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21.04.2009

Volunteers raise their voices against ’deterioration of Kaş’

Meral Çiyan Şenerdi

ANKARA - Claiming that the renovation work is deteriorating the coastal town, NGOs in Kaş are raising their voices in defiance. In a conference to outline their plans against 'devastation' of their beloved town near the Mediterranean city of Antalya, volunteers criticize renovation work in the historic square and the construction of a new marina.
Kaş volunteers held a conference in Ankara to voice an S.O.S. and seek support for the Mediterranean township near Antalya.  

Explained simply with the slogan, "How Kaş is being deteriorated" on the invitation poster, the conference brought nongovernmental organizations and volunteers together to protest the changes in the tourism and fishing town. "Kaş is being sacrificed to political games and trapped in urbanization," said an attendee. The groups particularly pointed out the "devastation" of the town square in the name of "renovation" as "election investment" on the eve of the local elections and the on-going earth filling of the seaside for the sake of new marina construction.

"Kaş is our last bit of diamond to be preserved," was the starting sentence of the meeting’s opening speaker, Atila Uras, a university lecturer on global climate changes. Uras outlined Turkey’s unique location on the globe, embraced by "three warm seas" at the meeting point of the continents, with the variety of vegetation as broad as to compete with continents. He assured that Kaş is unique in Turkey, and also in the world, with the city’s natural and historical sites.

Marina under spotlight
With numerous photos, he showed the hairpin shores of the area, distorted for the sake of road broadenings or for constructing tourist facilities, at the cost of sealing the natural caves or harming wildlife.

As for the new marina, the merits of which are being debated, he said: "Of course we need roads, marinas and airports for the transportation of goods and people. But all should be built with respect to the environment and people." "The construction contractor should convince the local people by obtaining an Environmental Impact Assessment Report from the Ministry of Environment, certifying that the earth-filling of the shore will not pollute the sea or seal off the underwater springs, which are constantly purifying the sea with crystal-clear fresh water," said Uras.

"No project is viable against the will of the local people," he said.

The renovation work on Kaş’s historic square is also a subject of discussion, a topic that makes many environmentalist groups bitter.

"We called it Square Looting to express our painful witness to the destruction of historic texture, even the soul of Kaş," said Erdem Aydın, the spokesman of the local NGOs. Accompanied by slides, he went on to tell the story of the hasty smashing of the cobbled town square and adjoining streets, and the careless flooring with inharmonious granites in their place. All of which started at the beginning of last March, as election investment for the ex-mayor, according to Aydın.

"This is totally illegal," he said, adding that Kaş is under strict legal protection, being classified as a first-degree urban site. Therefore, any work, even "driving a nail into your own wall" is strictly subject to the formal permission of the Protection Committee of the Ministry, he said. Upon the notice of the local NGOs, the Ministry Of Culture and Tourism and the regional management in Antalya instructed Kaş Municipality by two formal letters to stop the work, but the ex-mayor did not comply until the day before local elections, held March 29.

Now the contractor company, after having been instructed to stop the work by date, has asked for payment for the work done so far, while there are no funds allocated or any plan for payment.

Many who rely heavily on tourism are feeling the negative impacts of the renovations. Many tourists who have arrived in Kaş have been upset with the "patchwork" town square, which is covered in new granite and cobblestones. NGOs have suggested the Municipality post signs in the square, expressing apologies for the inconvenience and promising a better year next year.

Having sued the mayor and other authorities responsible, the local NGOs and volunteers have watched the process and maintained their struggle for the protection of the town. They say they want to join the decision-making process for further steps to be taken.

"If we could save Kaş from that ’looting’ and political games and be successful at maintaining the treasures of our town, Kaş would be a good model for other Mediterranean towns under same threats," Aydın said.

Underwater photos
After the speeches, the audience was able to relax by watching the slideshow of underwater photos by world-famous underwater photographer Professor Orhan Aytür. Aytür was applauded after his show and replied to the questions and comments of appreciation from his excited audience. As the host of the activity, the Metu (Middle East Technical University) Graduates Association handed out some commemorative presents to the meeting’s participants.

With the conference over, it seems the volunteers and NGOs will return to Kaş with a stronger sense of security, having secured the power of their supporters in Ankara.