Of figs and bombs

Peace Embassy calls for nukes out of Turkey

Feature story - 30 May, 2005
I am writing from the Greenpeace Peace Embassy just a few hundred metres from an estimated stockpile of ninety B61 nuclear missiles – each capable of many times the force of the Hiroshima bomb that killed over 120,000 people.

Visitor to the Greenpeace Peace Embassy at a US nuclear weapons base in Turkey.

This is the Incirlik NATO Air Base in South-Eastern Turkey near theborders of Syria and Iraq. Greenpeace is here because the Turkishpeople, including the people of Incirlik, have

never been informed norconsulted about Incirlik’s deadly secret.

Incirlik is a gritty, hardy small town ten kilometres from Adana - acity of nearly two million. In recognition of its origins, Incirlikmeans “fig orchard”. These days, there’s more concrete than figs.

Fifty metres from our door is the first of several formidable doublerazor wire fences

. Beyond is another world of neat roads, suburbangardens and Disney-like buildings. I didn't expect that the nuclearfrontier for the Middle-East would look quite this sanitized and out ofplace.

I also did not expect that representatives of the world's major nationswould be so close to total failure to maintain the only agreement andhope we have to limit and reduce the world's deadly nuclear stockpiles.In Incirlik,  news of stalemates and disagreements at the 2005Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty meeting in New York is grave newsindeed. Our Embassy is within stone’s throw of a destructive power thatcould obliterate entire nations

not only robbing them of life but alsopoisoning any future on their lands. To me, this is the closest realequivalent to the infamous "Death Star" of Star Wars fame.

Yesterday, I joined the exceptional team that made the Embassypossible. They are Greenpeace staff and activists from Incirlik, Adana,Istanbul, Lebanon and Holland. With guidance and support from Malta,Amsterdam and even Canada, they have overcome obstacle after obstaclein order to take Greenpeace’s Nuclear Disarmament Campaign to one ofits key frontiers.

The Incirlik base and township is tightly controlled by the military.The livelihoods of many locals heavily depend on the military base andsome are openly antagonistic to any sign of opposition. Just finding anowner willing to rent their place to Greenpeace, let alone getting thepermission to operate required exceptional effort and local support.Their efforts and persistence has meant that we are the firstanti-nuclear organisation to successfully establish and maintain apresence in Incirlik.

The team, led by campaigner Aslihan Tumer, launched the Peace Embassyon the 16th of May. Before the media had arrived, the local militarypolice turned up in full riot-gear and blocked all access points to thesite.

Journalists who had travelled to Incirlik to cover the event weredelayed as the team negotiated with the military commander to allow thelaunch to proceed. Gerd Leipold, the Executive Director of GreenpeaceInternational, addressed the packed press conference by phone,highlighting the world's new nuclear perils and the great need tocounter these threats.

The next morning, there was strong coverage in all the major newsoutlets, including many headlining the presence of 90 nuclear missilesin Incirlik. Within 24 hours, the team had already succeeded in raisingpublic awareness and debate.

This morning, I joined Aslihan on a live regional news show. Eventhough Aslihan had already appeared on many news shows, our planned tenminutes extended to thirty. The show's host made it clear that there is a thirst for more information and discussion about the presence ofthe missiles and their risks

. Our host encouraged and supported ourcampaign. This was a response that was repeated when I joined Aslihanand the team to meet with the Bus Driver's Association in Incirlik anda Worker's Union in Adana. We later talked with shop-keepers, students,market stall holders, neighbours, US military personnel and their wivesand a whole array of local supporters. Motivated to learn more and havetheir voices heard, people dropped into the centre for long discussionsover cups of tea. Others looked at our display of panels of the horrorsof the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This was just in two days. Since the launch, the team's public outreachactivities established excellent relations with the local community.They forged links with local organisations and talked to hundreds ofpeople

both on the streets and in Adana City. The walking-talking'missiles for peace' helped break the ice and started many discussions.

Having opened the Peace Embassy, keeping it open turned out to be quiteanother challenge. The military police and a few local shopkeepersrepeatedly warn the team that there are narrow-minded and armed peoplehere who are very unhappy with the Peace Embassy. The message is thatthings could get out of hand and it would be better for us to pack upand leave.

Well, the team disagreed and stayed.

They stood up for the right oflocal people to know and to discuss the presence of the missiles. Manylocals from Incirlik and Adana agreed. They donated their time, theirhospitality - even their furniture. Many were grateful that the tabooon discussing nuclear missiles was broken and that they had a chance tohave their voices heard.

Indeed, as I joined some of the team to walk around Incirlik earlierthis afternoon, I noticed that hidden between the houses you couldstill see the occasional grand fig tree. Kids rushed up and hugged us.I sensed that the seeds for a safer life are already here.

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