Having just returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca with his wife, the middle-aged man remembers the golden age of local agriculture, when there was no thermal power plant in Soma (west of the country).

At the time, his olive trees were in better shape, says Osman Arslan, while the smoke of his tea mixes with that of the chimneys of the plant.

In addition to the environmental consequences, the Soma coal mine was also the site of Turkey's worst industrial disaster. In 2014, more than 300 people died in an accident at the mine, making the industry very unpopular with the local population.

Still, like other power plants, Soma sees its coal resources drastically decrease and seeks to expand on new land to the chagrin of the locals.

In Turkey, polluting power plants encroach on forests and other public © spaces BULENT KILIC / AFP

Environmental activists and villagers clashed with gendarmerie in Turkey's southwestern Mugla province when a factory began cutting down trees and olive trees in search of charcoal last month.

A human cost

An AFP journalist toured the vicinity of five coal-fired power plants in Turkey, to find that the human cost, linked to this highly polluting energy resource, is high.

Olives from the Aegean city of Milas, tomatoes and beans from the Afsin plain no longer bloom as much, while respiratory problems have become the main fatal disease in Yatagan (southeast).

"The population had no choice but to work at the plant," said Okan Goktas, a resident of Yatagan © village. BULENT KILIC / AFP

Here, the power plant, which is one of the oldest in the country, emits a strong smell of methane that permeates the air, and layers visible to the naked eye cover trees and gardens.

Okan Goktas, 44, who irrigates his land in the late afternoon, tells us that his brother was employed at the plant like "several villagers from the area", before retiring.

"The aid (from the government) for agriculture is almost non-existent, so the population had no choice but to work at the plant."

While conservative President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, re-elected in May, has assured that Turkey will reach the goal of zero carbon emissions by 2053, criticism is rife.

Yenikoy plant has an insatiable appetite, at the expense of farms and olive groves © BULENT KILIC / AFP

Turkey is the latest country in the Group of 20 largest economies in the world to ratify the Paris Agreement, after the environment became a major issue following fatal fires in 2021.

Regardless, power plants get the necessary government approvals for expansion.


The Yenikoy and Kemerkoy power plants have mowed down land where Milas olives used to grow and exported around the world.

According to the villagers, the Yenikoy power plant buys agricultural land at reduced prices, playing on the desperation of local owners who, disappointed, are convinced that they cannot do otherwise.

Yusuf, looking at the Afsin mine from his balcony, says pollution hurts local © agriculture BULENT KILIC / AFP

But the Yenikoy plant still seems insatiable, and continues its quest for agricultural land and forests to meet its needs.

Over the past two years, several bays have been almost completely swallowed up, forcing some villagers to migrate, others to see their lives now depend on work in these factories.

According to Nail, 63, the Karabiga plant on the Aegean coast employs 600 people, including his son.

Yusuf, who watches the mine from his balcony in the town of Afsin in Turkey's southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, is also a miner.

Yusuf Avci and his brother Ali took legal action against the Afsin mine, in vain © BULENT KILIC / AFP

According to him, farmers are struggling to cultivate their land because of the pollution of the mine.

The 48-year-old miner is convinced that the mine does not use proper air filters at night, which prompted him and his brother to go to court.

In vain. The mandated experts concluded that there was no infringement.

© 2023 AFP