(Northern Forests Defense – November 2016)
Northern Forests Defense Association (NFD / KOS) which is an organization independent of all kinds of economic, political or ideological organizations advocates for the protection of the ecologically interconnected and diverse area comprising the last existing forests, water basins and farm lands along with many endemic plant and animal species, extending from Sapanca to Strandzha Mountains. In accordance with its goal, NFD has established itself as an organization that mobilizes and fights against any urban or rural project that does not take nature, reason or science into account, regardless of its scale or justification..
In the age of climate change and global warming which endanger the well being and sustainability of the planet; reiterating the words of Prof. John Knox- UN Special Rapporteur on Environment- that ‘’Countries have boundaries but environment does not’’, NFD has made it its goal to work against all kinds of projects that destroy ecosystems, displace local communities, devastate habitats, including but not limited to the “mega projects” such as the 3rd Bridge, Canal Istanbul, and the 3rd Airport.
Within this framework, NFD empowers local communities and indigenous people under threat of forced evictions and displacement and also defends nature with its animals, insects and plants, briefly, all beings, not only in Istanbul and Turkey but also on a global scale. Thus, NFD builds solidarity with every individual and organization that thinks, acts and organizes in accordance with similar goals in order to amplify the resistance by standing together.
By documenting, reporting and through creative protests and international solidarity, NFD raises awareness in the national and global public opinion against ecocide projects and those that cause forced evictions, ‘’the violation of human rights ‘at first sight’’ as declared by all international human rights mechanisms .
In this context, the comprehensive and detailed Istanbul 3rd Airport Report of NFD stands out:
Compiling the reports and works of important ecological and environmental organizations, think tank groups and also of relevant chambers, and most importantly, with excerpts from the EIA reports of the Project itself, NFD 3rd Airport Report offers a vast view of the ecological devastation expected in the region which in turn will threaten the sustainability of the city and the well being of its inhabitants. The chapters on the environment, inter alia, underscore the adverse impacts of the Project on forest areas ( 6172 ha / 7650 ha which is 81% according to the official EIA Report ) that clean the air of the city and breath life to it and also on the water basins, lakes and creeks that feed the dams, alarming that the water resources of the mega city are being depleted in an age we need water the most.
Furthermore, challenging the EIA reports, the NFD report underscores the possible hazards ( meteorological conditions, migratory birds, wrong directions of the runways ) of the Project as well as pointing out to the difficulties of stabilizing the grounds of runways due to the specific make up of the soil which contains a unique mineral.
Taking into consideration that Moody’s has recently downgraded Turkey’s positon to a non-investment grade, it can be stated that the chapter on the economy of the country written in 2015 has predicted the present economic situation as it has rightly called attention to the potential risks of the war in Syria.
The report also points out to the danger of giving passenger guarantees to the developers, explaining how in the long run it may lead to economic losses, citing examples from other airports built on a similar transaction basis. The premonition of the report has been materialized in the recent mega bridges built; Gaziosmanpaşa Bridge over Kocaeli Bay and the Third Bridge on the Bosphorous have not attained the expected number of vehicles, let alone coming any close to the guarantees. These mega projects may turn the country into another Greece, the report warns.
Unbearable life conditions in the Project area, expected forced evictions and displacement of local communities, speculation in the region that benefits entrepreneurs, divergence from the rule of law via urgent expropriation and coercion mechanisms and the other destructive projects of the notorious members of the Consortium are the other areas of focus in the report.
Violation of Labour Rights :While the report was being written, there had been many allegations of fatal truck accidents and woundings and killings of workers at the construction site. The Project area is like a military zone, not letting any outsider inside while letting no news leak outside; consequently, at the time, it was not possible to collect any evidence for these allegations. In 2 years time, the numbers have reached such an increase that it is no longer possible to hide these accidents and deaths. There are testimonies of truck drivers who state that trucks are overloaded and they are obliged to reach the dump site and return as quicky as possible which causes accidents in the winding roads. The interview with the chairperson of truck drivers in the Open Radio (94.9) dated April 27th 2016 titled ‘’ Murders of workers and violations of human rights and mega projects’ : http://www.kuzeyormanlari.org/2016/04/27/kentin-tozu-emekci-cinayetleri-hak-ihlalleri-ve-mega-projeler/ points out to fatal accidents and violation of the rights of workers at the site. Truck Drivers’ Journal, the web page of truck drivers shares photos of accidents: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sofordergisi/search/?query=3.Havalimanı
Another critical consequence of overloaded speedy trucks is the danger they cause for local people and especially for children and elderly who can not cross the narrow village streets due to never ending truck chains. Pollution, noise and dust are other violations of the right to live in a secure healthy environment.
