Turkish villagers demand proof of dam’s cancellation

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Although a company withdrew its attempt to build a hydroelectric power plant on Yuvarlakçay stream in Muğla province, villagers living nearby say they have not stopped waiting on duty near the stream. Villagers whose only income is agriculture, which depends on the stream, will wait until the end of their court cases

Undeterred by the threat of jail sentences, villagers protesting the construction of a nearby hydroelectric power plant vowed Wednesday to continue their 24-hour watch over the area until the dam builders formally cancel their project.

Durkadın Yorulmaz, a mother of four, is among the protesters from Pınarköy, a village located in the Aegean Muğla province that depends on the Yuvarlakçay’s waters. Yorulmaz walks to the area called Topgözü from home, roughly three kilometers away, everyday to stand guard against those who might begin construction.

“We produce vegetable and fruits and sell them. We use the water of the Yuvarlakçay for watering our fields and for tap water since it is natural spring water. Yuvarlakçay is everything we have, it’s our only wealth – without it, the villagers could not survive,” said Yorulmaz, speaking at a press conference Wednesday in Istanbul.

There were 50 large trees near the river, but the Council of Monuments decided that 20 of them were not big, therefore permitting 10 of them to be cut down on the grounds that they were rotten, Berna Babaoğlu, a lawyer for the villagers, said at the same press conference.

The villagers have been keeping watch near the trees’ stumps, saying the felled trees represent evidence for their case.

“There were two attempts to remove the remains of the trees, but we [the villagers on duty] prevented them,” said Yorulmaz, who often stands guard during the daytime.

Yorulmaz also said she goes home in the evenings to feed her cows and take care of her children while her husband stands watch during the night.

The Yuvarlakçay Stream was opened for construction in 2009, when the Council of Monuments gave permission for the felling of 10 large trees, according to Babaoğlu.

In April, an administrative court in Muğla halted the construction of a hydroelectric power plant on the stream until an environmental impact assessment, or EIA, was conducted.

Following the decision, Akfen Holding, the company that had planned to build the power plant, declared that they would withdraw their plan to construct the plant on the stream. Nonetheless, Babaoğlu said they were waiting for the company to make an application to the Energy Market Regulatory Authority declaring a cancellation of their intention to build a plant on the site.

“Until the company officially declares that it has canceled its decision, we cannot trust their promise,” said Babaoğlu, adding that another court case they opened against the construction project on the Yuvarlakçay is continuing.

“The case we opened against the construction plans for Yuvarlakçay that allows for a hydroelectric power plant there has not been completed yet. The locals will not give up their protests until this case ends in our favor,” said Babaoğlu.

She also blamed the Environment and Forest Ministry for discouraging the villagers in Yuvarlakçay rather than protecting the area as some cases have been opened against the villagers on charges of occupying forested land.

Noting that some villagers received sentences in 2000, Babaoğlu said many in the area are against being threatened with prison sentences to discourage them from protesting.

Yorulmaz said she has three ongoing court cases against her on charges of occupying forestland, but added that she was not scared of any threats as she promised to continue the fight against any power plant construction on the stream.

She said she went to prison for six months on charges of occupying forestland in 2001.

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