Turkish Communist Party supports vigil to save Akbelen forest from takeover by energy giant

YK Energy, a private energy company in Turkey, has been trying to occupy 780 acres of forest land in Akbelen to mine coal for running three neighboring power plants

August 02, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Akbelen forest Turkey
(Photo: Bianet)

On Tuesday, August 1, Turkish security forces brutally repressed a vigil to protect the Akbelen forest. The vigil began following a government decision on July 24 allowing the private power company YK Energy to clear the forest land for the expansion of a coal mine. Hundreds of villagers and environmental activists have been protesting in the country’s south-west Mugla region for over a week now. 

On Tuesday, hundreds of security forces surrounded the site of the vigil for hours and later fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters, resulting in multiple injuries. They also arrested over a dozen activists who were later released. 

Activists claimed that the clearing of the forest resumed immediately after the police brutality. Internet connectivity has been restricted in the region. 

The vigil was organized by local villagers, the Confederation of Public Employees Union, students groups, and local NGOs. They have been subjected to constant police repression throughout the week.  

Scores of activists led by Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) and other trade unions protested against the state repression in Akbelen on Tuesday and expressed solidarity with the protesters. Speakers raised slogans against the privatization of public resources and the destruction of the environment. 

Claiming that privatization of natural resources is the leading cause of unplanned expansion which causes harm to the environment, TKP Central Committee member Savas Sari said that “market domination in the energy sector must come to an end to stop this foolishness that is harmful for the country and society.”  

Several other prominent figures like novelist Elif Shafak and unions, including the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions in Turley (DiSK) and the European Federation of Public Service Union (EPSU), expressed support for the people’s struggle to save the Akbelen forests. 

A long struggle to protect the environment 

YK Energy, a private energy giant, has been trying to occupy 780 acres of forest land in Akbelen to mine coal for running three neighboring power plants. The company was granted permission by the state in 2020. However, local residents went to court against the decision and a vigil was set up at the site in July 2021. The authorities granted permission recently for the mining activity despite the lawsuit. 

Villagers and activists claim that the expansion of the coal mine will destroy the forest and facilitate the looting of the region’s natural resources by private players. The forest is a significant source of water for their farmland and the mining will destroy their sources of livelihood, they claim. 

The existing power plants in the region have also faced opposition. According to a report last year, these plants have been responsible for environmental pollution and health hazards which caused the untimely death of over 68,000 people, with thousands also suffering from pollution-related diseases.  

A court had ordered the shutting down of the power plants as far back as in 1997, Middle East Eye reported.