Lately, there have also been testimonies of workers revealing the dire living conditions at the construction site. They express that it is as if they are held in ‘’ a concentration camp’’, emphasizing also the insecure working conditions; thus the title of the interview on the page of a labour rights initiative ‘’We are working under inhuman conditions’’:
Employment Opportunities :It should also be underlined that the Consortium members have not provided employment for local populations. Because most workers quit their jobs as they can not bear ‘’concentration camp’’- like conditions and the heavy work, even if there had been such job offers, the locals would most probably flee as well. Besides, jobs in the construction sector in Turkey have the highest rate of fatal accidents while they are temporary and most often without social security. That is why, mostly refugees and/or migrants from the Kurdish regions who have no other choice to make a living work in this sector.
Some articles and videos on the 3rd Airport in English:
Video1 : An Ecocide Project :http://www.kuzeyormanlari.org/2016/06/13/video-of-istanbul-third-airport-an-ecocide-megaproject/
Video 2: The locals talk about the 3rd Airport:From Yeniköy Village May 2015
Local Communites and the Project
The Project area is within Arnavutköy and Eyüp municipalities on the European side in the North of Istanbul, bordering the Black Sea. The area spans a field of 10 km by length and 7.5 km by width. Tayakadın, ,İhsaniye, Yeniköy, Akpınar and Yukarı Ağaçlı villages are the settlements in the vicinity of the Project area while the neighboring villages of Aşağı Ağaçlı, Durusu, Odayeri, Imrahor, Işıklar are also expected to be affected by the Project. Further away, Baklalı, Zafer and Karaburun villages may not escape the effects of the Project . Consequently, we are talking about a lot of settlements that will be directly or indirectly affected by the Project. On the other hand, as will be shown, the impact of the Project is not limited solely to these settlements but has a much wider scope. The EIA report ( page 317 ) specifies the percentage of private lands to be expropriated as 2.47; however if direct and indirect impacts of the Project are taken into account it will be realized that expected forced evictions and thus displacement percentage is much higher and expropriation may not be the sole factor.
- Because of the construction work going on in the villages within the 3rd Airport Project and its impact area, the communities have lost their means of livelihood as their beaches , shores, meadows and green fields are sacrificed to side projects furnishing the needs of the mega project such as quarries, dumping grounds, new roads, dynamite / explosives storage magazines, land reclamation, illegal sand mining activities and the recently announced mega fuel tank farm. Consequently, stockbreeding and agriculture are about to end, fish species die out and landslides occur. Under such adverse condiitons, the livelihoods of communities have been curtailed.
- The most serious consequence of these side projects is the impossibility of living in a secure and healthy environment.
- Forced evictions and displacement are expected outcomes.
Villages in the vicinity are transformed into warehouses or suppliers of raw materials for the Project, making it too hard for communites to continue living.
Yukarı Ağaçlı is such an example. As documented by NFD, Ağaçlı Journal ( June 2016), http://www.kuzeyormanlari.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Ağaçlı_bülten_11_06_16.pdf :
-The roads of the village were terribly damaged by the never-ending 24 -hour heavy traffic of thousands of construction machines and trucks. Consequently, crossing the streets of the village has turned into a nightmare especially for school children and the elderly. Young students can not go to school by foot; parents have to take their children to school. Besides, the noise and dust caused by the heavy traffic make life unbearable for villagers. If it is considered that this part of Istanbul used to be the quietest and the most peaceful part of the city, it will easily be understood how the rapid change in Ağaçlı has traumatized its inhabitants. ‘’Once almost Heaven, now turned into a Hell’’ the saying goes in the village!
-Frequent power outages also make life hard as the electricity of the village is now shared by the construction site.
