Akbelen, located in İkizköy in Milas, Muğla, has been under blockade for 19 days. Law enforcement forces have come between the people and the trees, and barricades stretch along the forest. But why? There are some other invisible barricades between the people and the trees, it is as if invisibility cloaks have been put on them, let’s rewind to the beginning:
Before Akbelen, other neighbourhoods were threatened with extinction for the coal mine facility of YK Energy, a joint venture of Limak Holding and IC İÇTAŞ. Işıkdere, which was left behind by this very same threat involving nine villages, no longer exists. These villages are disappearing as the company turns the earth upside down to satiate its appetite for coal for its thermal power plant. The desire to extract coal, which poisons the planet a little more every day, is one of the barricades between trees and people.
Villagers and nature defenders have been keeping watch in the forest for years against the threat. They are on guard against the company every day.
When the dates showed 24 July, the coal appetite of the company, the government that granted the company all the permits it wanted, and all the capital groups that would benefit from this partnership outweighed the coal appetite.
On the one hand, batons came out, on the other hand, specially mixed water was sprayed from water canons. Some disappeared between the barricades, some were detained for hours and tortured, some still have scars on their bodies. As of 24 July, there was more gendarmerie presence in the forest than trees. A resistance fighter waking up at 6.00 a.m. in the Akbelen watch area would see a gendarmerie before a tree. However, it was no longer possible to reach these trees; they had to be cut down under gendarmerie protection. Afterwards, a border was drawn between the dead trees and the resistance fighters under the protection of the gendarmerie for logging.
İkizköy residents, who have been standing guard in the forest for years to protect the trees, continued their resistance by waking up early every morning. Every night’s watchmen were up until the first light of the day against the appetite for coal. Since that day, nature defenders from Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, Denizli, Antalya and many other provinces have come to the campsite. Every day, people from completely different fields of struggle find themselves in the Akbelen watch area for the protection of Akbelen Forest.
‘Where do I keep a place?’
For the last week, barricades have been set up around Akbelen Forest for the company’s coal mine. While about 30 people were detained, many people were physically attacked. Some had their fingers broken while others suffered brain trauma. Many members of the press, including a Yeşil Gazete reporter, were also subjected to these attacks.
While the trees all around Akbelen Forest were lying on the ground, Melahat from İkizköy was looking at the trees and shouting at the gendarmes, asking why they were protecting those who killed the trees instead of protecting them. The gendarmes were silent. On the one hand, 65-year-old Mother Havva was calling out to the bar associations and MPs who had come to the forest to support the villagers.
“I am a mother, brothers and sisters, the heart of a mother cannot bear, brothers and sisters… Find a solution. Don’t throw us out of our homes. I am 65 years old, where can I live?”
‘This is a struggle for freedom’
On the other hand, 28-year-old musician Selin Çıngır said, “We are young, we are actually struggling for life in an age when we should have hope and dream like our peers. This is a struggle for life, this is a struggle for freedom…”
‘I was pepper sprayed, I can’t speak’
Osman Asal, on whose land the trees were felled one by one, was forced to watch this destruction and was also subjected to pepper gas:
“Come here, see the state of this citizen. I was pepper sprayed, I can’t speak. There are so many things I want to say. You came and finished cotton, tobacco and agriculture. Now you’re destroying our pines! You don’t give us the right to live! Get out of your glass houses and come here. See the state of the citizens.”
What brings young and old together in the campsite is the demand for freedom for life, as Çıngır expressed. Endless conversations about women’s and LGBTI+ rights, animal rights, ecological damages and climate justice were never absent from the tables of the resisters fighting for Akbelen Forest.
They don’t want to lose one more person, one more tree
Every need in the watch area is hand in hand. While the attacks on the forest and its defenders continue every day, the crowd in the area has decreased day by day. Those who remain do not want to lose one more person, one more tree.
Again the sounds of chainsaws. The labourers, who are seen among the destroyed trees and who are said to have been called from the region by the company with a daily wage of 1600 TL, are logging the felled trees, and the small trees in between are being destroyed. With the sound, all activists run towards this spot. This felling, which took place hours after the Muğla Governorate‘s announcement that “the tree felling is over“, unites all activists, and with the resistance shown, the unauthorised felling behind the gendarmerie barricades is stopped.
Although Akbelen breathes a sigh of relief after this action, this breath is mixed with the dust generated by the construction machinery carrying the trees cut down 100 metres away. With every tree that is removed, a dust smoke rises in the sky. Coughs are heard. The area is hotter now. The intensity of the wind blowing through the trees has decreased. What it brings is no longer the light air that swirls around the treetops and becomes clearer as it moves, but dust and smoke.
