The Mayor’s Stand
City hall was a lot less swanky than the GES office, but it was certainly much more busy. The entrance hall was crammed with armed guards, fussy attendants running around with binders, and lost looking people. The Mayor worked on the second floor, and as we sat in the waiting room we were offered tea and introduced to our translator. She was an optometrist’s assistant from Rancho Margarita, CA, visiting the city on vacation.
Ten minutes later, double doors opened to reveal Osman Belovacikli behind an oversized desk, under an enormous portrait of Ataturk. A faux chandelier sat above him. It glinted as he smiled. We sat in plush leather chairs that were parallel to his desk, and distant. We hadn’t asked our first question before he made his position clear. “Is it okay for me as a human being to say okay to the coal plant, okay to polluting the air, [to allow them] to spew carbon dioxide out of their smokestacks?”
We sat in silence for a minute as we pondered how we could answer this question intelligently. We decided to ask the mayor how much of the town stood with him in opposition to the coal plant. “Ninety-eight percent” he said. “Those who want it are only in it for the money.”
The mayor alleged shadowy tactics of Anadolu in bringing the community to their side. He spoke of gifts that the group had made to the community, depositing chocolates and branded merchandise door to door in Yaykil, and making gifts of toys and other merchandise to the Yaykil elementary school that was marked with the Efes Pilsen logo.
We asked the mayor whether or not he’d ever been directly approached by the Anadolu Group—we’d heard word that bribery attempts had been made. Mr. Belovacikli confirmed this, but said they had been made indirectly. “I wish I could just put up microphones and cameras in this office, but it’s not that easy,” he said, referring to ways to catch them in the act. He alleged that his friends and family members had been approached with offers of money, and told to pass the offers onto him. He added that his friends had responded that the mayor wouldn’t take any offer they gave him, no matter how much. But the mayor would not disclose how much had been offered, and added that he had refused an offer to meet with Anadolu in the middle of 2011.
He did, however, offer his driver as a witness, who supported his allegations by saying “I was with him when they called him… when they offered him the money.” “Who did?” we asked. “The family friends.”
We were puzzled, and returned to the mayor to ask for a name and number of someone who had been approached by Anadulu. The mayor thought for a moment.
“I don’t remember.” He would give no further information as to who might have been approached with offers of a bribe.
Mr. Belovacikli, like YEGEP, pins his hopes for a rejection of the power plant application on the stalling of the ÇED and the failure of Anadolu to meet environmental regulations. But if the ÇED does clear, he says he will not stand down.
“If they come to build it, there will be war,” he told us. “To stop it” he added, “I will die for it.”
Will They Rise?
Zafer was quick to brush off the arguments of his opposition. “These people are against everything” he said, mentioning that there had also been protests against plans for factories in the past. “This power plant will be built.” We asked what he would do if the protestors persisted once the power generation license had cleared. “That is the government’s problem,” he responded.
For the moment, the conflict is at a stand-off, stalling for an answer from Ankara. Zafer sits in his empty office, waiting for the phone call that says he can begin asking for bids. The mayor continues to voice his opposition in Ankara. YEGEP still guards the site, knowing that no one will come, and holding meetings to maintain the spirit as time drags on.
If the application process looks anything like those for past power plants, the green light is likely to be given soon. The question lies in whether the people of Gerze will continue to resist when the full weight of Ankara is pushing behind the project. An issued power plant license would mean the mandatory sale of land in Yaykil at fixed prices, as well as government contracts being distributed for the building of substations and long distance power lines. A physical resistance by the people of Gerze would mean a full fledged fight, against a better-equipped military and a government that has a history of jailing dissenters. They will likely be more persistent than in September.
But the question remains.
If the Turkish army marches again, with bigger muscles and more machines, will the people of Gerze still rise against them? One must wonder how many will come to act on the Mayor’s rhetoric.