Report: Turkey’s Gold Mining Has a Deadly Cost

Residents in Turkey’s Black Sea region face contamination from gold mining, enabled by British corporate interests and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s policies. Jacobin spoke to them about their life-and-death struggle in advance of Sunday’s election.

A view of the Çöpler Gold Mine, near the town of İliç in Turkey’s Erzincan province. (Jaclynn Ashly)

Hazelnut trees dress the mountains encircling the city of Fatsa in the Ordu Province of Turkey’s Black Sea region in deep shades of green. For generations, these lush trees have been the lifeblood of Fatsa’s economy, sustaining it with their abundant yields. But the global demand for gold is stripping them bare.

“We used to live a peaceful and simple life here,” says sixty-two-year-old Ahmet Topçu, who, like many residents in Fatsa, has been harvesting hazelnut fruits for his whole life. “But everything in our lives has changed. Nothing is like what it was before.”

As the world’s leading producer of hazelnuts, Turkey accounts for approximately 70 percent of the global output, with a significant portion of this harvest hailing from Fatsa. About 80 percent of Fatsa’s arable land is planted with hazelnuts. The Black Sea region is also where most of Turkey’s chestnut forests are located. Fatsa, in particular, has long been renowned for its production of chestnut honey.

Topçu’s small hazelnut garden is located a few meters from the Altıntepe gold mine, a joint venture between the private Turkish company Bahar Madencilik and the UK-based company Stratex International PLC. The mine began its operations in 2013. Over the years, its development and expansion has uprooted thousands of trees and destroyed huge swathes of Fatsa’s forests.

Residents and local researchers alike assert that the mine’s operations have not only devastated the lives of forest-dependent locals but have also caused irreparable harm to the region’s distinctive natural environment. Villagers themselves are becoming sick.

Ahmet Topçu showing his hazelnuts, which have plummeted in production. (Jaclynn Ashly)

Almost 50 percent of the gold consumed around the world each year is used in the manufacturing of jewelry. Most of the rest is used to assemble gold bars and coins. Only about 7 percent of the gold purchased globally each year is used for industry, technology, or medicine.

The Coming Election

In the days before the gold mine, Topçu tells me the revenue he gained from hazelnut production in the summer harvesting months would be enough to sustain him year-round. Now, however, his hazelnut production has been cut in half, while the fruits that do grow often rot before they ripen. Topçu must now work in construction during the winter months to make up for the losses in his farm’s production.

“The birds don’t fly in this area anymore,” Topçu says, sitting on the grass in his hazelnut garden. “We never hear them sing anymore. We don’t see wildlife anymore. Look at this dirt.” He grabs a fistful of soil and lets it fall between his fingers. “There are no more insects. Everything living has already left this place.”

Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections are around the corner. Researchers and academics, along with local farmers and beekeepers in Fatsa, have all told me that its outcome will determine the future of Turkey’s environment and its ecological diversity. On May 14, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been in power for more than twenty years, will face a stiff competition from six opposition parties. These parties have together picked Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as their unity candidate.

According to researchers and academics, Fatsa is just one of many examples of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) prioritization of unfettered economic growth and business interests at the expense of the country’s nature, biodiversity, human and animal health, history, and climate. The AKP, led by Erdoğan, came to power in November 2002.

A view of Fatsa’s mountains, with the Black Sea in the background. (Jaclynn Ashly)

The flooding caused by hydroelectric dams has devastated Turkish cities, such as Hasankeyf, an ancient city with a history of continuous habitation spanning at least twelve thousand years, which has been submerged. The AKP’s loosening of environmental regulations has opened up much of the country’s previously protected forests to mining, prompting a flurry of foreign companies to start up operations in Turkey, attracted by low tax brackets. In the Ordu Province, the government plans to open 76 percent of its area up to mining, according to researchers from Fatsa Doğa Ve Çevre Dernegi, or Fatsa’s Nature and Environment Association, a local collective of lawyers, researchers, and health workers.

Ordu has long been an AKP stronghold. According to Hayriye Özen, a professor of political sociology at the Izmir University of Economics, the people directly affected by the mine’s environmental destruction may not support AKP in the elections, but she anticipates that the majority will still back them. Özen says, however, that economic hardships, caused largely by rampant inflation — which slowed to 44 percent in April — could shift votes away from AKP in the cities. But residents and local researchers in Fatsa say the AKP has lost substantial support in Ordu due directly to the adverse environmental and health effects of the Altıntepe gold mine.

