Climate Change and Socioecological Conflicts in Eastern Anatolia Region

Written by Arzu Dinçer, vice president of Van Environment Historical Monuments Protection Research and Development Association

We are faced with global warming, which is accompanied by an ongoing ecological destruction that we have been experiencing in recent years, provoked by the wrong practices. In our region – Eastern Anatolia – hundred of hectares of forests in Dersim, Bingöl, Hakkari, Şırnak, Bitlis were destroyed. Trees are cut down and hundreds of hectares of land are destroyed, causing the destruction of the habitats of insects and other living beings. Due to the global warming in our region in recent years, Turkey’s largest mountain, Mount Ararat, which is known for its height of 5 thousands and 137 meters, is melting day by day. At the same time, we are witnessing the melting of Bingöl glaciers, as well as of 20 thousand year old glaciers in Hakkari, whose height exceeds the 4 thousand meters. This is a natural disaster.

As is the case throughout Turkey, Hydroelectric Power Plants (HEPPs) on many rivers around Lake Van continue to threaten natural life. The construction in violation of legislation, which has been increasing recently in and around Lake Van, causes various problems to the lake ecosystem. The reactions of environmental activists against the HEPPs and illegal constructions do not find a response. The sea of Van at an altitude of 1726, which is a natural wonder due to its geographical structure, is the biggest source of tourism and employment for our province and region. It has a 430 km border and carries a different beauty in every meter. Unfortunately, we cannot protect it sufficiently. By filling the coasts, the use of them is prevented. Again, by using their authority or violating the law (Law No. 3621), the authorities use the coasts as recreation and entertainment areas for themselves or their families. Although the law states that no rubble, wire, fences or even walls can be built, it is seen that these areas are used arbitrarily. The people and living creatures from the villages of Gevaş İn and Karatavuk of Erciş, which is within our provincial border, are prevented from accessing water. Although prohibited by law, the shores have been occupied by high walls and wire fences. It is extremely important that the reeds on the shores of Lake Van are breeding areas, that the reeds have the ability to filter water, as they are the lifeguard of this basin, and that no construction is made over the reed areas. We understand that the work of cleaning the bottom mud in the lake since the beginning of the summer is purely a “perception work” from the fact that the coast is 13.9 kilometers long. It is reported that only 200 meters of bottom mud has been cleaned in a depth of 500 meters along the coast so far. In the case of Lake Van, the bottom mud is neither a filling nor a fertilizer. It has become a poisonous substance. In this sense, dumping the bottom sludge is a separate atrocity. The practice is for perception and rent-seeking purposes.

On 30 July 2022, the coast of Lake Van was registered as a natural site, sustainable conservation, and controlled use area. However, although citizens and NGOs living in the Lake Van basin and all parties in general have stated that a special protection law should be enacted, let alone the already existing protection of Lake Van by law, there has been an ongoing practice aimed at complete plunder and pollution. One of the main environmental problems in our region and our city is the pollution of Lake Van, which is invaluable to us, and the recession in the water level of the lake due to drought. Among the reasons for these problems are the hydroelectric power plants in and around Lake Van and the structures built in violation of existing legislation.

However, there are many environmental problems in the region that are triggered by these developements. There are problems such as the melting of the Hakkari Cilo glaciers, the recent fires and flood disasters in the region, and among the reasons behind them are; nuclear power plants, thermal power plants, unplanned urbanisation, stone and mine quarries, sewage, domestic and medical wastes, and the scarcity of green areas. These are attacks on the future and unless we put a stop to these problems, we will not fulfill our responsibility towards future generations.

In the village of Sabırlı İliç, Erzincan, there are 197 football-sized toxic waste ponds, the use of sulfuric acid has increased from 7,000 tonnes to 32,000 tonnes, and the use of sulfate acid has increased from 9,000 tonnes to 122,000 tonnes and is flowing into the Euphrates River. Evaporators are spewing poison into the air and spraying poison on tens of villages, forests and plateaus around İliç. In the Silopi district of Şırnak, there is a thermal power plant fuelled by coal mines. As a result, low yields have been observed in agricultural products.

Diyadin Koza mining company has been conducting gold mining activities by mineral exploration with cyanide for ten years. The mining area, which is a huge mountain mass, is located in an area where the water resources of the district come from. In addition to be a historical memory, Zilan Valley, which fascinates those who see it with its nature, has more than 30 settlements with thousands of residents. The valley, which covers a very long and wide region, also has more than 10 streams. The valley, which is one of the breeding areas and transition route of pearl mullet, also known as “Van fish”, is home to many endemic species. Yet, in addition to thousands of sheep and goats, valley is home to many species, especially the water salamander and the otter. There are 4300 plant specimens in the valley. Instead of building HEPPs in the region, Solar Power Plant (GES), Wind Power Plant (RES) should be built.

November 8, 2022

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