Erdinç Çelikkan - Hürriyet / Rize, July 14 () - A local court suspended on July 13 the execution of a controversial road project to connect upland villages of eight Black Sea provinces in Turkey, after protests against the plans from locals and environmentalists.
The ruling issued by the Rize Administrative Court in a case filed by the Storm Initiative (Fırtına İnsiyatifi), an environmental activist group, against the “Green Road” project, a 2,600-kilometer road project planned to connect upland villages of eight provinces in Turkey’s Black Sea region.
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.
The project led to an angry protest in the Çamlıhemşin village in the Black Sea province of Rize.
The “Green Road” project was said to be planned for tourist infrastructure but risked the ecological life in the Fırtına Valley, Storm Initiative spokesperson Deniz Demirci said shortly after the court’s ruling.
“The Fırtına Valley is the biggest protected green area in Turkey and a national park, recognized as a unique wilderness” Demirci added.
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Turkey Director Tolga Baştak warned that turning the remote eastern Black Sea region into a place of tourism posed a critical risk to nature.
“Mass tourism will make this area an ordinary place due to massive concrete constructions. If the ‘Green Road’ project is implemented, the Black Sea [region] will lose the characteristics that make it unique” Baştak said.
Several environmental rights groups warned that project would not only have environmental impacts on the region, which has been listed in the top 200 Global Ecological Regions, but also on the culture and lifestyle of local residents.
“The effects of the project will be as huge as the project itself. Not only will nature in the region be destroyed, but also the lifestyle of Havva Teyze” said Chamber of Environmental Engineers head Baran Bozoğlu, referring to the old woman in Çamlıhemşin who hit headlines after being photographed protesting the demolition of the untouched forests by rebuking security forces holding a wooden staff on July 11.
The ruling came after gendarmerie forces intervened in a sit-in protest staged by a group of locals in an upland area of Rize, with one elderly local woman declaring that “citizens make up the state” and citizens do not want the road.
Security forces on July 11 forcibly removed several local people from the area, dragging them on the ground after they refused to move from in front of caterpillar demolition trucks in Çamlıhemşin’s Samistal pasture.
Amid the resistance of the Rize locals, the footage of Havva Bekar protesting the project waving her wooden staff was shared on the Internet by thousands of Turks.