BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
A few days ago, I read a 15-month old article describing Turkish environmental misbehavior in the province of Artvin, one of 81 such administrative divisions in Turkey and one whose name hasn’t been bastardized into a Turkified variant.
It seems that in the name of “developing tourism and eco-tourism” a 1600-mile (2600 km) road is planned to connect scenic (and largely pristine) plateaus, valleys, and other little known (except to locals) attractions in the Pontus Mountains. But the locals have experienced this type of “benevolent” attention before. A coastal highway, dams, and unchecked (simultaneously illegal) development have resulted in a few people getting rich, and others paying the consequences in the form of lost access to beaches and pasture, flooding (the area has the highest annual rainfall within Turkey), and even loss of lives. Why should we care about Artvin? If only for cynical reasons, the fact that I lies within the boundaries of Wilsonian Armenia should be enough for us not to want the land to be ravaged.
This reminded me of the building of the Ataturk dam in the 1980s which flooded out dozens and dozens of villages, mostly Kurdish as I recall. Both of these are examples of the sort of activity that led to the birth of the awareness of the need for environmental justice (EJ). The citing of polluting, hazardous, factories in economically disadvantaged communities is perhaps the most common example of environmental Injustice. But so is the destruction of the community living in Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles so that Dodger Stadium could be built.
In both of these cases, Turkey and Turkish elites are benefitting. In Artvin, unscrupulous developers are making, and plan to make, quick money, then leave the damage to haunt the people who live there. Interestingly, much of the population of the region isn’t Turkish, but Laz and Hamshentzee (i.e. Armenian). The Turkish state is shown once again to be extremely abusive of its minorities. In the case of the dam, not only did Kurds get displaced (this weakening their presence on the land), but Turkey gained tremendous control over the waters of the Euphrates River, giving it grave leverage over Syria which is downstream and reliant on those waters. Ankara used its leverage to squeeze Damascus.
But after deciding to write this piece, I received notice of a presentation at Abril Bookstore by Mher Mherian who was going to speak about his experience with the Water Protectors fighting to prevent construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). I was so proud, thrilled, that one of our compatriots was participating in that struggle. Not only is the DAPL an EJ struggle. It is also a battle for the rights of an indigenous people, as were Armenians when the Genocide hit. The DAPL would desecrate sacred grounds of the Sioux people (think Azeri bulldozing of Nakhichevan’s Julfa/Choogha cemetery khachkars a decade ago). The necessity of this pipeline is questionable. It is another example of rendering the transportation of fossil fuels easier when we should, as a species, be doing everything we can to keep as much coal, oil, and gas in the ground lest we create environmental conditions that may make our civilizations impossible to maintain.
Mher described a very peaceful, healing, setting. Accusations of “violent” demonstrators are nothing but attempts by local authorities and the pipeline builders to vilify the activists who are waging this struggle. The U.S. Army Corps of engineers recently refused permission to tunnel under Lake Oahe, which is on the planned pipeline route. That is an example of the major concern, other than Sioux treaty rights and broader environmental issues. A leak from this pipeline would impact water supplies for thousands, and perhaps far more, people, depending on where the break in the pipeline occurred.
Mher also emphasized the importance of supporting other peoples’ struggles if we want them to support ours. He has already educated a couple of dozen people about our cause. He is heading back to North Dakota in a few days with a van full of supplies. If you want to support his and all the water protectors’ efforts, you can make a contribution by contacting Abril Bookstore (818/243-4112 firstname.lastname@example.org). You might even consider going out to participate in the struggle…