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Hayrettin Karaca is considered the grandfather of the Turkish environmental movement. A successful businessman-cum- conservationist, he has become a leading educator and activist for environmental protection in Turkey. The environmental foundation TEMA, which he co-founded, is now a nation-wide-movement to protect soil and natural habitats.
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Hayrettin Karaca was born on 4 April 1922 and built a successful textile business. During the 1970s he travelled extensively around Turkey and became very concerned about its environmental degradation in general and soil erosion in particular.
During his trips he saw alarming signs all over the country. Various plant species were becoming extinct, grazing land was being destroyed, forests were cut down to open space for fields. Over-fertilisation, over-watering, indiscriminate use of pesticides and inefficient agricultural techniques led to soil erosion. Karaca realised he could not remain silent and began to document the situation and to warn authorities and the public about the threats facing Turkey's nature.
In 1980, Hayrettin Karaca established an arboretum on his land in Yalova, which today holds over 14,000 species, subspecies, varieties of trees, and 3,800 herbaceous plants and perennials of other types. Karaca Arboretum has become the in situ breeding ground of the endangered endemic plant species of Turkey and is open to the public.
Today, erosion (severe or moderate) affects 90% of Turkey's land area; 750 million tons of topsoil are washed away annually. Industrial and urban expansion takes place on agricultural land. Deforestation continues apace as oak forests are cut down and replaced by pines, or not at all. Environmental degradation reduces agricultural productivity and hastens rural-urban migration. It also poses a severe threat to Turkey's exceptionally high biodiversity (with 10,000 plant species, 3,000 of which are endemic).
In 1992, together with Nihat Gökyiğit, another businessman, Karaca founded TEMA Foundation (Türkiye Erozyonla Mücadele Ağaçlandırma ve Doğal Varlıkları Koruma Vakfı - The Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats). Its mission is to raise public awareness of environmental problems, specifically soil erosion, deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change. TEMA has launched numerous initiatives to influence government and business practices.
Since its establishment in 1992, TEMA Foundation has designed and carried out around 150 demonstration projects on sustainable rural development, reforestation, biodiversity conservation and sustainable land management across the country.
These include the nationwide 81 Forests in 81 Provinces Project, Forests for my Country Project, Love to Tranquil Trees Project and many memorial forest projects. In total, TEMA has planted more than ten million seedlings.
Karaca believes that soil erosion can only be combated by alleviating poverty in rural areas. Therefore TEMA implements model projects where environmentally friendly alternative income opportunities for the local people are created. Examples are beekeeping, the production of fodder crops, the improvement of livestock breeding, the introduction of good agricultural practices, eco-tourism, pasture rehabilitation, fruit cultivation, horticulture, reforestation and trainings for farmers on soil and technical issues.
TEMA believes that a strong education programme is vital in creating public awareness about environmental and economic threats posed by soil erosion and deforestation. TEMA thus carries out education programs in two categories: training of trainers and awareness raising. TEMA has trained thousands of leaders including teachers, governors, clergy, police and army officers. TEMA has published 84 books and organised education programmes, which have been attended by more than 2.5 million people. A recent poll showed that 64 percent of the adults in Turkey view soil erosion as an urgent threat.
TEMA is also much involved in legal work, both campaigning for new laws to protect the environment and litigation against illegal activities. It was largely responsible for Turkey's ratification of the UN Convention on Desertification in 1994 and had one of its most important successes in the ratification of the 'Pastures Act' by the Turkish parliament in 1998, which had not been passed by parliament for 38 years. Another legal success of TEMA was the enforcement of the 'Soil Conservation and Land Management Act' in 2005, for which TEMA had collected more than one million signatures. TEMA volunteers from all parts of society had been actively lobbying for the approval of this law by the Turkish parliament.
TEMA is also prepared to take the government to court - for example it has prevented the granting of planning permissions for tourist development in wildlife reserves. TEMA has won 82 of the 166 legal cases it opened or intervened in for the protection of agriculture and forestland.
In September 2012, TEMA had 450,000 volunteer members (among them a lot of young people), clubs in 60 universities, 550 voluntary representatives and over 100 scientists and legal advisers who offer their time and expertise on a pro bono basis. It had 160 full-time employees in 2012, again many of them being young people. Karaca sees TEMA very much as a people's movement.
At the international level, in 1998 TEMA-D (Germany), TEMA-NL (Netherlands) and TEMA-EU (Belgium) were established and continue to work in Europe.
