The economic downturn has brought Erdogan’s approval rating to an all-time low

Hediye Bas accused the network of dams, highways and tunnels passing through the wooded Ikizdere Valley in northeastern Turkey for blocking the water supply and obstructing her crops. Now, the work of a planned quarry proved to be a breakthrough point and weakened her support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Bas and other villagers in Erdogan’s ancestral Rize province are trying to prevent the excavation of 20 million tons of stones for a new port on the Black Sea coast 40 kilometers away.

Explosives have blasted a pathway from a large piece of the mountain, temporarily changing the fishing creek of the Bath family, obtaining an unnatural turquoise. A local conservation organization warned that up to 1 million trees will be felled to make the quarry work, explosives will make nearby vegetable patches poisonous, and the biodiversity of the adjacent reserve will be threatened.

Erdogan “may think we will support any project he undertakes here, because he won almost all of our votes. But I will not vote for him anymore,” Bass said. “No one in the village found a job in these projects, they just deprived us of the valley on which we depend.”

The rare protest that took place in one of the president’s strongholds symbolized widespread dissatisfaction with his economic management. Opinion polls showed that support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) across the country has been hit. For most of the past four years, the inflation rate has remained in the double digits, and the unemployment rate is about 14%.

The US$200 million port is part of the US$325 billion Infrastructure investment Plan to be in Turkey in the next ten years Erdogan pinned his economic hopes on a large-scale construction boom, including a $15 billion canal that will turn half of Istanbul into an island. At the groundbreaking ceremony last month, Erdogan stated that these projects have laid the foundation for “building a strong Turkey.”

Buss is less concerned about this grand ambition, but more concerned about the cost of groceries and her job at an auto parts factory after a vacation during the coronavirus pandemic. She said she was fired as a union representative after participating in the protest. “It’s expensive here. When you go to the grocery store, you can never buy anything with a small amount of money,” she said.

The ruthless construction drive has sparked dissent, with critics accusing a handful of companies of profiting from projects and imposing financial and environmental costs on other parts of the country. In Rize, they pointed out that there are two seaports with insufficient operating capacity within 70 kilometers of the new project.

Turkish villager Hediye Bas said that the locals in Rize regret not opposing early construction projects in the area © Ayla Jean Yackley/FT

Can Selcuki, director of the Turkiye Raporu polling agency, said: “When families are in poor financial situation and people are worried about their livelihoods and kitchen expenses, it is difficult for the government to justify the costs of large-scale projects to the public.”

A series of public opinion surveys show that the support rate of the AKP is at a historically low level. A June survey by Turkiye Raporu found that this proportion had fallen to 26%. Turkey’s next election is scheduled to be held in 2023, but nearly 60% of respondents want a quick poll. The agency’s May poll showed that Erdogan — Turkey’s most popular politician for a long time — lags behind the three opposition figures who have been proposed as presidential candidates. Selcuki said that the “basic consensus” behind the economic downturn is generally dissatisfaction with the economy.

Erdogan has ruled Turkish politics for two decades, and its gross domestic product has tripled, lifting millions of people out of poverty.However, his dramatic consolidation of power in recent years has coincided with political turmoil, including the 2016 coup attempt and aggressive foreign policy that made him cooperate with Western trading partners. Unorthodox economic policy This discouraged foreign investors and hit the country’s finances.

Turkey map

In Rize, he retained his hero status. Welcome to Erdogan Country and read the billboards on the road to the provincial capital (also known as Rize and Recep Tayyip Erdogan University). The huge image of the president adorns the buildings in this city with a population of 150,000. He won 79% of the votes in the 2018 presidential election.

But even here, voices of dissent appeared. Mehmet Ali Sancaktutan, who withdrew from the AKP two years ago, said that neighbors warned him to leave his home in nearby Guneysu-Erdogan spent part of his childhood there-because he complained on YouTube about the president’s handling of the economy He was detained by the police for an interview in June.

“I believe our president, Rize’s son, will save us, but he has lost touch with our problems,” Sankatutan said. “People are suffering and worry about putting food on the table, but we only hear about construction projects.”

Saltuk Deniz, the provincial chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said his party’s share of votes in the last local elections had tripled.

Villagers in Rize continued to vigil against the planned quarry, which will excavate 20 million tons of stone for the new Black Sea port
Villagers in Rize continued to vigil against the planned quarry, which will excavate 20 million tons of stone for the new Black Sea port ©Ayla Jean Yackley/FT

“In Rize, people are united around themselves, but as people’s economic problems intensify, we see that this connection is disintegrating,” he said.

In Ikizdere, about 50 people have sued to stop the quarry and entered the third month of vigil at an abandoned factory with a Turkish flag. After the Minister of Transport Adil Karaismailoglu stated that the port would bring jobs to the community and accused “marginal groups and outsiders” of inciting dissent, many others gave up the protest.

At the same time, the tea trees that Bath planted a few years ago did not grow, and she worried that the nearby dam would exacerbate local climate change. The production of precious “crazy honey” in the region-bees that feed on rhododendrons containing hallucinogenic substances-has fallen sharply, and the rapid development of the Black Sea provinces has been widely blamed on deadly landslides and floods.

“When they built dams and highways, we didn’t say anything, but we regret it now,” Bass said. “Nature always retaliates.”

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