On top of all these, one day, Governor Orhan Tavlı requested that the water tanker not be allowed into the area. Since permission was not granted, the gendarmes did not let the tanker in at the entrance of the guard area. The water used for hygiene needs for four years had to be sampled. Villagers are sure that the water is clean. Resistance fighters are leaning against the barricade, under the sun, demanding their tanker. Music is being played. “Don’t forget Gezi,” they tell the gendarmes. Hours pass. Everyone’s skin is a little darker now. These are the memories of the resistance for the unauthorised tanker. Meanwhile, the gendarmes are under the shade of trees. “Gendarmerie, get out of the shadow of the tree you cut down,” the protesters have been saying for days. But they have nowhere to get out. Trees were cut down one by one. The water sampled was finally allowed to enter the area after a struggle.
Jammers were another obstacle that the resistance fought against from the beginning. Because of the jammers placed all around the guard area to violate the right to communication, the resistors were unable to inform anyone about the gendarmes who had almost landed at 6.00 in the morning to protect the workers who were logging the trees for a long time. It is not even possible to send a text message. What happened there at that time is known only by the resistance, Limak-IC İçtaş-YK Enerji and the gendarmes. And of course those who gave this order.
When we were finally able to reach the world at a 30 cm point, which the jammers bypassed, we were barely able to pass information to the outside, to our newspaper. Most of the people in the area also started the day with this raid; most of them had blankets on their backs, trying to understand what was happening with anxiety, asking the gendarmes, “Does your mother know that you are doing this?”. We ask how to communicate in case of a health problem due to the jammers, but there is no answer. There is no ambulance. This is one of the many rights violated in Akbelen.
Women’s struggle in Akbelen
In Akbelen, as in many similar places, we once again witnessed the rising power of women’s struggle. Akbelen is a forest surrounded by women from 18 to 90.
In the early hours of the morning, as the sun rises, their voices are again the loudest against the dust that rises into the sky. Company employees are very successful in removing the trees. Within hours, the greenery in the area is replaced by brown, and the women are the most upset.
With each tree, the resentment in the eyes grows a little more. The destruction here is not only ecological but also heavily psychological.
So what are the residents doing about it? We are going to the centre of Milas. Because there is a big meeting at the watch area on Sunday, 6 August. The environmentalists in the area set out to both inform and invite the people of the region to the meeting, followed by us… However, unlike Akbelen, there is a rush of daily life everywhere. When Derya Lim, one of the resistance members, mentioned Akbelen, a citizen passing by on his motorbike said, “Do you own land there?” The answer that the resistance continues for the trees and that the alleged need for energy can be met with an environmentally friendly and fair transition does not find a response, there is no sign of support.
Another resistance fighter, Levent Büyükbozkırlı, is in almost every shop in Milas, from restaurants and kiosks to cafes and shops. They tell us: “There is a massacre in Akbelen, the massacre is carried out for private companies under the control of the state and law enforcement forces, it causes air pollution, there are serious health risks, we do not need this dirty energy, there is no need to cut down trees used as carbon sinks against the climate crisis, there are clean energies.”
All the citizens we came across in Milas were aware of the demolition in Akbelen. While the conversations went back to the elections won by AKP President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, we observe a state of resignation in some, ambition in others, and hope in others. These emotions completely determine whether they will come to the meeting or not.
At a table in Üçgen Park visited by Büyükbozkırlı, we witness a document from Muğla Governorate, which is obviously related to the recruitment process, being involuntarily hidden by the citizen. This destruction approved by the governorship does not find a response from the citizens. The majority of citizens complain that the trees have been cut down. It is stated that there may be other ways to do this. And Sunday…
On 6 August, there was an influx of people to İkizköy like never before. Each newcomer added new slogans. Each of them carried banners drawing attention to an important issue for them: Climate crisis, global warming, carbon sinks, climate justice, ecocide… Each of them knows what it means for Akbelen to disappear, and each of them came to ask for the account of each tree. Groups such as Praksis and Siyabend had supported the resistance with their art from the beginning, and they were there again. On the same day, a human chain was formed with the songs of Praksis. The scorching sun on the hill melted the asphalt in the middle of the human chain, which stretched for kilometres on two arms, and the voices never stopped:
“Don’t touch Akbelen!”
Watch in Akbelen
So what kind of a watch prevails in this defended Akbelen?
