by Mehveş Evin
Located just 20 miles southeast of the ruins of Troy, Mount Ida (Kaz Mountains in Turkish) was mentioned in Iliad of Homer and Aeinid of Virgil. Ida was sacred to Cybele. Throughout the centuries, Mount Ida was home to different cultures, peoples. Under Ottoman rule since the 1350s, it is now an integral part of Turkey, its foothills spreading from Çanakkale to the province of Balıkesir.
With its ancient forests, plains hosting a wide array of flora and endemic species, Mount Ida is known as one of the country’s most important natural spots. For centuries, the climate and geography it enjoys have been ideal for farming and agriculture: the famous Çanakkale tomatoes, olives, olive oil, milk and cheese production feed Istanbul and are exported abroad.
Yet Mount Ida in particular and the Biga Peninsula in general have been opened up for mining activities. In a world in which people invest heavily in or buy gold and silver, mining is a lucrative if destructive business.
According to the British Geological Survey and the United States Geological Survey, in 2002, Turkey’s mine reserves made up 0.5% of the world’s total reserves. Turkey ranks as the 11th country with the most gold reserves in the world, according to the World Gold Council.
Since most Western countries have their own regulations and laws protecting the environment, and costs are rising, it is a blessing for companies to do business in third world countries.
Eager to attract foreign investment and hungry for economic growth, Turkey embarked upon its neoliberal quest in the late 1980s. Research on mining reserves accelerated thanks to Western experts. But back then, the law prevented international companies from operating in their favor.
The most crucial changes in the law on mining, as well as in the laws protecting nature and cultural heritage, began with the AKP in 2004. Since then, the ruling party has changed the law on mining 21 times, as well as other regulations regarding forests, farming lands and private ownership.
For any energy or mining activity to take place, an environmental impact assessment has to carried out by law and presented to the public. However, assessments are utterly nonscientific and drafted by the companies themselves. In almost any mining or energy investment, people who live in that specific geography cannot get accurate information.
What is more, Turkey’s regulatory mining body MAPEG does not share information with regards to how many mining licenses it provides, and where. They say it’s confidential, but one can pay a fee to obtain it.
Alamos is a Canadian-based intermediate gold producer with diversified production from three operating mines in North America, including the Young-Davidson and Island Gold Mines in northern Ontario, Canada, and the Mulatos Mine in Sonora, Mexico. “The Company has a leading growth profile with exploration and development projects in Mexico, Turkey, Canada and the United States and is committed to the highest standards of sustainable development”, it states.
TEMA Foundation actually paid the fee and applied data on the Biga Peninsula map, where Mount Ida is located. In June, TEMA published a startling report: a total of 79% of the whole peninsula was licensed to mines.
A detailed analysis showed that 80% of peninsula’s forests are open to mining, and that 50% of specifically protected and preserved areas, as well as national parks are also in danger of being mined. And ten per cent of the Troia National Park can now be mined!
Alamos Gold has three mining projects in the region. One of them is close to the village on Kirazlı on Mount Ida, where local people have been demonstrating for more than a year. While Alamos and its local partner Doğu Biga Madencilik do not have a licence as of yet to operate in Kirazlı, they claim “they are close to getting one.” But they already cut down 195,000 trees. If the mining starts, the water will be contaminated with heavy metals and cyanide, which would lead to an environmental disaster.
Süheyla Doğan, the head of Mount Ida Natural Protection Society and co- speaker for the Ecology Unity in Turkey, told me that they had filed a case against Alamos, Doğu Biga and the relevant ministries. Yet the issue goes beyond Kirazlı. “The two other licensed areas in the peninsula are much larger and constitute a great threat to farming, living and the ecology in the region.”
In fact, mining ventures have been sprouting all around the country. 59% of Mugla – one of Turkey’s top tourist destinations – was licensed. The mountain of Babadag, known for paragliding, was entirely licensed.
Central and eastern Anatolian towns, as well as the Black Sea region, have been opened up for a brutal plunder. And locals do not want foreign companies to enter the land. Foreign companies, abetted by their local partners, will destroy some of the most beautiful parts of the country, free from being audited.
The authoritarian AKP-MHP government is ideal for them. People get fined, are taken into custody and criminalized because they want to protect their environment. Foreign as well as local capital is as guilty as the government for the deep social, ecological, economical crisis that is looming.