Conversely, the CHP, the country’s main opposition party, has consistently raised alarms over the environmental destruction of these projects. CHP supporters believe that if the opposition wins the elections, the most destructive of these mining operations, which includes the Altıntepe mine, will be immediately closed down.

Mevlüt Bicil. (Jaclynn Ashly)

“It is our government’s fault this has happened to us,” says Mevlüt Bicil, a seventy-eight-year-old local beekeeper, whose wrinkles deepen as he scrunches his face in frustration. “I blame all of this on them. If Erdoğan wasn’t in power, then this wouldn’t be happening to us.”

“It’s simple: If Erdoğan loses, then there will be no more gold mine in Fatsa. If he wins, then this gold mine will continue, and our lives here will be finished,” he says.

Gold Mine Toxification

Across Turkey, there are nineteen gold mines currently at work, and thousands of new gold exploration projects are in the pipeline. Turkey is the world’s nineteenth-largest producer of gold. By official estimates based on geological modeling predictions, Turkey could contain as much as 6,500 tons of gold.

However, locals living around these mines are growing increasingly concerned over their environmental and health impacts. Turkey permits the use of low-cost heap leaching techniques for extracting gold from ore. But this process requires the use of large amounts of cyanide, which can have devastating effects on the environment and human health. More than twenty tons of mine waste is generated to produce enough gold for one eighteen-karat gold ring. Gold mining is dramatically more polluting to the natural environment than other forms of mining.

Cyanide is highly toxic and can result in substantial environmental impacts and public health risks if released into the environment. Cyanide spills from gold mining have caused major fish kills, contaminated drinking water supplies, and harmed agricultural lands across the world. Along with releasing cyanide, the mining process also emits heavy metals and chemicals into the environment, such as arsenic, mercury, and lead. This environmental damage is often irreversible.

The Elekçi River that flows through Fatsa, which researchers have recently discovered is contaminated with high levels of toxic heavy metals. (Jaclynn Ashly)

Meanwhile, the tailings dams — embankments used to store toxic byproducts of mining operations — can never be dismantled. Since tailings dams fail over a hundred times more frequently than conventional dams, residents who live near them will face the threat of environmental devastation for generations to come.

The European Union banned the use of cyanide in mining in 2010, while the Czech Republic, Germany, and Hungary forbade the production of gold through cyanide leaching in previous years. Yet these bans “do not hinder European companies from using cyanide elsewhere in the world or the import of gold gained through cyanide leaching,” explains Zuhal Yeşilyurt Gündüz, head of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at TED University in Ankara.

The basin where the mining is taking place in Fatsa, and where 10 percent of the world’s hazelnut is produced, is home to nearly 250,000 people. Gold mining activities here have been conducted in an area consisting of almost five hundred acres and at a distance of about four kilometers from densely populated areas, according to local researchers.

In 2021, Turkish researchers published a study in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. The study involved collecting sediment and water samples from twenty-nine locations in Fatsa, with a focus on areas surrounding the Altıntepe gold mine. They found that the samples taken from around the mine contained dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals.

These hazardous materials include lead, which can damage children’s brains and nervous systems and stunt their growth and development; arsenic, a known human carcinogen associated with skin, lung, bladder, kidney, and liver cancer; and cadmium, another known cancer-causing agent that can also lead to kidney disease and fragile bones.

The Elekçi River in Fatsa receives water from the mountain where the gold mine is located. In the same study, samples taken from the river showed that it is contaminated with the same toxic metals as the mine. The contamination is present throughout the entire river until it reaches the Black Sea.

Ahmet Topçu standing near his hazelnut garden, with the gold mine in the background. (Jaclynn Ashly)

“We can draw strong conclusions that the contamination is very likely caused by the gold mine, because there’s no other industry that is emitting these kinds of toxins in Fatsa,” explains Mehmet Aydın, a professor of marine science at Ordu University and coauthor of the report. “The data makes it clear that the gold mine is severely contaminating the environment.”

Locals tell me they have felt the health impacts of these toxins for years now. “I used to work very fast, and I had a lot of energy,” says Topçu, who is from the village of Bahçeler, which is the worst affected by the mine. Samples taken from the village showed the highest levels of contamination in the 2021 report. “Now I get tired very quickly. I can’t work as much as I used to.”

