The Turkish army fires warning shots and tear gas at villagers protesting against a marble quarry

Residents of the village of Yurtbasi, in eastern Turkey, took to the streets on May 26 to try to stop a company that wants to demolish the buildings where they house their animals from building a marble quarry. However, soldiers accompanying the bulldozers directed tear gas at protesters and fired warning shots with live ammunition. Shocked by the turn of events, opponents of the project are now trying to gain support for their cause by sharing videos of the violence.

Turkey has started a number of large-scale industrial construction projects in recent years, focusing on the construction of dams, mines and quarries. Often the people living in developing areas do not want to lose their homes and are afraid of the negative consequences for the environment that these projects will have.

For the past ten years, residents of a small village called Yurtbasi, located in the eastern province of Van near the Iranian border, have strongly opposed one of these projects.

Yurtbasi is located in the easternmost part of Turkey, where a militant group called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, commonly referred to as the PKK, is particularly active. The Turkish military has deployed significant resources to combat the PKK and has conducted operations against civilians accused of supporting this separatist movement, which Turkey and the European Union regard as a terrorist group.

In 2003, the government approved a local company called Dimer to build a marble quarry in Yurtbasi. The company started construction in 2006.

According to Dimer, they encountered widespread outrage from the local population and several targeted attacks. As a result, they gave up on the project after just three months.

According to Dimer, another (unnamed) company took over the project in 2020 and paid Dimer a fee to use the site. Our team was unable to find out the name of this new company or independently verify these claims.

On May 26, 2021, residents of Yurtbasi were shocked when they saw a bulldozer approaching, accompanied by several dozen soldiers. In a series of videos, filmed by a local resident and sent to our team, you can hear gunshots and see clouds of smoke resembling tear gas. At the end of this assembly, put together by our team, you will see the wreckage of several sheds that were flattened by the bulldozer. You can also hear women speaking in Kurdish, complaining about the destruction.

We were able to confirm the authenticity of this footage by contacting the person who filmed it. We also geolocated the images. Indeed, it was filmed on the outskirts of the village of Gürpinar, which has a mountainous landscape that is easily recognizable on Google Earth Pro. © Observers ‘They started shooting in the air, it was scary’

Mehmet B. (not his real name) lives in Yurtbasi. He witnessed the soldiers disperse a group of locals who tried to block the bulldozers. For security reasons, we have agreed to maintain its anonymity.

It was morning [of May 26], when we were suddenly awakened by soldiers who had come to the quarry with bulldozers.

About a dozen of us villagers went to try and block their route. There were elderly people and children with us. We faced about 100 soldiers [Editor’s note: several media outlets aligned with the opposition have reported similar numbers but our team was only able to count about 50 soldiers in the videos of the incident].

They started firing tear gas in an attempt to disperse us. This seriously affected some of the older people, some even passed out. The soldiers started firing in the air, it was terrifying.

They ended up destroying some of the barns that the locals use for livestock [Editor’s note: according to several opposition media outlets, at least 20 barns were destroyed]. It was really disturbing. Now the farmers have no place to keep their animals, which is the only income for many. Police have also arrested four people.

Even after this violent repression, we still hope that the quarry project will be abandoned. Villagers shared videos of the violence on social media that night and, as a result, journalists and deputies alike [Editor’s note: from the HDP, or the Democratic People’s Party, which is part of the Kurdish political movement and a member of the opposition] came to the village the next day. We showed them all the shells we collected, evidence of the violence we have witnessed.

On Friday 28 May, more journalists and lawyers came to our village. We hope they make sure the government listens to our case.

Screengrab of a report by the Mezopotamya news agency, filmed on May 26 in Yurtbasi. © Mezopotamya

Our team contacted a ballistics expert and showed him screenshots of a video showing the casings the villagers had collected after the violent incident. He said they were 7.82 caliber bullets. There were also empty tear gas bottles.

At the beginning of this video, filmed on April 24, 2021 in the village of Yurtbasi, a soldier in uniform is seen on the left with an MPT-76 assault rifle. To his left are several officers in riot gear. This video shows the first attempt to destroy the stables, then postponed until May 26th. © Observers

Locals filmed soldiers as they made their first raid on the village on April 24, 2021. The soldiers were carrying MPT-76 rifles, a Turkish-made weapon widely used in the Turkish military that is compatible with the casings found with the can be heard in the videos filmed on May 26.

Four people were arrested on May 26, but released later that day, according to the Gurpinar sub-prefecture, which includes Yurtbasi.

“Security forces and government officials had to resist civilians throwing stones at them. They intervened and fired warning shots, which was allowed. No civilians were injured,” the subprefecture said in a statement.

In the videos filmed by the villagers, at least one person can be seen making a gesture that looks like they are throwing a rock. Local authorities also said the barns were “illegal buildings” built on government land.

Turkey is the largest marble exporter in the world. Marble exports were estimated at $ 2 billion in 2017. There are hundreds of marble quarries in the country, mainly in the Aegean and Marmara regions of the west.

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