Hayrettin Karaca, 90, faces up to six years in prison for championing the environmental causes to which he has devoted his life.
Turkey is not a country where environmental awareness is terribly high. But one man has done more to solve this problem, as well as the forces that threaten Turkey’s natural habitats, than almost anyone. The second Turkish environmentalist to win one of the “alternative Nobel prizes”, Hayrettin Karaca devoted his life to nature conservation after witnessing alarmingly unsustainable land development on travels throughout Turkey in the 1970s.
As he faces potential jailtime for “trespassing” on public land to document deforestation, Karaca’s award has drawn global attention to this remarkable environmentalist.
Educating the masses, while keeping Turkey green
Much-loved by Turkish civil society and unafraid to take on the Turkish government or corporate developers, Karaca has done more to bring environmental awareness into the public sphere in Turkey than almost any other person.
In 1992, he co-founded TEMA (the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats), which has since carried out 150 projects that demonstrate how to conserve biodiversity, reforest, and develop rural areas sustainably. The foundation currently has 450,000 volunteer members, in addition to hundreds of full-time staff and educators.
TEMA’s primary goal these days is highlighting the dangers of soil erosion and resulting desertification. More than 2.5 million people have attended TEMA’s educational programs, and its efforts are paying off: a recent poll showed that 64 percent of Turkish adults view soil erosion as an urgent threat.
Throughout the course of its career, TEMA has planted 10 million new seedlings across the country. It has also opened or intervened in 166 legal cases for the protection of forest or agriculture areas, and won 82 of them — an impressive achievement in a society where corporations carry so much influence.
Battling for his freedom
Despite his age, Karaca, 90, shows no sign of ceasing his work on behalf of Turkey’s environment. But Karaca’s involvement in his most recent cause may cost him six of his remaining years.
In 2010, he met with villagers in western Turkey, where gold-mining companies had prepared to cut down 7,400 trees on public land. After he went to the area where the deforestation was about to commence and took some pictures, the mining company sued him and several villagers for trespassing. If convicted, they each face up to six years in prison.
This case reveals the best and the worst of the environmental movement in Turkey: passionate, brave individuals who risk their freedom to stand up to corporations with no regard for the environment versus the power those corporations wield across Turkish society and government.
If he is found guilty, Karaca’s conviction will certainly spark protests across Turkey. He is widely admired, with two national TV programs and frequent speaker appearances around the country. TEMA’s supporters, as well as the individuals Karaca has personally taught, will not let the government imprison this man without a struggle.
Read more about heroic environmentalists in Turkey:
Environmentalist Partially Blinded By Illegal Fishermen in Istanbul
Will Turkey’s New Constitution Include Ecological Protections?
Turkish Energy Analyst Says Biggest Emitters Avoided Durban Commitments
In Remotest Anatolia, Lone NGO Speaks Up On Nature’s Behalf
Image via habermonitor