“It all started happening after the mine began its operations,” he continues:

I have a lot of complications in my lungs and kidneys. It’s the same for a lot of people around here. Many are getting cancer now. But people are fearful of the government, and they don’t want to speak about it.

According to Topçu, even the life expectancy in Bahçeler has lowered dramatically. “Before the gold mine, people were living until eighty-five or ninety-five years old,” he says. “Nowadays they aren’t even reaching seventy-five. When you go to the mosque, you don’t see many old people anymore. Everyone dies very quickly now.”

Collapsing Livelihoods

Bicil, the elderly beekeeper, remembers when the mine first started its operations. “People were saying everyone was going to become rich from this mine,” he says. “But I never believed this. I felt a terror inside of me when I saw them chopping down all the trees. Where will the bees go to nest if there are no more trees?”

Heavy machinery and dust caused by explosions at the mine soon scared away much of the wildlife, including the bees. “Bees fertilize the vegetables and fruits. Without bees, there’s no life here,” Bicil continues. “I knew what was about to come would be bad. But I never imagined it would become this bad.”

A view of the tailings dam at the Çöpler Gold Mine. (Jaclynn Ashly)

Since then, Bicil’s beekeeping business, which is his main source of livelihood, has collapsed. In just one year, in 2019, he lost almost all of his hives, which he attributes to the air pollution emanating from the mine. Bicil has moved his family out of Bahçeler, hoping he can protect his children and grandchildren from the rising incidents of disease and cancer.

“Day by day, more and more people are leaving the village,” Bicil says. “There’s always a disturbing smell, and the land can’t grow anything anymore. It has become like a ghost town.” According to Bicil, out of some five hundred families that had once lived in Bahçeler, only about twenty remain.

For forty-year-old Hüseyin Inan, it is hard to hold out much hope for the future. He had once owned a lucrative dairy farm, where he owned fifty-five cattle. “My milk was very delicious,” he tells me, with a proud grin on his face. “It was very famous and very coveted at the market.”

But about a year after the mine began its operations, “the buyers started to say that the milk tasted different,” recounts Inan, who has a ten-year-old son. “They said it had a bitter, metallic taste.” People soon stopped buying.

His cattle also began experiencing frequent miscarriages and stillbirths, he says. When the calves did survive the pregnancies, they were often born with deformities and birth paralysis. In 2018, he was forced to close his business and sell his remaining cattle.

Hüseyin Inan. (Jaclynn Ashly)

Inan’s most recent business, selling special chestnut honey that he harvested from the Seyirlik forest, is also going under. Swaths of the forest were cleared for the construction of the gold mine, diminishing woods that had once been renowned for their abundance of chestnut trees. The chestnut honey harvested here is healthier and more expensive than usual flower honey. According to Inan, a kilogram of chestnut honey sells for 400 Turkish liras (about $21), while flower honey goes for 100 Turkish liras ($5).

“As the flowers died here, more bees left the forest,” Inan says. Before the mine, he was able to harvest about two thousand kilograms of chestnut honey in the summer. Last year, he says, the hives’ production was cut in half, and the quality of the honey has depleted significantly.

Damage to Land, Wildlife, and People

Cevat Atar, sixty-seven, is another hazelnut farmer, following in the footsteps of his family who has harvested hazelnuts for at least seven generations. “The earth is becoming bare,” Atar tells me, as he leads me along the edges of the Altıntepe mine. Like other residents, Atar says the Altıntepe mine consumed a piece of his private land. Now, in order to access his land, Atar must be escorted by security guards hired by the mining companies.

“This gold mine is eating up everything around us,” Atar adds; he is wearing a T-Shirt emblazoned with writing in Turkish that says, “Above the ground is more valuable than under.”

When I attempted to take a photo of the mine, a group of security guards rushed toward the fencing and yelled that photography was not allowed. One demanded that I delete the photos I had taken. Atar, visibly angered, intervened and screamed back at the mine’s security guards: “You can’t tell me she is not allowed to take a photo of my land!” He then stood in front of his land — now trapped behind a tall barrier — and urged me to take a photo of him posing in front of the irritated guards.

