Pelin Akdemir / DUVAR

The northeastern town of Şavşat, famed for its lush greenery and natural beauty, risks losing its membership in the Cittaslow organization due to planned hydroelectric power plant projects, mines, quarries and the construction of concrete buildings unfit for the atmosphere of the area’s villages. 

Şavşat is among the 262 cities and towns in 30 countries part of Cittaslow, which describes itself as an “international network of cities where living is good,” and is a part of the slow movement, emphasizing living life at a slower, more sustainable pace. 

The zoning plans and licenses for the projects in Şavşat’s rural areas and villages were granted by the Artvin provincial governor, which was sent an official warning by Cittaslow International’s president Stefano Pisani, according to Şavşat Mayor Nihat Acar. 

The warning specifically mentioned the planned hydroelectric plants, which it says will destroy the biodiversity of the area’s river, the development of plans for quarries and mines, and zoning plans for construction which does not take the local architectural style into consideration. 

The warning said that the Artvin provincial governor was responsible for these initiatives and that their continuation would result in Şavşat’s Cittaslow membership to be reevaluated.

“Today, Şavşat is a slow city. Being a slow city doesn’t just include the district center. Since it encapsulates the geographical boundaries, central Şavşat and 65 villages are included together within the slow city criteria. In the slow city meetings that I attended last year, it was especially emphasized that the implementation of hydroelectric power plants and the opening of mines were definitely against the criteria,” Acar said.

The Şavşat mayor said that environmental impact reports for the projects, which should only be handed out after research is conducted in the area, were granted on the officials’ whim without any research being carried out. 

“At the moment there is an ongoing road project in the Suloban highlands. The people think ‘they are building a road for us’. Why are they building the road? There are mines that have been identified there, and a road is being built for them,” Acar said, adding that the lush greenery of Şavşat depends on the free flow of the Hanlı river, and that installing penstocks for the hydroelectric power plants would harm the quality of the river’s water. 

Acar said that the slow city criteria needed to be evaluated very thoroughly:

“There is nothing else that we are trying to bring to the forefront. In a statement made two years ago, it was said the Rize-Artvin region is among those that will be affected the most by climate change. For this reason we need to protect our region.”