-Water shorage is another problem; the pond which used to serve as a reservoire for the village was filled to construct an explosives storage magazine on it as if there was no other place left. The construction of an explosives storage right across the village makes one wonder about the concern towards the right to life of the Consortium and authorities who have not moved a finger to stop its construction.
-There has also been illegal sand mining activity from the shores and the ancient sand dunes of the village. According to scientists, ages old Ağaçlı sand dunes are rich and unique in sheltering internationally important flora populations (Aurinia uechtritziana, Isatis arenaria and Linum tauricum bosphori).The villagers have filed a legal complaint against the company who has also blocked access to the shore. On June 16th when NFD visited the village, the illegal sand mining was still going on.
-As if these were not enough violations, a new quarry and crushing plant will be opened by IGA in the village and its cumulative effect with the previous ones has completely been ignored by authorities. The quarry and the plant will sit on 22 ha forest land and only 2-3 km. away from Ağaçlı, Odayeri and Çiftalan villages. In the project info file, it is stated that 10 trucks will make 2000 commutes daily, adding to the already heavy traffic in the area.
At Kentin Tozu program dated June 17th 2016 at Açık Radyo ( Open Radio) the community makes testimonies about the adverse effects of the 3rd Airport on their daily lives: http://acikradyo.com.tr/podcast/146273
-The project has been taken out of EIA by the Governor. Here, the impossibility of a proper EIA in the Turkish Law needs to be emphasized: The Law has been modified more than 30 times in previous years so as to render it dysfunctional, enabling companies to implement their projects without taking the environment into consideration. Thus governors –not scientists or experts-can issue orders about exemptions of EIA. It should also be noted that even though the relevant law declares the active participation of affected communities in the process, EIA reports are written without any consultation with the communities and are shared with them only after being finalized to ask their consent. This is why most EIA meetings have been boycotted by populations.
– If all the forementioned points are taken into consideration, it can easily be understood that even those whose houses have not been expropriated find it hard to stay in their vilages where ponds have been filled and all living creatures inside them killed; where green lands have been turned into a desert with millions of trees cut down, where agricultural lands and meadows have been opened to construction activities, sand quarries, explosives magazines,… what not! Life has been rendered unbearable while all means of livelihood impossible. 80 % of Yukarı Ağaçlı population used to live on animal husbandry; today the percentage has dropped to 40 %.
-As for expropriation, it is not the conventional one but ‘urgent expropriation’, a legal tool to be employed only at times of war, internal conflict or during big natural disasters that has been frequently applied by authorities to evict and displace villagers easily. Rule of Law does not abide in the project area. Law has been turned into a mechanism for running the project smoothly and easily, losing its very essence, that is justice and legitimacy. Villagers have taken the urgent appropriation decree to courts. They have lost the case but are determined to take it to supreme court and even to the European Court of Human Rights. Previously, almost all urgent expropriation declarations used to be annuled by the courts or higher courts; however, with the establisment of a pro-AKP politicized judiciary, access to justice has become ever more difficult in the country. An analysis of court cases and urgent expropriation can be found in NFD 3rd Airport Report pp:75-78 http://www.kuzeyormanlari.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/3rd_airport_project.pdf
Yukarı Ağaçlı can be taken as the epitome of the villages in the vicinity of the mega Project; each one is undergoing or will undergo sooner, at least one of these violations and injustices:
- Recently, a mega fuel tank farm project is announced for Tayakadın.
- Yeniköy, another village within the project area suffers from the adverse effects of the project: https://vimeo.com/133509417 The testimonies of the villagers about the impacts of the project are documented in the video.Not only the green fields, ponds and pastures but the shore of the village are also lost. Land reclamation has started and one of the companies undertaking the reclamation is the Belgian Jan de Nul http://www.kuzeyormanlari.org/2015/09/29/dubai-palmiye-adalarinda-kullanilan-gemi-3uncu-havalimani-icin-dolgu-yapiyor/
- Jan de Nul, with its ship named James Cook is also responsible for sand mining from the shores of Yeniköy to Karaburun villages http://www.kuzeyormanlari.org/2015/12/21/direnen-kuzey-ormanlari-sordu-talan-gemisi-vasco-da-gama-kiyilarimizda-ne-yapiyor/
As mentioned above, the impact of the Project is not limited solely to these settlements but has a much wider scope:
- Safaalan, a small village in Saray Municipality, in the city of Tekirdağ, has been adversely affected by the project. A granite quarry is planned to be opened on 100 hectares of forest land to supply the earth filling materials for the 3rd Airport project. NGD Report which draws attention to the specific chemical make up of the soil and the swampy ground underscores the difficuly of filling the ground, explaining that massive solid rocks will be needed for fillling and warning this will trigger further destructions in the Northern Forests. Taking into account that granite is such a material, the size of the quarry may be expected to be enlargened eventually exterminating the life in the village.
