Erdinç Çelikkan – Hürriyet / Ankara, July 16 () - Attracting Arab tourists, who have a growing interest in Turkey’s highland resorts, is the reason for the construction of a controversial road project which aims to connect upland villages in several Turkish provinces.
In the Action Plan on the Eastern Black Sea Project (DOKAP), which was announced by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu before the June 7 parliamentary elections, the “Green Road” project, a 2,600-kilometer road project slated to connect the upland villages of eight provinces in the region, was said to be of great importance for the tourism potential of the region, as there was a growing interest from tourists coming from Arab countries toward tourism in the area.
The pre-election DOKAP plan stated that “it is of utmost importance for the region that the Green Road project, which will combine the uplands in the DOKAP region … and allow the region to become a branded value for tourism, be completed.”
The controversial road construction has been widely protested by locals and environmentalists since early July, when caterpillars were brought to the uplands to cut down trees in Rize. Sit-in protests were staged to prevent caterpillars from working, while gendarmerie forces attacked groups by forcibly dragging them away after they refused to move from in front of the demolition trucks.
Even though the Rize Administrative Court suspended the execution of the controversial road project on July 13 following a case filed by the Fırtına İnsiyatifi (Storm Initiative), an environmental activist group, trees were cut in the Ausor, Haczane and Husor highlands in the Çamlıhemşin district of Rize on July 14.
Road to be prepared for private sector investments
The action plan on DOKAP stated that the planning works of the tourism regions on the route of the road would be completed quickly and they would be prepared for private sector investments.
“Thus, the region will be secured to become a place where touristic activities can be conducted, a place that attracts tourists in every season, and turn into one of the most important tourism centers of our country,” it said.
The same plan added that buildings that resemble the characteristics of the uplands of the region would be constructed, leading to a rise in “yacht and cruise tourism.”
The project has been widely criticized for its negative impact not only on the environmental character of the areas affected but also on the culture and lifestyle of local residents, destroying the unique nature of the upland villages.
Among the people who protested the controversial road construction, Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies Kemal Zeybek and Seyit Torun have expressed their reaction against the project and also the gendarmerie’s disproportionate crackdown on the locals’ resistance.
“Rather than calming down the citizens’ tension, the governor hardened his rhetoric, ordered the gendarmerie [to attack] and used provocative words,” said Torun, while Zeybek added that if the governor had not ordered the gendarmerie, the security forces would not have dispersed the crowd.
As the protests continued, Rize Gov. Ersin Yazıcı had claimed that the trees were not cut down as part of the road project. “We did not cut even one tree. We love nature, too. If we destroy nature, nobody will come here. We are aware of this,” he said.