The lockdown and curfew restrictions that started with the COVID-19 pandemic have been instrumentalized for the brutal repression and prevention of peaceful protests. Watch for Water and Conscience activists have been fined with an amount close to 100k Turkish Liras for not leaving their post despite the curfew.
Advocates for ecology and environmental rights have been increasingly facing repression and blockings ever since the second half of the 2000s. 12 eco-activists were detained back in 2012 in Ankara during a protest against the planned nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, Mersin. In 2016, in Cerattepe, Artvin, the non-violent resistance against a mining project was brutally attacked by the police with teargas and the leaders of the resistance were detained. Dozens of people were detained again in rallies held in support for the resistance in cities like Izmir and Kocaeli. Last year, once again, dozens of protestors were detained on several occasions during protests against the flooding of the Ilıca Dam in Hasankeyf. In March, 2020, two professors trying to protect the Center for Native Seed and Plant Production at the University of Pamukkale from the planned construction of a public facility were physically attacked. 9 locals of the Kirazlıyayla village in Bursa were detained with home invasion in the early hours of the morning of June 7, 2020 for resisting the building of a facility for flotation and waste disposal, only to be released on bail the next day.
The lockdown and curfew restrictions that started with the COVID-19 pandemic have been instrumentalized for the brutal repression and prevention of peaceful protests. Watch for Water and Conscience Activists have been fined with an amount close to 100k Turkish Liras for not leaving their post despite the curfew.
The Water and Conscience Watch started with a footage from the former forest land that became barren after 195 thousand trees cut by Alamos Gold, which operated the gold mine in Kazdağları (Ida Mountain Range) .
The watch began on July 26, 2019 by the call of the Watch for Water and Conscience Committee. Initially, the committee consisted of the vice presidents from the Municipality of Canakkale as well as executives and members of Ida Association for Solidarity. Following Fazıl Say’s recital on August 18, 2019, the committee decided to stop the watch, which was a constant tent-camp, and evacuated the area. Advocates from all around the country, who were there to show solidarity, however, held forums and decided to continue with the resistance camp. Those who stayed started a campaign, which they named Her Yer Kazdağları (Everywhere is Ida Mountain Range). Some organizations in support of the Watch from Canakkale and the bay area came together and held activities under the name ‘Birleşerek Kazanacağız’ (‘We’ll Win by Uniting’). Those living in Istanbul and had actively participated in the Kirazlı gold mine watch also came together to start a Kazdağları Istanbul Solidarity movement. At the moment, Birleşerek Kazanacağız, Istanbul Solidarity, Kazdağı Doğal ve Kültürel Varlıkları Koruma Derneği (Association for the Protection of Natural and Cultural Assets of Kazdağı), and Kazdağları Kardeşliği (Kazdağları Fellowship) are actively participating in the resistance camp run by Her Yer Kazdağları.
As of June 11, 2020, the watch has been going on for 322 days. The number of people on Balaban Hill is constantly changing. Up to date, the lowest it’s been is 4 (due to the pandemic) and the highest, 200 people. Spokespersons are on the field at all times to speak for the watch. Food and other needs are provided through donations. At the same time, Kazdağları Istanbul Solidarity gives logistic and financial support to the camp by organizing events, where they sell merchandise such as tote bags, badges, and t-shirts produced in collaboration with the camp.
Ever since the watch started, Canakkale Forestry Department and Canakkale Governorship have been issuing penalties to create pressure on these advocates of life. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 10 advocates were fined 150 Turkish Liras a day for ‘camping overnight in the woods’. These penalties have been contested and the due process is still ongoing.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the activists took seriously the Ministry of Health’s warnings and self-isolated. They stopped accepting newcomers as a precaution. The officers from the Regional Forestry Department asked the activists to evacuate the area on the grounds of the decree given by the City Board of Public Health despite the fact that the local law reinforcement was already aware of the situation. The mine, though, was still kept active at the time. The activists stated that they were not leaving the area under those conditions, for which they were fined 3,180 Turkish Liras per person for 4 consecutive days, totaling up to 70,840 Liras. They were fined an additional 800 Liras per day during the Ramadan holiday, during which the entire country was under curfew. As of June 1, 2020, the local gendarmerie is continuing to keep record of those visiting the area, despite the loosening of the lockdown, on the grounds that regional parks have not yet been opened. On the World Environment Day (June 5th), local forces did not allow people from the city to be there for the press release organized by the activists in front of the gates of the mine.
On June 22, 2020, activists on the field filed a criminal complaint against the arrests and fines imposed on the watch.