Enviromentalism is a dangerous thing in Turkey

Teaser Image Caption
One of Ali Ulvi Büyüknohutçu's photos which was taken by him during his environmental struggle

Aysin and Ali Ulvi Büyüknohutçu, a 61 years old couple living in the Finike district of Antalya were found shot dead in their home last week. Both of them were well-known environmental activists struggling for many years against the operation of some local stone quarries. Activists now link their death to the couple’s political work.

Büyüknohutçu was the spokesperson of a platform fighting against those quarries in the Taurus and Mediterranean coastal regions. He also served as the provincial chairman of the Democratic Left Party (DSP) in Antalya until 2011, a task which he quit due to health problems.

Soon after news broke that the couple seemed to have been killed with a hunting rifle, allegations were raised that the two might have been murdered for their political activities. Both had mounted a struggle against the destruction of nature in their hometown, particularly through the harm done by quarries located in the nearby forest. Last year Büyüknohutçu had shared pictures on social media of how the quarries operating at the Kızılcık uplands, famous for its calabrian pine and cedar trees, had led to deforestation. He was then sued by Bartu Mermer, a marble company operating in the Fenike region accusing him of libel. Büyüknohutçu was acquitted in court, and the judge also rejected the company’s claim for damages. Following pressure from the villagers and the couple the operating license of the marble company was also cancelled by a court. Activists stated that the Büyüknohutçus were planning to initiate similar proceedings against the remaining 13 stone quarries.

While the harmful effects mining projects have on the environment have been widely discussed in Turkey, stone quarries are a special case. Not only are those operations often harmful to the workers’ health given that labor security standards are often neglected, they also have adverse effects on the environment. Big portions of land are being destroyed for opening the quarries and the stone dust spreads to nearby fields, often affecting photosynthesis and pollination of plants.

Just a couple of days after the two were found dead, a 31 year old man known confessed to having killed the couple. The man was no stranger to Ali Büyüknohutçu – a few days earlier he had come to his house reporting a forest fire nearby, supposedly trying to lure him to the forest. While the suspect initially stated that he had come to the house to beg for money and killed Büyüknohutçu, when he refused to give him any, he later claimed that he had been paid to kill him by the company the victim was in conflict with.