Hayrettin Karaca

Awarded 2012


For a lifetime of tireless advocacy and support for the protection and stewardship of our natural world, combining successful entrepreneurship with effective environmental activism.

Hayrettin Karaca (1922-2020) is the “grandfather” of the Turkish environmental movement. A successful businessman and conservationist, he became a leading educator and activist for environmental protection in Turkey. Karaca co-founded TEMA –  The Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats – which today is a nationwide environmental movement.

Karaca believed that soil erosion only could be combated by alleviating poverty in rural areas. TEMA has therefore implemented a project model which creates alternative income opportunities for people locally. 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.

Karaca saw TEMA very much as a people’s movement. Today, it numbers around 500,000 volunteers. Due to his environmental activism, Karaca became a well-known and beloved public figure in Turkey, often taking the opportunity to educate children and young people about the importance of protecting nature.

"My wealth should not give me more rights than others."

Hayrettin Karaca, 2012 Laureate

From businessman to conservation activist

Hayrettin Karaca 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 came to hold over 14,000 species, subspecies, varieties of trees, and 3,800 herbaceous plants and perennials of other types. Karaca Arboretum became the in situ breeding ground of the endangered endemic plant species of Turkey and is open to the public.

TEMA Foundation and its activities

Erosion affects about 90 per cent 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 more than 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 believed 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 has trained thousands of leaders including teachers, governors, clergy, police and army officers. TEMA has published more than 80 books and organised education programmes, which have been attended by millions of people.

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 a large number of 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.

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 came mainly from individual and corporate donations, and from project sponsorship (national and international organisations and companies finance or co-finance concrete TEMA projects).

The "grandfather" of the Turkish environmental movement

Karaca was well-known and much loved in Turkey. He had two national TV programmes: 'Giderayak' and 'Birebir'. Giderayak discussed current political and social issues in Turkey. Birebir focuses on issues such as volunteerism, civil society, and environmental problems.

Karaca often spoke to big audiences, especially children. He was loved by children as he behaved like one of them and treated them as his equals. He never told them what to do, instead, he asked questions and helped them to find answers themselves. TEMA has educated tens of thousands of children about protecting the environment.

Karaca 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 wrote 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 the effective civic organisation in order that Turkey not turn into deserts and rocks and to revive the soil which is in its death throes."

The 2012 court case against Karaca

Karaca has on many occasions spoken out against extractive industries, polluters and excessive consumption. 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 gold mining. After a meeting with the villagers, the locals took Karaca to 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 remains a symbol of the difficulties environmental activists encounter when they stand up against the interests of powerful corporations in Turkey.

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