The heartbeat of democracy heard in Turkey: reflections of an anti-nuclear activist

Pinar Demircan

Pinar is a Turkish activist-researcher, Coordinator of & Nuclear Energy Editor at Yesil Gazette.

We earlier published her interview and articles on our website.

A democratic government requires the legislative-executive-judicial powers to function as an independent and free mechanism. Societies can express themselves and protect their rights within the framework of laws and jurisdictions to the extent that they have the conditions of democratic governance. Such a system prevents the ruling minority from having absolute sovereignty over the majority, but an opposite situation entails the elimination of the legal order and the limitation of rights and freedoms in order to legitimize the power of the minority. Plato says that societies are governed in the way that they deserve. In other words, if the majority can not achieve unity and integrity, they may be stuck in the management of minorities.

On DiaNuke pages, you have read my articles about socio-economic aspects of nuclear power plant projects in my country. In these articles, I tried to explain to you how and under which conditions the nuclear power plant projects in my country have been made, and how civil society has responded to these projects which were intended to be established by the directive of governmental power. In doing so, one of my aims is to share the resistance practices and the other is to explain the reality of ongoing nuclear plans in my country in order to bring the attention of the global public. It is a fact that environmental movements have been on the rise since political powers and the companies cooperate to realize investment plans. Especially since 2000, the neoliberal agenda has abolished the laws impeding growth and put the projects into practice ruthlessly. For example, for the first time, international agreements were made to have nuclear power plants established in Turkey. But nuclear power plants emit radiation even in normal operation as well as they may cause a catastrophic crisis in case of an accident that is in turn affected by political decisions and non-transparent management. Nuclear power plants also require high security and have the potential to adversely affect wide geography in the event of a disaster. Due to reshaped law and constitution in an authoritarian regime just like in Turkey, governments conduct their all decisions and plans including nuclear plans despite the opposition of citizens.

Turkey has been ruled by the right-wing Islamic formation, the Justice and Development Party(AKP), since 2002. Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is the head of this party and the President of Turkey today was elected City Mayor in 1994 which means that the 2019 local elections saw the first loss of AKP and Erdogan within the last 25 years. For the first time in the country, the presidential system which was formed by the besieged law and parliamentary administration, obtained a result against the will of Mr Erdogan despite his coalition with the nationalist party (MHP) under the name of Republic Alliance by which the AKP has gained more power than ever and even the parliamentary system was changed to the presidential system. Ekrem Imamoglu was the rival of AKP candidate for 2019 local elections under the group of Nation Alliance, comprised of the center-left CHP (Republican People’s Party) and conservative nationalist Iyi Parti. The success of Imamoglu against the AKP has become an inspiring model for other electoral authoritarianism in the world. International media has generally reflected upon Imamoğlu’s victory through AKP chair & President Erdoğan’s crushing defeat.

According to official local elections which were held on 31 March 2019 after 4 years, Imamoglu received the right to be Mayor but it was not easy to have the understanding and acceptance of the ruling party AKP and President Erdoğan. Since Imamoglu had his own team and worked on counting votes persistently, he proved that he was elected by gaining more votes when compared with votes of the AKP. But maintaining that there is some fraud due to which they lost, the AKP suggested re-election and YSK (High Election Board) who normally should be independent of government announced that re-election for Istanbul would be held on 23 June. The re-election decision caused an extra loss of 40 billion USD due to preparations of a new election and resulted as a management gap for hundreds of, thousands of problems appeared in the city populated by of 16 million. Imamoglu conducted a successful election campaign with his team in Turkish political history, with an incredibly simple slogan: “I will become the mayor of the 16 million living in Istanbul.” He tirelessly stressed his inclusiveness and tried to reach out to all segments of the society regardless of their ethnicity, beliefs, social status, gender, and age. Although he won by a margin of only 13000 on 31 March 2019, this time around Imamoglu prevailed by 800000 votes in the election on 23 June 2019. Kurdish opposition and some courageous members of the long ineffective CHP who together ignited the fire of a viable opposition in Turkey were instrumental in Imamoğlu’s victory. In fact, Imamoglu’s victory would be an answer of the discontent of the low-middle class who have been fighting against economic crisis, inflation, unemployment, and many other socio-economic problems as well as journalists, academics and civils being under pressure of the AKP regime. Environmentalists were also in this group as their opposition against devastating projects have been ignored and were unhappy for a long time especially with dirty energy investments.

The first and the most progressing nuclear power plant project of Turkey, Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant Project raised concerns about transparency surrounding its development more than ever in April 2019 due to shocking news about cracks in the under-construction reactor. According to the information leaked by the Russian media, there were cracks in the Akkuyu construction for the second time! In July 2018, soon after the opening ceremony took place for the construction, and again in April, there were cracks found in the basement. The basement had to be broken and the concrete was reloaded. It was then found that the public was never informed about it till TAEK found the cracks again in May 2019. As far as we know, Akkuyu had to redo the design. One of the main problems is we still have not received any formal explanation from our government regarding those cracks. According to the scientists and geologists, the reason why cracks happened is supposed to be the ground which is totally inappropriate for construction. While the parliamentarians made a parliamentary research proposal on the cracks in the construction of Akkuyu Nuclear power Plant, non-governmental organizations made a press statement and requested an explanation from the political power and institutions. In fact, experts and specialists have long been warning the government to cancel the nuclear power plant project due to seismic faultlines in the region. These cracks are not the ones to be ignored since a very strong faultline is located just 30 kilometers away. Additionally, there was supposed to be another faultline close to Cyprus which is just 90 kilometers away. Again according to geologists, there used to be big earthquakes of 9 magnitude even tsunamis every 10 thousand years in this region. It has been reminded to the government and the court which were opened against the project that scientists in Fukushima stated about the presence of new faultlines when new technology is used to detect. But all warnings and oppositions were refused directly at the court 2 years ago.

To finalize, I would like to emphasize that local elections which were confirmed to be won by Imamoglu meant something very precious like some fresh air you get after you are stuck in a closed space or a sign of being alive just like a heartbeat. But victory would not be possible unless all opponents of AKP agree on one target. For this reason, the results of the Istanbul elections show that it is important to perform a comprehensive political approach without excluding cultural, ethnic differences and not polarizing people. Since it has been said that Istanbul is a metropolis and whoever governs Istanbul will govern the whole country next, we believe it is time to raise hope for Turkey. We must strive harder for it. We deserve it!




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