TEMA's 2011 budget was TL 10 million (ca. EUR 4.2 million). The finance comes mainly from individual and corporate donations, and from project sponsorship (national and international organisations and companies finance or co-finance concrete TEMA projects).
Karaca is well-known and much loved in Turkey. He has two national TV programmes: 'Giderayak' and 'Birebir'. Giderayak discusses current political and social issues in Turkey. Birebir focuses on issues such as volunteerism, civil society, and environmental problems.
Karaca often speaks to big audiences, especially children. He is loved by children as he behaves as one of them and treats them as his equals. He never tells them what to do, instead he asks questions and helps them to find answers themselves. TEMA estimates that it has educated 45,000 children from age five to university age about protecting the environment.
Karaca has received a number of awards for his work, including the UNEP 500 in 1992, the Eminent Services Award of the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1998 and, in 2013, the UN Forests for People Award.
Turkish writer Yaşar Kemal writes about him: "Well aware that destruction of nature can only be prevented with the awareness and participation of people, Hayrettin Karaca has strived long and hard as a pioneer in effective civic organisation in order that Turkey not turn into deserts and rocks and to revive the soil which is in its death throes."
On 17 April 2010, he went to Kozak, a region in the western part of Turkey, where gold mining companies operate, for a fact-finding visit and to support the local movement against the gold mining. After a meeting with the villagers, the locals took Karaca to a public land where the mining company was cutting 7400 trees. When Karaca started to take photos of some tree and plant species, three cars appeared and its passengers – claiming to belong to the mining company – insulted and intimidated Karaca and the locals.
The mining company then filed a case against Karaca and the locals for trespassing, and the local prosecutor took up the case. Karaca and the villagers faced a trial with the prospect of 6 years’ imprisonment if they were convicted. On November 20th 2012, all charges of illegal trespass against Karaca were formally withdrawn by mining company Koza Altin Madencilik A.S. at a hearing at the Criminal Court in Western Dikili.
The case against Karaca and the villagers is a symbol for the difficulties environmental activists encounter when they stand up against the interests of powerful corporations in Turkey.
The 16 June 2011 episode of "Turkey's Changemakers" featured Hayrettin Karaca and Nihat Gokyigit, the founders of TEMA. (Turkish spoken, turn on captions for English subtitles.)
Interview conducted in September 2012
Having built a successful textile business, what motivated you to dedicate your life to biodiversity conservation and environmental protection?
I've loved being close to nature since my childhood and always wanted to live in nature. When I realised my son was ready to take over business, I did not hesitate to leave business life behind and start travelling extensively in the countryside. During my visits in Anatolia, I saw alarming signs everywhere.
Our fertile land was facing the enormous threat of soil erosion. Over-fertilisation, over-watering and inefficient agricultural techniques led to a fall in the productivity of soil.
I wanted the authorities and the public to understand the problems we were facing. The more I saw, the more I wanted everyone to see and hear about these problems.
You say: "My wealth should not give me more rights than others". What do you mean by that?
Consumption is the main environmental threat. First of all, we should not consume beyond limits. By consuming, I become part of the problem. The global economy tells us to consume more and more. My direct impact on the environment is related with my consumption levels.
The carrying capacity of the ecosystem is not unlimited. I cannot exist without the earth's vital life-support systems. Therefore I should not destroy what is necessary for me to live. I do not have the right to ruin or destroy the ecosystem.
Your work takes the holistic approach, combining advocacy with livelihood and education projects. How can increased education and reduced poverty have a positive impact on the environment?
If the rural people can make a living in their hometowns, they will not have to migrate to urban areas. There is a close relationship between poverty, environmental problems and migration. I visited hundreds of villages in Anatolia and realised sadly that the deterioration in productivity of land can be seen everywhere. Fall in fertility and productivity of soil threatens food production and the livelihoods of rural populations. As a result of environmental degradation, rural populations migrate in search of better livelihoods.
Rural development is the key for improved food security and reduced poverty.
What would you say has been your greatest success in nearly half a century of environmental activism?
I feel TEMA Foundation has been my greatest success. We founded it in 1992 and TEMA is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The foundation has become a social movement influencing and touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. I take great pride and honour about the successes and accomplishments of TEMA.
What does the honorary Right Livelihood Award mean to you?
It has given me great joy and great energy, but more importantly this award means new a mission and new responsibility for me. I will try to be worthy of this award and work even harder.