Ecocide in Kurdistan

The Turkish government is committing crimes against the environment in Kurdistan.

The Turkish state is destroying the forests in Kurdistan. Thousands of trees in the regions of Cûdî, Gabar and Besta are being cut down to protect military posts. Images from Şênê document the extent of the destruction.

Countless trees are cut down in North Kurdistan every day and forests are set ablaze. This attack on nature is part of the scorched earth policy to deprive the guerrillas of retreat, but also to open up new areas to mining companies and give profits to collaborators. For this special war, the AKP-MHP regime accepted the most severe environmental destruction.

“The Turkish state is committing ecocrimes”

The deforestation takes place under the eyes of the security forces and the fires are set by them, said Menekşe Kızıldere, co-spokesperson of the Ecology Commission of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). “The Turkish state is a climate criminal. If the last forests of Mesopotamia are destroyed, every single tree that can still protect us from the climate crisis will be at risk.”

Even after the end of the summer heat, forest fires are breaking out in Kurdistan “for unknown reasons”. Throughout the summer, massive amounts of forests were cut down in the regions of Cûdî, Gabar, Besta, Geliyê Godernê and Şenyayla (Şênê). Due to the lack of protest, the destruction is increasing. Pictures taken in Shenê show the dramatic extent of the destruction. There the trees were cut down “for security reasons” – for a military post that was under construction.

Şênê – entire area devastated

Until a few years ago, the Şênê region still belonged to Kulp (Pasûr) and was therefore within the provincial borders of Amed. In March 2021, Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdoğan separated the region from Kulp by decree. Since then, Şênê has been part of Mûş. The area is famous for the beauty of its nature, and in the summer months it supports the animals of many nomadic families.

With the separation from Amed, the army began building a base there, with several outposts and a station for the gendarmerie with the help of so-called village guards. The militarization of the region meant that a wide swath was cut into the mountainous region for a military road right at the start of construction work. Afterwards, all the trees in the area were cut down – “for safety reasons,” as it was said. The nomads in the region protested against the decision because they feared that there may soon be no trees left on the slopes. However, their objection was ignored and the deforestation continued.

Cûdî – deforestation and forest fires

Everyone now knows that the forest areas on the Cûdî massif in Şırnak (Şirnex) province burn summer after summer. Intensive clearing work has also been taking place there for three years. The trees are felled by village guards, brought to the west of Turkey and sold there for a profit. Forest areas on private property are also affected. Owners are given the choice of either cutting down the trees in the area themselves or leaving the clearing to the state. A year ago, thousands of people took part in demonstrations in Cûdî to protest against deforestation. The Şırnak Bar Association repeatedly filed criminal complaints in this matter and called for the forest destruction to be stopped. While all protests, applications and complaints were unsuccessful, photos show the extent of the destruction. The forest fires are adding to the devastation.

Besta – Village guards and army devastate the region

The Besta region is considered a link between the provinces of Şirnak and Siirt (Sêrt). Heavy clearing work has taken place there for months. The forests are cut down by village guards despite the resistance of the village population. Trees that are privately owned are also cut down illegally before being hauled from the mountainous area by tractor, loaded onto trucks and taken away. The soldiers and village guards involved make no secret of the fact that there should no longer be any forests in Besta.

Geliyê Godernê – dam and clearing

A dam is currently going into operation in the Geliyê Godernê area near Silvan (Farqîn). Large areas of land have been flooded as a result. Since the beginning of the year, large areas of forest have been cut down by village guards. A military base is to be built in the gorge between Hezro and Kulp to control passage through the gorge. At the entrance to the gorge, all the way to Kulp, thousands of trees were felled. Along the route between Kulp and the gorge, an entire area of land is now drying out. There is no reforestation work taking place.

Eight fires in Lice, seven fires in Cûdî

In addition to systematic deforestation, forest fires have also reached threatening levels. In the past three months alone, eight forest fires broke out near Lice, in the province of Amed, and seven forest fires in Cûdî. Soldiers repeatedly prevented the village population from extinguishing the fire. Videos posted on social media show that the fires broke out as a result of rocket and machine gun fire.

Deforestation in the heart of Cûdî

Menekşe Kızıldere said: “This valley where deforestation is taking place is in the heart of Cûdî. It is a valley with lots of surface water, young, moist forests and an extremely fertile soil. The last forests of drought-stricken Mesopotamia spread out from this valley. When we made our observations in the Cûdî region, people complained about every tree that was felled.”

“The region is being prepared for huge ecological overexploitation”

Kızıldere warned that this deforestation is a preparation for even greater destruction. “Talking with the villagers, we were told that the fires were started by the security forces. An oil exploration well was located in the area where the fires were most severe. Tree felling was also concentrated in certain areas. We had information that massive mining licenses were issued for Şirnak. The areas of clearing show that the region is being deforested for mining companies. With the help of military fortresses built under the pretext of security, the region is being prepared for a huge ecological devastation.”

The last forests of Mesopotamia

Kızıldere issued a serious warning regarding deforestation policies: “Deforestation is an attempt to destroy all life in this region. This ancient region of Mesopotamia, where man first practiced agriculture, is experiencing a severe drought, and the forests of North Kurdistan are the last forests in Mesopotamia. These forests are the last protecting Kurdistan and Turkey from heat waves, which are increasing in strength and intensity every year. Given these attacks on nature, these areas must be restored and expanded to secure the future of trees and nature.”

“Turkey is committing a climate crime”

Kızıldere pointed out that Turkey is committing a climate crime, an ecocide in Kurdistan. She called on the United Nations to “put this on the agenda.” She added: “The destruction of these forests is a crime against all living beings and future generations in Kurdistan and Turkey. According to local people, the logging is carried out under police supervision and the fires are set by the police. This makes the Turkish state a "climate criminal". Deforestation is not just a matter of national public concern, but affects the entire world.”

“Time to do something”

Kızıldere underlined that silence actually means the approval of these environmental crimes and called for action: “Society must urgently understand what this overexploitation means and solidarity mechanisms must be created. Environmental and ecological associations, platforms, democratic organizations and legal institutions must put this clear-cut on their agenda and raise their voices. ‘Security’ is just an excuse to benefit capital. This fact must be exposed and the minds poisoned by racism must be freed from it. Finally, it must be stressed again and again: if the last forests of Mesopotamia are destroyed, every single tree that will protect us from the climate crisis will be at risk.”