Rights-Based or Anti-Systemic? Environmental Protest Movements in Turkey

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 15:00
Location: Hörsaal 26 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Hayriye OZEN, Atilim University, Turkey
Sukru OZEN, Yildirim Beyazit University, Turkey
A new wave of popular protest activity has flashed onto the Turkish political scene since the 1990s in response to big energy and mining projects. Although they initially emerged at local levels by expressing the right of the locals to live in a clean environment as well as by referring to the importance of local space-based identities, these movements have acquired a different character than the so-called new social movements emerged in the Western European countries. Unlike their counterparts in the industrialized world, these movements did not mobilize around a particular environmental issue, but linked local environmental concerns to broader economic and political grievances, and questioned not only specific projects but also energy and mining policies of the government as well as broad economic and political structures that shape these policies. This study argues that the leadership of left groups and the dominance left frames in these movements played a critical role in the shape that they have taken. The leftist figures, who have the necessary political skills and experiences to lead a movement, heavily involved in environmental movements by regarding them as part of the broader leftist struggles against capitalism and corporate globalization. They articulated a discourse that portrayed the energy and mining projects as ‘exploitation of local people and natural resources’ by multinational corporations, and presented environmental movements as ‘anti-imperialist’ struggles against imperialist powers and their national collaborators. Although environmental protest movements go beyond particular rights-based movements in this way, they could not turn into a broad counter-hegemonic political collectivity mainly because the leftist leadership prevented the involvement of both liberal groups and rival leftist groups. Moreover, the involvement of the leftist figures was used by the state as a pretext to repress environmental movements.