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In Turkey’s Akbelen Forest, villagers and environmental activists are fighting to protect centuries-old trees from a massive coal mine. The forest is not only their home—it also provides many with their livelihoods. The Erdogan government has denounced the protests as marginal and anti-development, sending security forces to back up Limak Holding, the major Turkish coal conglomerate behind the project. The Real News reports from Akbelen Forest.

Producer: Murat Bay
Associate Producer and Translation: Daniel Thorpe
Videographer: Murat Bay
Video editors: Daniel Thorpe and Leo Erhardt
Special thanks: Kazim Kizil, Diyar Saracoglu


Protester: Look! Look! Can you see this? How can you do this? 

Daniel Thorpe (narrator): Akbelen forest, western Turkey. Local villagers and environmental activists try to stop the expansion of a coal mine. Just three months after strongman President Erdoğan was re-elected, people flocked here from all over Turkey to try to save the remaining woodland. The protest is a symbol of a wider struggle to protect the environment in Turkey, from companies which often enjoy close relations with the government. The coal giant Limak Holding is a typical example. President Erdoğan dismissed the protesters as ‘marginal’, opposed to the country’s economic development. Despite a nation-wide outcry, the forest clearing continues with the protection of the Turkish security forces.

Protesters: “Akbelen is everywhere! 

The resistance is everywhere!”

Protester: Anyone with a conscience would not obey these orders. We are the ones who are paying  for the clothes they are wearing.

Leyla Ciyansen (protester): This forest is our lives, our oxygen, our source of income. It’s shameful! They shouldn’t sit in its shade!

Protesters: “The day will come, the tides will turn! The government will answer to its people!”

Sermit Cetin (protester): Leave us alone! Leave our nature and our history alone! Get away from our home! That’s it, I’m not saying anything else.

Ayse Ayev (protester): How long does it take for a tree to grow? I cried when I saw this. Isn’t this a sin? Does one destroy nature for money? They shouldn’t. 

Halime Saman (environmental activist): Since the 1980s, Turkey rapidly went through a liberal privatization process. Under the flag of industrialization  and development our nature and our resources were turned into commodities. 

Halil Ibrahim Demir (local farmer): They started cutting the trees at 6 in the morning. We revolted and tried to stop them. We pitched our tents here. They are saying the court decided in our favor and we can go on if there’s coal under the soil. We don’t want to give up our nature. This is also our source of income. We lost our pine trees but we will continue to resist.

Protester: I don’t want to die of cancer! Why are they cutting down these trees? This is our soil, our land! Arrest or kill me, I don’t care. We want to live in dignity. Long live Akbelen!

Ortac Yakar (local farmer): I have a grandson. Every time I see the Gendarmerie I tremble with fear of the thought of sending him to his military service. I see enemies in them, not friends!

Necla Isik (local farmer): Akbelen is everywhere! The resistance is everywhere!

Protesters: “Murderer Limak piss off from Akbelen!”

Halime Saman (environmental activist): Why are you shooting rubber bullets at us? We don’t carry rocks, clubs or weapons. All we have is love in our hearts for nature. Do you see that as a weapon?

Selma Gurkan (Chairwoman of Labour Party, EMEP): The job of the Ministry of Interior is to provide safety. But here they sent the law enforcement against people protecting their nature, their land, their air and their water.

Halime Saman (environmental activist): The army protected the company. For the benefit of that company they turned against the people. 

Tulka (student): They arrested me as I tried to pull my friend away. They were hitting and punching me as they threw me on the ground. They were swearing at me, called me a traitor to the homeland and kept on assaulting me throughout the way. They are trying to intimidate us with arrests and oppression but the more they attack the more we unite. They can’t break our will to resist this way. We will continue to fight for the freedom of the earth and the animals, for a vegan, ecological, classless and hierarchy-free world. They can’t break us.

Daniel Thorpe (narrator): The resistance in Akbelen continues. Though most of the trees have been felled, protesters still hope to obstruct the mining of coal, and save at least the soil where their forest stood.

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Murat Bay is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker from the southeast of Turkey currently based in Istanbul. During his work, he has covered human rights, migration, social movements, armed conflict, and natural disasters in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Antarctica, Greece, and Ukraine. He has worked with a number of agencies and news outlets including AP, AFP, Getty Images, Die Welt, and Stern.