"This forest belongs not only to the Kurds, but to everyone"

"This forest belongs not only to the Kurds, but to everyone"
A+ A-
Protesters against the destruction of trees in Cudi were stopped on Saturday by a violent intervention of the gendarmerie.

Hundreds of people who had traveled from all over the region and Turkey to stop the destruction of trees in Sirnak, which first began in the mountainous region of Cudi near the border with the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government and has been destroying larger areas of forest for weeks, faced the intervention of the gendarmerie.

While environmentalists from Istanbul, Izmir and Mugla, as well as Urfa, Mardin, Van, Batman and Siirt repeated the call to struggle for the protection of nature, they asked, "Is the march in Cudi over and what will happen now? Will the deforestation continue?" But first, let's briefly recall what happened during the Cudi march and in which areas the tree slaughter is taking place.


Long before Saturday's Cudi March, many environmentalists who had responded to the appeals of numerous civil society organizations came to Sirnak. From Siirt to Batman, from Urfa to Mardin, from Van to Bitlis, hundreds of people made their way towards Cizre. On the day of the march, the environmentalists, who were repeatedly stopped on the roads and subjected to identity checks, gathered in the scorching heat of Cizre at noon. Hundreds of people wanted to start the march, scheduled for 5 p.m., earlier due to tensions along the route. I followed the march with a group of colleagues along the route Diyarbakir-Batman-Mardin-Sirnak. I write the names of the cities in detail because those from Diyarbakir left at six in the morning, while those from Van left the day before. Even before they left Batman, the license plates of the vehicles were photographed by the police one by one, and the information was transmitted to Sirnak. Under the pretext of GBT searches and checks, the vehicles were made to wait at each checkpoint along the route. Meanwhile, the police blockade of HDP groups in Diyarbakir and other cities continued throughout the day. They even prevented people leaving from a party building in a Diyarbakir district throughout the day. Upon entering Sirnak province, the protesters were first stopped at the checkpoint at the entrance of Idil. And it was here that tensions first began to flare up. Because the long queues of vehicles combined with the scorching heat made it impossible to wait in a vehicle. Those who wanted to leave their vehicles and walk to Idil were stopped and told that they could only be taken to the district by vehicle. Their goal was clear: they first wanted the traffic authority to investigate the driver and the vehicle in order to impose a fine on him, if possible.


All the environmental defenders, as well as the journalists, were subjected to a police background check before being released. This procedure was also repeated in Cizre, and they were also subjected to an intermediate check on the road. Likewise, those arriving to the city via Urfa and Mardin were subjected to the same practice at Ipek Yolu. At the checkpoints, not only protesters but also other citizens who were oblivious to everything that day were subjected to the same checks, kilometer-long queues of vehicles formed and people's anger levels skyrocketed. Then, a truck crushed a vehicle of the group of protesters in order to get through the checkpoint ahead of time. Fortunately, there were no injuries, but the vehicle suffered serious material damage. Two similar accidents occurred in Cizre, in addition to this one. One of them was the vehicle in which we journalists were riding. The fact that the truck that hit us was one of those heading to Sirnak to collect the trees that had been cut down turned the accident into a tragic comedy!

In response to all this agony, environmentalists started a march in Cizre in reaction to the long queues of vehicles and the journey that has been turned into a torment. Mothers with white scarves marched in front, waving their scarves and chanting "Cudi Ya meye," "We want peace," as well as ululations. Through the broken sidewalks of Cizre, which is currently ruled by a government-appointed guardian mayor, the masses made it possible to quickly pass the checkpoint in this manner.


As soon as Sirnak could be seen on the horizon behind the mountains, the vehicles were stopped on the road where there was a busy truck traffic. Here, the crowd headed for a certain construction site called Milga. Citizens turning off the main road onto the side road tried to prevent the TOMAs (short for Intervention Vehicle against Social Incidents) from approaching them by shielding their own vehicles against heavily armored vehicles and hundreds of gendarmerie teams, so-called "robocops." And a short wait began.