Cevat Atar at his home in the Yukarıtepe village, with the mountains behind him stripped bare from gold mining. (Jaclynn Ashly)

On our way to his village, Yukarıtepe, Atar shows me various fruits and vegetables from his small subsistence garden. Most are colored purple with moldy fuzz eating them up.

“I used to be able to grow chestnut, corn, and so many vegetables, and it would be enough for my whole family,” Atar explains, balancing a rotten apple on his palm that he just plucked from a tree. “Now we are buying most of our food at the market. So as we’re making less money, we’re being forced to spend more money. We are all becoming poorer and poorer by the year.”

Puddles of a reddish-colored liquid are rolling down the sides of Fatsa’s winding mountain roads. Local researchers tell me this is leakage from the mine — leakage that contains dangerous metals.

Last year in June, a pipe carrying a cyanide solution burst at the Çöpler Gold Mine, located near the town of İliç in Turkey’s Erzincan Province and operated by Anagold Madencilik. Anagold Madencilik is a joint-venture corporation of US-based SSR Mining and Lidya Madencilik, a subsidiary of Çalık Holding, which is known for its close relationship with Erdoğan.

Çöpler is one of the largest gold mines in the world — and the largest in Turkey. The disaster resulted in twenty cubic meters of toxic solution spilling into the Karasu River, one of the two sources of the Euphrates and the longest river in Western Asia. At the time, Anagold Madencilik confirmed the reports, but said the solution contained only eight kilograms (17.6 pounds) of cyanide and that it was “cleaned immediately.”

“Everything for Sale”

The AKP has made it clear that, whatever the mounting concerns and dangers posed by these mining projects, Turkey remains open for business.

Since the 1980s, Turkey has been liberalizing and restructuring its economy to attract foreign investment and create job growth. This has resulted in policies of export subsidies, privatization, and deregulation. Since coming to power two decades ago, the AKP government has put its own spin on marketization by “wedding neoliberalism to Islamist populism,” Gündüz tells me.

View of the company working on the Altıntepe gold mine in Fatsa. (Jaclynn Ashly)

“Turkey has become a capitalist nightmare — a triangle of neoliberalism, political authoritarianism, and Islamism,” she says. “Now everything is for sale in Turkey.”

The AKP has made major changes to the country’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulation. By 2015, the regulation had been revised seventeen times, with seven radical alterations that have eased legal and environmental hurdles for mining corporations, according to Gündüz. Over half of these changes were pushed by the AKP government since 2003, one year into its rule.

The Forest Law, which regulates the management and protection of the country’s forests, has also seen twelve major amendments since the AKP came to power. “Each of these revisions has eased [environmental and legal] conditions for corporations while making working and living conditions worse and more difficult for [local] workers and farmers,” Gündüz says.

On top of this, the AKP has made major revisions to the country’s Public Procurement Law, which regulates the process of granting state contracts to private industries. From 2002 to 2018, the AKP made 186 reforms to the law to make it easier for companies to acquire public contracts. Many of the companies awarded state contracts have ties to the AKP, creating a “symbiotic relationship between the AKP and pro-AKP business groups,” says Özen, the professor at the Izmir University of Economics.

According to Özen, even the enforcement of the remaining rules and regulations is lacking, with the EIA perceived by officials as a “mere bureaucratic procedure.” Ozen says:

As a result, many mining projects are easily granted licenses for mining in places known for their natural significance and beauty like the Kaz Mountains without duly considering the environmental impact [of these projects] on the places and people living there.

The loosening of the country’s environmental regulations, along with the opening of the urban and natural environment to mining exploration, energy companies, and even housing developers, is being used as “an instrument to promote the evolution of an AKP-friendly business class,” according to Özen.

This process has “supported those who have organic ties with the party cadres — that is, the conservative and Islamic groups,” Özen tells me. “In order to transfer public resources to these groups, [the government] easily issues permits. As a result of this widespread nepotism and favoritism, a small number of these business groups turned into tycoons.” She adds:

These companies, in turn, support the AKP through the media outlets that they own, through giving financial support to the electoral campaigns of the party, and donating to the pro-AKP Islamic charity groups, which play critical roles in the AKP reaching the urban poor.

