Turkish environmentalists: We will continue to march until our demands are met
The Great March of Anatolia (Buyuk Anadolu Yürüyüşü), launched to draw attention to environmental problems in Turkey, began on April 2 with hundreds of people from the country's 11 regions. The group was prevented by police from marching in Ankara, and now they are trying to raise their voices behind the police barricades in Ankara's Gölbaşı district.
“In the last 10 years, the ownership of all our rivers and streams has been transferred to corporations in the energy business. Thousands of dams and hydroelectric power plants are being constructed. Our mountains are being taken over by miners. Our lives are being endangered by nuclear and [coal] power stations. No one hears our voices,” the group said on their website, vermeyoz.net.
The group has received support from the Ankara Bar Association as both activists and lawyers have questioned the legal grounds of the authorities' refusal to allow them to enter Ankara.
“The Constitution gives everyone the right to march within the limits of the law. Preventing these people from walking is unlawful, as they have not broken any laws. We are trying to determine who the order came from and with what reason. Then we will take the necessary legal steps. They have our full support,” Erol Aras, a board member of the Ankara Bar Association, said in a press conference Tuesday on the outskirts of the capital.
“After 50 days, our journey was suddenly deemed illegal when we arrived in Ankara. Police officers made hundreds of men, women and children wait out in the rain behind barricades, even tearing down some of the tents we tried to set up for shelter,” said a spokeswoman for the activist group during Tuesday's press conference.
An activist, Yücel Sönmez, said in a phone interview with Today's Zaman that they are waiting for authorities to hear their demands. Sönmez said that the Great March of Anatolia is not part of any institution and that people from all segments of society are supporting them in this environmental cause.
“We are devoted to our country, but for some reason people are calling us traitors for opposing these projects [that can have destructive environmental effects]. We strongly disapprove of this view, which treats them as traitors. We are trying to claim our rights within the framework of democracy, but seeing the police barricade us filled my eyes with tears, and for a moment I wondered what I did to this country to deserve that,” said an activist at Tuesday's press conference, suggesting that the police officers were needlessly hostile to the protesters while setting up the barricades.
Activist Sönmez said the people in Gölbaşı say they would only stop marching when the authorities retreat from their neglectful actions concerning the environment. Sönmez believes the police have to be fair, and he states that they had support from everyone including the police until they reached Gölbaşı, 20 kilometers from the capital.
Another activist, Sibel Çalık, said in a telephone interview with Today's Zaman that their voices had been heard by the media more than they expected. Çalık says if they had not been prevented from marching into Ankara, their voices would probably not have attracted such strong media interest.
Çalık said they had been demonstrating in peace since the beginning the march and that people from all around Turkey had been helping them by sending tents, food, water and many other daily needs. She said there are currently no problems in the camping area other than the harsh attitude of the police. “There are no problems here in Gölbaşı, but behind the barricades we do feel offended. We strive here under the rain only to keep our country safer and make it a better place to live,” said the activist.