Destruction of olive trees in Turkey triggers protests

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Turks have woken up to the importance of their environment since the May 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul that spread across the nation. “Istanbul is a big metropolitan area, unlike Yirca. Our population in this village here is only 400. Yet I realized in the last two to three days while appearing on television news, or speaking to journalists, how much people care about us here, too. That touched our heart,” Yirca village headman Mustafa Akin told Al-Monitor.

In the early hours of Nov. 7, 6,000 olive trees that were 85 to 100 years old were cut down in Yirca village, which is attached to the western town of Soma in Manisa province. The Kolin Group — one of Turkey’s biggest conglomerates and known to have a close relationship with the government — decided to build a power plant in the olive grove. “If they would have shifted their location by just one kilometer [0.6 mile], we would have kept our trees in place,” Akin said. “The Council of State decided 10 hours later that the company should stop all activities at our grove, but it was already too late. The trees are gone, and we are now waiting for the final decision of the court before making up our minds as to what we can or cannot do next.”

Once the trees were gone, the villagers were numbed.

“I did not take care of my babies as well as I did my trees,” one elderly Yirca woman said, sobbing with her body wrapped around trees lying on the ground.

The Kolin Group brought its private security guards and workers to uproot the trees despite the continuing court process and the villagers’ 52-night-and-daylong guarding of the grove.

“It takes at least 20 years to get good production from olive trees,” the village headman said in his CNNTurk interview Nov. 7. “I don’t know how these people can now eat olives or use olive oil without losing their appetite!” Those were his last words in that interview, as he could no longer hold back his tears. It was a moment that captured people’s hearts and consciences.

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