Over the years, Turkey’s workers have been subject to deadly disasters as a result of the gutting and flouting of state regulations. In 2014, Turkey witnessed its deadliest mining disaster to date. An underground explosion at the Soma coal mine in the western province of Manisa caused a fire that claimed the lives of 301 workers. The mine was owned by the Turkish Coal Enterprises, a state institution, but was being operated by Soma Kömür İşletmeleri A. Ş., a private coal-mining company.

Just several months before the tragedy, the miners had protested against the hazardous working conditions at the site. Additionally, mere weeks before the tragedy, the AKP had voted against a request by CHP in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey to investigate the mine’s safety.

Puddles of a reddish-colored liquid rolling down the sides of Fatsa’s roads that researchers say is leakage from the mine. (Jaclynn Ashly)

Last year, a blast at the Amasra coal mine owned by state-run Turkish Hard Coal Institution in the Northern Black Sea region killed forty-one workers, making it the deadliest since the Soma coal mine disaster. In 2019, Turkey’s Court of Accounts, a state audit authority, issued a warning about the risks associated with the mine.

The Health and Safety Labor Watch (ISIG) reported that last year 1,843 workers in Turkey died in occupational accidents. However, Gündüz says there are other deaths that were not included in the official number.

In the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Central and Southern Turkey earlier this year, killing more than fifty thousand people, criticism of the AKP government’s failure to enforce safety regulations resurfaced. Over the years, the AKP government has introduced what Erdoğan calls “zoning amnesty” to legalize unregistered construction work. Companies pay a fine and are granted building amnesty certificates that permit their construction projects to go forward even if they do not meet code restrictions. Engineers and architects have warned this could endanger lives.

Following the earthquake, videos from a few years ago surfaced of Erdoğan hailing some of the very same housing projects that crumbled in the quake, resulting in the deaths of many inhabitants. He attributed the projects’ success to these amnesties that allowed contractors to ignore safety codes that were designed to make the buildings more resistant to earthquakes. While this certainly increased profits for the contractors, it also likely contributed to the earthquake’s calamitous death toll.

“Hell for Us”

“We are scared the mine will eventually take all the earth and gardens,” Atar tells me, sitting on the balcony of his home. “And we will be left with nothing. The future has become very unclear. What will happen to us when this government sells all the earth? These companies will leave with their money, and we’ll be left in a desert.”

The sounds of cranes and trucks growling at the nearby Altıntepe gold mine punctuate Atar’s speech. The mine is continuing its work and expanding despite its license renewal having been rejected. This is also the case for other mining projects operating around the country. According to Özen, Turkish authorities have turned a blind eye to the lack of necessary licenses, allowing companies to continue operating without proper government authorization, safety regulations, or environmental assessments.

While Turkey’s business-friendly climate has attracted multinational companies from around the world, it has wreaked havoc on the health of local workers and small-scale farmers. “Turkey has become heaven for mining companies and hell for us,” Atar says.

Murat Taşkır, who developed cancer soon after he accepted a job at the Altıntepe gold mine. (Jaclynn Ashly)

One of these victims is fifty-year-old Murat Taşkır, who got a job at the Altıntepe gold mine in 2016, where he worked driving trucks that transported soil to the cyanide leaching area of the mine. “When I first got the job, I was happy because it was paying very well,” says Taşkır, who is a father of two daughters, ages fourteen and twenty. “But when I realized the cost that salary came with, I’ve regretted it every day since.”

In 2018, less than two years after starting the work, Taşkır was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer that began in his liver and has since spread to his brain. Before accepting a job at the mine, he underwent a full health screening that showed he was healthy. “My doctors tell me that it is very possible that the cancer was caused by the gold mine,” Taşkır tells me. “And they told me to stop working there.”

“I wasn’t aware of the risks,” Taşkır says, frustrated. “I knew the company was using cyanide, but I didn’t know anything about the risks of exposure. The company told me nothing. They didn’t even provide me with safety equipment that could have protected me.” He brings up a photo of himself on his mobile phone, showing him working at the mine without even a mask.

“I feel like the company tricked me,” Taşkır continues:

If they told us the risks, none of us would have worked there. My life has become very dark. I’m constantly thinking about my family and if they will be ok when I’m gone. We’ve been through so many financial problems because of this. I feel like this gold mine bought my life for a cheap price.

According to Taşkır, four other workers he personally knows have developed cancer, and two of them have since died. About seven other workers have suffered heart attacks. However, he says the company has offered some compensation to families, along with jobs at the mine for family members of workers who have died, in order to prevent them from going public.

