towards a more sustainable way of living.

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14.12.2013