A year ago this week, bulldozers from the coal company Kolin, under the cover of the night, invaded an olive grove in a small Turkish village and destroyed 6,000 trees to make space for a new coal fired power plant.
That day in Yirca (pronounced "yirja"), back in early November, had a tragic beginning but ended with a happy celebration of justice and a victory in court when later, the very same day, officials declared the expropriation of the olive groves illegal. The story was highly emotive and heard across Turkey. It forced the government to commit to protect the olive trees, even against coal development.
Last weekend, concerned residents working with Greenpeace took another major step forward in the story, by completing the installation of solar PV electricity systems in the village's school, mosque and cemetery. Together, we showed that a village threatened by a dirty coal complex can lead the way on renewable energy for an entire country. Together, we took a step away from fossil fuel and towards life powered for free by the sun. In contrast to the violence and political divides in Turkey, we can see by people's reactions that this project brings a bit of positive news and a ray of hope.
The Yirca solar project brought together people across Turkey, including 797 citizens who contributed to the crowd-funding and helped us to collect 20,000 EUR in less than two months (their names are on a board displayed in the center of the village). The experience in Yirca will shape Greenpeace Turkey's renewable energy work in the coming years as we upscale, replicate, and engage companies and financial investors.
The road to Yirca's energy revolution began in Istanbul. To build support we began promoting our shared vision with a solar powered caravan cafe travelling through several cities – an opportunity to take tea and talk about Turkey's energy potential.
Once in Yirca, the Greenpeace team worked with residents to install a self-standing, battery equipped, solar system at a mosque and school, as well as 10 solar lamps in the schoolyard and the local cemetery that had no lights at all.
The solarisation of the mosque, school and cemetery was a success, but we didn't celebrate their opening due to the massacre of innocent young people who gathered to call for peace in Ankara earlier that day. Yet, the weight of that terrible tragedy in my mind has been lifted a bit by having a day together with the beautiful local people and their children, and volunteers from eight different countries. We worked hand-in-hand to bring peaceful solar energy to a place suffering from the many negative impacts of coal. Together we felt a small glimmer of hope and light. An old Turkish saying says that when something bad happens to you, you should turn your face towards the sun. I guess we kind of did that in a symbolic way.
Jan Beránek is the Programme Director of Greenpeace Mediterranean.