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Stories of Resistance with activists from the East Med

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Climate and social justice organisations come together in Nicosia

By Josef Boraei and Myrto Skouroupathi

Various initiatives and groups hosted the recent event in Nicosia, ‘Stories of Resistance’, as a symbolic and powerful tool to learn, unpack buried narratives and navigate us through our common futures.

The event was part of the Eastern Mediterranean Environmental Peacebuilding gathering aimed at establishing and strengthening links between groups from climate and social justice organisations and marginalised communities in the EastMed region, learn about environmental peacebuilding and plan joint activities on climate justice.

Local activists are fighting for climate justice as a framework which covers a series of topics, from protecting the natural environment to working on socio-economic manifestations in our society. People from all over the world with diverse backgrounds are experiencing the climate crisis differently and disproportionately.

The event, held in the Buffer Zone, aimed to promote further inter-communal discussions, with an opportunity to explore the struggles shared by those leading the fight.

“The speakers addressed the effects of the climate crisis in their communities and land, and how natural resources are being used for the violation of human rights and division of communities,” said the co-host, Ya’ara Peretz from Gastivists.

The event started with an acknowledgment of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. “We stand in solidarity with everyone affected. Our thoughts and spirits are with them,” said Josef Boraei from Avli, Cyprus.

“We are climate justice activists living in different locations, working together to build more collaboration and resistance against the oppressive systems we live in.”

Maria Mavronicola, YEU, commented that the event “offered the opportunity to get informed about similar environmental issues in the region and learn from our struggles and success stories”.

The speakers had various backgrounds and experiences, coming from Cyprus (across the divide), Greece, Turkey, Palestine and Italy. The stories shared clearly communicated the necessity of working together in the region by overcoming the barriers.

Vijdan Şengör from Avli (Cyprus) shared what it means to be an activist on the ground in Cyprus, and especially in the northern part of the divide. A key element of her work within Avli is “the intersection of peace and environment which enables us to understand and see the whole picture”. The division of Cyprus prevents meaningful climate work instead of using it as an opportunity for common ground and peace. One of Avli’s main aims is the interconnection between its two objectives: peace and the environment.

Andreas Riris from Cyprus Natural Coastline shared the long fight of the initiative since it was formed in 2014 from the privatisation of beaches to the destruction of the sea caves in Peyia and the development plans in Akamas. “The initiative aims to defend not just the island’s coasts but also its mountains and all natural habitats. Cyprus’ economic model, largely depending on tourism and real-estate, caused negative impacts on large areas of the island’s coastline,” he said, adding that their efforts have helped defend important areas like the Akamas peninsula and Limni, Polis Chrysochous.

“Exchanging experiences during this event has helped us improve our understanding of the issues other comrades face in the region. From Palestine to Italy and from Greece to Cyprus, we need to keep fighting to protect our commons, our natural habitats, and our heritage.”

One of the crucial topics in our region is the production of energy, and how that relates with the energy crisis and increase of militarisation and conflict.

Pavlos Laskos, Fridays for Future Thessaloniki, Greece explained that “the mainstream narrative is that Greece is going to be turned into an energy hub. Instead of reducing gas emissions, our government’s plan is to promote economic growth by the exploitation of fossil fuels.”

Pavlos’ story resonated with participants from Cyprus and Italy. “Those plans that lead to tension between neighbouring countries, as creating gas infrastructures is connected to the increase of militarisation,” he said, adding that several movements in Greece are fighting against these projects and run nationwide and international campaigns, such as the recently started Hellenic trench campaign (https://hellenictrenchsos.gr/).

Extraction and mining are, also, a major issue in the EastMed. Süheyla Dogan, the representative of the Kazdagi Association for The Protection of Natural and Cultural Assets, shared her story of Kirazlı gold mining in Turkey. The story starts with a forest area close to a dam providing drinking water to the city of Çanakkale. After the licence was given to Alamos Gold, a Canadian company, the Turkish forestry ministry itself started cutting down the forest on behalf of the company.

Activists camped near the mine and people from all over Turkey joined them. Many protests were taken throughout their stay, such as an occupation of the mine by 20,000 people and a live piano concert from the famous composer Fazıl Say. The resistance at the camp lasted for over 400 days, when security forces evicted the activists. But they continued protesting and the mining company was eventually denied an extension of their licence. “Since then, we have demanded the rehabilitation of the area. This is the story of resistance and solidarity. Kicking a transnational company out of our country,” Dogan said.

The discussion continued with the story of Palestinian resistance by Raya Radwan from Stop the Wall. Raya described the story of the creation of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions campaign (BDS) back in 2005 by Palestinian civil society. “This has given us another way of action, not only going to the streets and protesting but also changing the policies that institutions, governments, and local authorities have, in order to be more respectful of the International Human Rights Law. Apartheid Israel and its corporations, who illegally expand on the Palestinian land stealing resources, export Walls of Climate Colonialism.” One such policy change was made by the local council of Barcelona, becoming the first city to suspend ties with Israel.

On the other side of the East Mediterranean, there was Federico from No Tap movement, Italy. The No Tap movement is a local initiative fighting against the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). “We started from a very specific struggle against a big project, during which various people came to show solidarity and to fight alongside us.”

The local residents have been fighting against the pipeline which would destroy their land and are now facing prosecution by the authorities.

Annabella Da Re, Gastivists Italy said that “trying to make your fight as intersectional as possible takes time, energy, and effort. It’s a long process but it’s an investment, it’s worth it. When you realise that for different struggles the source of the problem is the same, you have many new possibilities to act, different sides to ‘attack’ and you can do it together.”

This event tried to bring the affected and marginalised voices of those who are defending their lands and fighting against systemic oppression. The societies that we live in are exploiting the people and our commons. Yet, we find hope in each other’s stories of resistance.

 

Josef Boraei is events coordinator and volunteer at Avli initiative. Myrto Skouroupathi is research coordinator and a volunteer at Avli initiative

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