“Everyone in Turkey has become handcuffed by a salary,” Taşkır says. Unlike the other workers, Taşkır has decided to sue the mine in order to “show workers that they shouldn’t be scared to seek justice.”

The most “striking example of this lack of workers’ safety,” Gündüz says, was at the Öksüt gold mine, located in the central Kayseri Province and owned by Canadian Centerra Gold. A blood analysis done on the workers revealed that there was a steady increase of lead detected in their bloodstreams from 2019 to the end of 2020. However, the Canadian corporation canceled the contract of the international analysis company that carried out the tests.

Last year, eight security guards stationed at the gold casting room at the mine were found to have high levels of mercury and other dangerous heavy metals in their blood and urine. Despite being made aware of these findings, the process manager at the mine kept silent and allowed the guards to continue working in the same conditions for about a week, without access to masks or other safety equipment.

Gündüz notes that “in Canada, this Canadian company would not be allowed to do this to [Canadian workers].” She concludes that “some lives are seen as more disposable in the eyes of these corporations.”

A view of the mountain stripped bare in Fatsa from mining. (Jaclynn Ashly.)

In İliç, where a cyanide spill occurred at the Çöpler Gold Mine last year, residents have also complained about various types of cancer since the mine began its operations in 2010. But residents here — a majority of whom are strong Erdoğan supporters — seem to be surprisingly apathetic about these realities.

According to Sedat Cezayirlioğlu, a local activist from İliç and one of the only residents speaking out against the mine, at least thirty-nine different carcinogenic chemicals are used in the mine’s daily operations. Incidents of lung and blood cancers have grown exponentially, he says. Last year, researchers took a water sample from a small creek flowing from the mine’s tailings dam and into the Euphrates River, just three hundred meters below. The results, which I personally viewed, show very high levels of arsenic.

Despite this, the company plans to extend its tailings dam even closer to the villagers’ homes, according to Cezayirlioğlu.

I traveled to İliç, just a few days after this spill occurred, and almost all the affected residents refused an interview — even with the assurance that their identities would be hidden — over fears the company may find out and cause their families economic hardship. According to Cezayirlioğlu, most residents in İliç are either directly or indirectly dependent on the gold mine.

Growing Resistance

Other communities in Turkey, however, have been much less apathetic about their conditions — or less afraid to discuss them. While some in Fatsa continue to be too scared to speak out, others have led a protest movement against Altıntepe. One of their prominent actions occurred years ago when residents erected “resistance tents” around the mining facility and led marches that overtook the barricades around the mine. However, the mine’s operations seem to have continued undisturbed.

“Although the number of local environmental movements is rapidly increasing as the AKP’s assault on nature increases, a broad movement that would bring all of them together has not been generated,” explains Özen. But at the same time, the protests against the gold mines are attracting more and more support from the general public, she says.

The Turkish state has used various strategies to discredit these protests, such as accusing activists of being backed by “foreign forces” that are trying to weaken Turkey’s economic development. Or protesters are insinuated to have ties to radical left-wing organizations or outlawed Kurdish groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The aim is to equate protests with “terrorist acts,” Özen tells me. Excessive police force has also been used against the protesters.

Ahmet Topçu sitting at his hazelnut farm. (Jaclynn Ashly)

Even with signs of growing opposition to the gold mines, Bicil’s hope is running dry. Bicil’s wife passed away eight months ago. He feels her absence most acutely at night when he lies in bed alone and struggles to fall asleep. He is plagued by unrelenting fears that the mine expansion will one day engulf his wife’s grave, which he visits every day to pray for her.

“Every year the borders of the mine expand,” Bicil explains:

Last year, her grave was three hundred meters from the mine. This year it is one hundred meters away. Day by day, it’s getting closer and closer to her grave. I worry about this a lot. What if they eat up her grave and then I can only visit her with permission from the mine’s security officials?

“We can’t exist here as long as this mine is permitted to stay,” he adds. “It is sucking the life from us.” For affected residents in Fatsa, the upcoming elections are a decision between life and death.

“If Erdoğan wins this election and this gold mine takes more of our land, then I will take a gun and shoot myself,” says Topçu, bluntly, his jaw clenched in anger.  “If we can’t grow anything on the earth, then there will be nothing left to live for.”