The METU Forest
The Middle East Technical University (METU) was founded in 1956 in an area of 4500 hectares. This huge region was said to consist of swamps and have a soil like white powder. The forestations were launched on 1961, when students, academics, Ankara citizens as well as some politicians participated in the festivals. More than 31 million trees were planted, creating a vast green area in the steppes of Ankara. These trees were considered as an heritage of METU laborers and academics. The METU forest contains 10 million coniferous and 23 million broad-leaved drought-tolerant trees, including black pine, yellow pine, taurus cedar, oak, poplar and almond trees. The forest encompasses a region of 3100 hectares and was declared a Natural and Archaeological Conservation Site in 1995 by the Ministry of Culture. According to the website of METU Forestation and Environment Directory, the forest accommodates 100 species under the threat of extinction in the Middle Anatolian flora and fauna. This natural ecosystem is home to many wild animals (including wolves, foxes, partridges, rabbits, snakes and turtles), some 140 bird species as well as various fish and other marine species living in the lakes and lagoons. The presence of the forest created a micro-climate effect in the region, made the urban climate milder and put a barrier to unplanned urbanization in the south of Ankara city. The METU Forestation Project won the International Aga Khan Architecture Award (1995) and the TEMA Foundation award (2003).
METU Before and After Forestation
METU, Politics and the METU Policies
On the other hand, METU always had a strong left-wing tradition, witnessing the most impressive protests of the 60s and led many leftist movements. This tradition is still present as METU students take it as one the essential heritages of previous generations. Just to name one, Hüseyin İnan, executed in 1972 with Deniz Gezmiş and Yusuf Aslan for political reasons, was one of the students who burnt the car of the US ambassador Komer, also known as the Vietnam Butcher, on January 6th, 1969, in METU campus.
Komer’s car burnt
Because of its revolutionary stance, METU was always in the target of right-wing governments. Issues such as the construction of highways through the campus and taking over METU’s land were used as political propaganda that has symbolic importance in the oppression of opposition movements.
The Highway Project
The highway construction in METU entered the nation’s agenda in 1992. This road was supposed to connect the Anadolu Boulevard to Konya Road. The project was approved in 1994 and was of course responded by massive student demonstrations. In addition, METU was declared a protected area in 1995.
In 2008, the Metropolitan Municipality of Melih Gökçek (in power for 19 years, he is well-known for jumping to and fro right-wing parties that take part in the government in the given period) introduced a second road construction. This project initiated strong debate between the Municipality and METU. The Municipality claimed that the buildings of METU were illegal, and decided to destroy 45 buildings as well as to fine the university a total of 1,8 million TL. (approximately 600.000 Euros, or 900.00 USD) The issue was publicly known as “the road showdown”.
The METU administration brought the project to trial. The court decided, in 45 different lawsuits, that the destructions or the fines had no legal grounds and that they were against public interest. Following the objections of the Metropolitan Municipality, a team consisting of two academics from the Urban Planning Department and five academics from the Civil Engineering Department started working on a new plan. This new plan was called a “Reconstruction Project for Protection”. According to this plan, the essentials of the first highway route of 1994 would be kept as they were, with many additional crossroads proposals. The plan further stated that, in order to avoid damaging the environment, the second highway should be constructed as a tunnel.
The Occupation and the Resistance
Students, academics and laborers of METU think that this highway serves only for political and economic interests. As a matter of fact, if the intention was to relax the city traffic, the municipality should have finished the metro construction, which lasted for 11 years already. METU witnessed protests and forestation actions since years, opposing the destruction. METU students, together with the locals of 100. Yıl and Çiğdem neighborhoods organize protests, demonstrations, and, recently, camping in the site. The municipality responded to the protests with police violence, including tear gas and rubber bullets.
While METU administration tried all legal methods, the achievements in court were overruled in practice due to political interests. On October 18th, 2013, the last day of the religious holidays due to the Feast of Sacrifice, when the number of students inside the campus was in its minimum, the destruction workers entered the campus, accompanied with police forces. The next day, METU students, graduates and laborers united to protest the situation, and the neighbors from 100.Yıl and Çiğdem joined them in support. Police laid an ambush inside the forest, attacked the protesters with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. While barricades were formed and police violence continued all night long, it was reported that policemen beat a student and threw him to the fire next to the barricades. The student is diagnosed to have second degree burns.
After the removal of 3000 trees, METU Presidency released a statement:
“We communicated to the Ministry, Municipality and State authorities on September 11th, 2013, that we were planning to object to their plans, and emphasized that irreversible practices should be avoided in the meanwhile. Ankara Metropolitan Municipality’s (AMM) Director of Techical Works and Director of Construction Affairs stated that no action will be taken without discussing with the university administration. On the same day, a written appeal was sent to AMM to declare that we do not assent to any actions until the legal suspension and objection periods finalize.
Despite of these meetings and correspondences, an abrupt night operation was executed on October 18th, 2013, without waiting for the suspension and objection periods to end. Construction machines, construction workers and many municipality employees intruded the university land on October 18th, 2013, Friday, at 21:15, without any permission, and by destroying the campus fences on the side of 100.Yıl district Öğretmenler Boulevard. Private security guards of the university tried to warn and stop the teams, as university land cannot be trespassed without permission from the administration. However, it turned impossible to prevent the numerous trucks, construction machines and municipality workers from entering the campus without permission.
In the morning of October 19th, 2013, an examination established that the road route inside the METU campus was completely cleaned and all the trees were removed. We are not informed about how 3000 trees (including more than 600 pine trees that were supposed to be transferred) were removed. Yet, it is impossible to transfer 600 trees in a single night.”
METU students planting 3000 trees
Melih Gökçek’s agenda is to incite provocation to consolidate his voters before local elections. In a local level, he aims at the exact same goal as Tayyip Erdoğan did in Gezi Park. Moreover, this is a direct attack to the integrity of METU as a university as well as the values METU represents in the society. METU students are still in resistance, struggling for ecology, as is exemplified by the amazing tree planting action where more than 3000 trees were planted in the same area.
Furthermore, hundreds of academics around the world released a statement
, showing solidarity with the struggle and denouncing the policies of the municipality.
As the motto goes: “There is only one road passing through METU, and that is the road to revolution”.
Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit of METU in 2012 accompanied by 2000 policemen forces. He was protested by hundreds of students and police used so much tear gas that became visible even from far distant areas.
“The information presented in these paragraphs is mainly based on this
article [published in BCC Turkish”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/turkce/haberler/2013/08/130829_odtu_ormani_gecmis.shtml
malum & Ege M. Diren