In the meantime, I had the opportunity to speak with Naci Sonmez, the HDP's deputy co-chair for ecology. He explained that what is happening is the result of anti-Kurdish policies that have been in place for years, adding, "This is the main policy of the state. In this regard, this is an invitation to the environmentalist collectives and left-wing socialist organizations in the West. Under the pretext of security, all these forests are being destroyed, along with a policy of dehumanization. The problem can only be solved with a democratic political understanding, not by cutting down these trees. This forest belongs not only to the Kurds, but to everyone. Not only the Kurds, but people all over the world breathe through these forests. No one has the right to disturb the ecosystem," before stressing that the line of resistance must be long-lasting.

When we were about to move on to another topic, the gendarmerie intervened with gas and water cannons. While some people tried to run away from the gas, others began to resist and throw the gas canisters back across the street. We journalists who were taking pictures were also selectively attacked as I tried to document these moments by recording them on camera. 


After the intervention, the crowd joined in a sit-in protest, and I met with activists and representatives of environmental organizations from the Caravan for Climate Justice, who joined the efforts of the Mesopotamia Caravan following the call of the Mesopotamia Ecology Movement. As soon as the conversation began, they stressed that they felt more comfortable protesting in Mugla or at Mount Ida. They summed up the picture by admitting that the Kurdish environment is more difficult to protect.

As a journalist who documented roadblocks while covering the forest fires in the west of the country in recent months, I have personally experienced and verified firsthand how easier it is to protest in the west and how difficult it is to report in the eastern parts of the country. The mentality that looks for Kurds or Arabs in the streets to blame during forest fires is the same mentality that sprays water from TOMAs, shoots gas, and cuts down forests here.

When I meet Ayhan Celik, an activist from the Mugla Environmental Platform, he tells me that he comes from Mugla and that he is not surprised by what has been happening since this morning. Stressing that the struggle must be united, he comments, "Therefore, we must show the same struggle when forests are cut down as when they are burned in forest fires." Melis Tantan of Climate Justice also explains that she is from Ankara and that logging does not only affect this region. Emphasizing the main goal of the struggle, she adds: "When these forests are cut down, the whole planet is affected. If we don't resist against it, it will be very difficult for us to survive." 

While we were talking with Melis Tantan, my eyes were drawn to the place where the gendarmerie teams were. Just as Melis Tantan said, I noticed that those who were preventing the people's struggle against the logging of the forest were sheltering in the shade of the trees to protect themselves from the scorching heat of the sun and I documented this moment.


Following these remarks by the environmental activists, the event ended with a press statement and a march. But what will happen in Cudi? While these lines were being written, forests were being cut down not only in Cudi but also in the Besta Dereler region.

In fact, there is another deforestation that the public does not know about yet. My investigation has revealed that forests have been cut down in the Eruh district of Siirt for about six months. At the moment, we only know about Cudi region because it is in the spotlight. The fact that the ecocide in Hasankeyf is also continuing in Cudi, Besta Dereler and finally in Eruh proves that it is a systematic ecocide.


So how much forest area has been destroyed so far? Thanks to the advocacy and the reports of the Sirnak Bar Association, we can get a rough picture. In the two years of logging, 8% of the mountain's forest area has been destroyed. Every day at least 20 to 25 truckloads of forest are cut down. Logging is concentrated in the summer and fall, which means the carnage will continue in the days ahead. The spoils from logging are passed on by the state itself to the tribes and village guards who were involved in unaccounted murders in the 1990s. This means that the human rights violations of the 1990s continue today on the eco-system that is being carried out by the machinery of the same system.

And what will happen now? As forest areas are being cleared in Siirt as well as in Sirnak, will the march to Cudi come to an end? Will the deforestation in Siirt be brought to the attention of the public, and will there be a protest there too? And as for the opposition, will those calling for reconciliation put the ongoing deforestation on their agenda?