Since 24 July, there has been an intense resistance in Akbelen. However, there has been a watch for more than two years. During the watch, you come across village women and university students from big cities. Melahat, one of the village women, cooks vegan food for vegans. Ahmet Caner Altay from the vegan group and Children of Nature cleans the dung from the barn, which the family of Nejla Işık, one of the villagers, could not clean because they were running around to defend Akbelen. There is complete solidarity. During this process, a tiny cat, Şans, was found on a road. Altay gives the cat the medicines given by the veterinarian and cares for it for days. It is seen that the cat really recovered in a week. On the one hand, sheep want to graze, but everywhere is full of the company’s construction machinery, noise and danger. The destruction caused by the company also affects the development of animals in the area. There is always a gendarmerie team in front of Işık’s door.
In this process, a calf was born in Akbelen. Although the birth was quite painful due to the stress of the animal affected by the noise, both mother and calf survived the birth in a healthy way.
In the evenings, music usually accompanies the campsite. It is almost the soundtrack of the resistance. Musicians are also constantly filling the area.
Aids such as drinks and watermelons are brought from various municipalities. Huge ice blocks cool the watermelons and drinks under the heat. Every need is taken care of by dozens of people. Sometimes a tent organisation is helped, sometimes endless teas are brewed, sometimes drinking water is carried from hand to hand along the road.
While some resistance fighters take a shower in the field with limited facilities, others take a shower at the observatory, which opens all its facilities to meet their needs. You can take a shower in the pancake house, which is reached after a 15-minute walk from the field, and those who stay in the field for days can wash their clothes here. A pancake house that can only be found in fairy tales, a symbol of solidarity! If you go to Akbelen, one of the people you should definitely meet.
From Watch to Parliament
When 8 August came, it was the day of the parliamentary march, which had been announced for days beforehand. Akbelen resistance fighters go to the Parliament. Along with the women of the village, many other resistance fighters are taking part in this journey. People from many ecocide points also support Akbelen’s journey. It took hours to get to Ankara; the police checks were carried out, the vehicle was stopped many times, but every road ends somehow; finally, they arrived at the Parliament.
Peasant women carrying olive oil, walnuts and branches of Akbelen looked very fitting for the Assembly with their slogans. Mukhtars who supported the sectors were also there. Nejla Işık, a member of the CHP group, made an impressive speech that was greeted with applause, but the Grand National Assembly of Turkey decided against the demand of the people: There will be no general discussion. As they always do, the AKP and MHP MPs waiting at the door took their seats after waiting for the quorum to be reached. The MPs of the nation did not support any way to investigate the slaughter of trees in Akbelen; on the contrary, they blamed those who protect their trees, forests and homeland.
Although she had expected this, Işık says that she inevitably regrets the decision:
“But I’m not upset in this way: Everyone had to come here today. All the MPs. They came even for the vote. I wish they would listen. I wish they would listen to our problems. They insist on calling us marginalised. We’re peasants, what marginality can a peasant have? The peasant is worried about his village, his land. What marginality is there? They are worried about the nest of the bird and the wolf.”
Returning to the watch area for struggle.
Some of it is arbitrary. Since the first day, the gendarmerie’s practices have constantly changed. Sometimes it was enough to show our press card to enter the area, sometimes we were asked to tell our ID number. Sometimes our bags were checked, sometimes a gendarme escort was sent with us to accompany us to the site.
In the morning, the gendarmerie set up a barricade two metres from the watch area, but at 19.00 decided to leave a distance of five metres between them. Behind the area there is a huge ward, where tents have been set up to protect the company. Jammers are at work non-stop. The signal goes in and out, but information? No…
Sometimes our ID number was written on A4 sheets of paper for the criminal record check at every entrance to the camp. WWhen the papers multiplied and could not be coped with, this practice was abandoned and digital criminal record inquiry was often requested to be returned. However, it is necessary to wait because the jammers also prevent the criminal record check. Did you want to see the permit? When we reported this to the commander, we sometimes witnessed a gendarme running away with the permits in his hand, and sometimes we were asked to complain to the prosecutor’s office. How long will the prosecutor’s office get back to you for a permit you are curious about? That is unknown.
Invitation to Akbelen
Despite everything, the resistance in Akbelen continues. The continuation of the company means swallowing other villages and there is no end to this coal hunger. The people in Akbelen want to strengthen the resistance. They cannot lose a single tree. With struggle, they can revive the forest again. And there will continue to be a village there and a forest in the village…
Akbelen’s call is spreading not only in Turkey but also around the world. People in countries such as Germany, Mexico and Spain are also reacting to the destruction in Akbelen. The struggle in Akbelen continues. It is now being waged between barricades, with laments for the fallen trees, without tolerating the breaking of a single branch. Akbelen Forest calls for support.