Destruction of olive trees in Turkey triggers protests

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“It was at that moment that I decided that I needed to go down there and do something,” Baris Sozen, who was among a group of 100 people who planted new olive trees at the Yirca village on Nov. 9, told Al-Monitor. “We reflect people’s conscience. There may not be hundreds of people this time, but more will be coming the following weeks.”

Sozen, an Istanbul-based businessman in his 40s, expressed how touched he was watching the village headman crying helplessly on television. Yet, he also observed that people have mostly held back, remembering how police used excessive force during the Gezi Park protests, indicating that many people may prefer to lie low this time around. The group of volunteers was mostly composed of people from the agricultural engineers chamber and other nongovernmental organizations focused on the environment.

Large numbers of trees have been cut down in the last few years to create space for construction projects. While people hold the government responsible for the damage done to the environment, it seems to be to no avail.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus sought to absolve government policies from blame. “As you well know, olive trees don’t grow easily. They are valuable trees. We cannot surrender nature to the [rules of] violent capitalism,” Kurtulmus said Nov. 9. “We need to find the middle ground. Yes, we need electrical energy. We need power plants. But it is also wrong to damage the environment in a thoughtless, reckless way just because we have some economic needs.”

But the Council of State cannot offer much to find a middle ground in this case, given that the trees are already chopped down. Akin, however, told Al-Monitor that if the court’s final decision favors their side against the Kolin Group, they can in the least ask for compensation and start planting their trees to begin anew.

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