Thousands of people are protesting against the installation of a gold mine in the province of Çanakkale in northwestern Turkey, after images of deforestation carried out for the project were shared online. We spoke to a protester who said residents feared the Canadian-owned mine would contaminate their water.
The mining company Alamos Gold Inc. acquired the site near the town of Kirazlı in 2010, and since then has been carrying out environmental and feasibility assessments for the project. But the plan has met with fierce opposition from people living in the area and across the whole country.
Opposition surged after Alamos Gold Inc. allegedly cut down 197,000 trees for the site, although Turkish authorities dispute this figure.
Many people online have been sharing the same photo of land cleared of trees. (Twitter)
Activists formed what they call a ‘Vigil for Water and Conscience’, and have been camping for more than 10 days near the mine outside Kirazlı. They say that heap leaching, the process used by the mining company to separate gold from ore, could damage the surrounding environment and the nearby Mount Ida, or the Kaz Mountains, as the area is known locally.
Heap leaching is a process that uses a cyanide solution to dissolve the gold and extract it from its ore. Locals worry that cyanide could leak into and pollute the local dam, which provides water to over 180,000 people and irrigates over 5,000 hectares of land.
A rock from the site lined with seams of gold. Sent by our Observer.
A Turkish government spokesperson denied that Alamos Gold Inc. would be using cyanide in its extraction process – despite the company’s website clearly detailing it employs a “dilute cyanide solution”. The government also said that the company had only cut down around 13,000 trees, and that the Canadian firm will replant trees in the area when the mining project is shut down after six years.
Doğu Biga, a Turkish subsidiary of Alamos Gold Inc., said that all of the work carried out so far had been done “within the framework of forestry and environment permits”.
"The dead can't wear gold"
Protests at the beginning of the week saw some 5,000 people demonstrate on the vast patch of bare earth where trees had been cut down for the project, according to Reuters. The FRANCE 24 Observers spoke to an activist from the city of Çanakkale, who joined the demonstrations on Monday.
The protests were just like the Gezi protests [large-scale demonstrations to oppose governmental plans to raze Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park in 2013]. People were angry because they could see all of the land that had been emptied of trees. Protesters came from all over Turkey. People of all ages: from children around three or four years old to 80 year olds. And the protests are not just in this area, but all over the country too.
I first heard that there was going to be a gold mine in the area about a month ago. In Turkey, the government wants to get money from just about anywhere.
Protesters donned colourful costumes as part of Monday's protest. Video sent by our Observer.
‘People are afraid of being poisoned’
The mining company cut down almost 200,000 trees. There is a drinking water dam near the mine. The cyanide they use could poison the drinking water and the agricultural areas around. Everybody is afraid of being poisoned.
They say they’re going to plant more trees, but when? Where? After using cyanide? You can’t plant trees when you’ve poisoned the earth. The government denies all this. We call the area the 'lungs of Turkey'. Would a human sell his own lung for money? The dead can't wear gold.
Cyanide leakage “impossible”
Alamos CEO John McCluskey told Reuters that fears about cyanide leaks were unfounded. "Not only do we make that impossible [with a system of impervious layers and a leak detection system]; if we didn't make that impossible we shouldn't even start because by the time you've added the cyanide to the process it's because there is gold there. And if you lose the cyanide, you lose the gold," he said. McCluskey also said that it would be impossible for mining solutions to reach the dam because to do so, it would have to flow uphill.
The controversy is expanding into a domestic political issue. Istanbul’s mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who was elected in a contentious re-run of the mayoral race after voters rejected the ruling AKP party candidate, waded into the fray. He posted a clip on Twitter in which he said he had spoken to the Canadian Ambassador Chris Cooter, and said, ‘Damage to nature is damage to the world’.
Protesters are planning another large demonstration on Sunday, August 18, when award-winning Turkish pianist Fazıl Say will perform.
Article written by Catherine Bennett (@cfbennett2). Additional reporting by Ilgın Yorulmaz.