According to the project file; the granite wil be taken out by using explosives such as dynamite and ammonium nitrate and the goal is 50,000 tons / daily and 15 million tons / yearly. 12 tons of explosives will be used daily and there will be excavations during 6 days of the week. Moreover, there will be 2000 commutes by trucks daily to transfer the materials. Dust clouds, noice and the sismographic vibrations engendered by the project will turn Safaalan into a hell. Means of livelihood will also perish as the villagers depend on husbandry and forest products.
This destruction project has been taken out of EIA. The villagers took this decision to court, demanding an EIA.They also mobilized against the project and applied to the Ministry with 1000 petitions to stop the project. http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/cevre/580985/Safaalan_halki__Kepcenin_onune_de_yatariz.html :‘’If necessary we will lie down in front of the digger’’
Another settlement affected by the project is İğneada in the city of Kırklareli. It is famous for its 3155-hectar Deep Spot woods National Park. Limak, another Consortium member is building a port for ships carrying cement here. Hundreds of trucks carrying the cement needed to construction the projects in the 3rd Airport region no wonder will cause great destructions in the unique environment. http://www.kuzeyormanlari.org/2015/09/30/igneada-koyuna-cimento-limani-plaj-kapaniyor/
Relocation in the Turkish Context and the Future of the Villagers
If justice does not prevail, most of the inhabitants of the villages will be evicted and displaced from their living spaces they have been living for 4-5 generations since mid 1800s.These are communites whose ancestors migrated from the Balkans during the wars and they were settled in these villages by the Ottomans. These villages supply the meat and dairy products for Istanbul while the forests and green fields breath life into the city.
Direct and indirect coercion by the companies and authorities, lack of the rule of law, bribes and gifts by the companies to disintegrate any resistance constitute the immoral side of the picture. Adding to this, the members of the Consortium, bribe foremen ( the Muhtars) of villages by providing jobs with good salaries to their children or flats from their projects thus using the Muhtars to convince communities not to go to courts or resist. In fact, access to justice is both expensive and long, discouraging some of the population.
.Relocation / resettlement projects implemented in Turkey through TOKI (Mass Housing Administration) have so far proven to exacerbate the dire conditions of the populations in question. Resettlement toTOKI housing causes human rights violations in all spheres while disintegrating community bonds and solidarity networks. For a comprehensive analysis of the relocation projects refer to Istanbul Mission Report (2009) by UN Habitat Advisory Group on Forced Evictions http://mirror.unhabitat.org/downloads/docs/10008_1_593995.pdf Summary of the report: http://mirror.unhabitat.org/downloads/docs/10008_1_593994.pdf
More regressive housing legislation enacted since then has aggravated the situation.
The Future: An Urban Complex Arises in the Northern Forests Threatening the Sustainability of Istanbul
The first chapter of the NFD Report titled ‘’ Airport or Urban Complex’’ pp:11-17 underscores how new construction projects will arise in the vicinity of the 3rd Airport in the near future, documenting the planned cities such as ‘’New Istanbul’’ through evidence by evidence while also showing the interdependency and complicity of the 3 mega projects, the 3rd Airport, the 3rd Bridge and the Canal, in opening up the last pristine lands of Istanbul to construction and estates companies.
So it may not be wrong to state that in the future the population make up and number and the landscape of the region will undergo a significant change. Because of new projects in the regon, about 7,5 million new residents are expected to be added to the already 18 million, exacerbating the heavy traffic, air polution, depletion of resources and the green and water. Rural communities of Istanbul will be lost forever as the future of the city will no longer be certain.