Laz heartland facing threats
Arhavi is a small town populated by 15000 inhabitants set on the shore of the Black Sea, 30 km away from the Georgian border. Located at the center of the territory that was once called Lazistan, Arhavi is one of the few cities in Turkey mostly inhabited by the Laz people, a small community who speaks a Caucasian language related to Georgian. Despite the noticeable Laz culture revival – mostly online and in Istanbul – the past decades have witnessed the slow disappearance of Laz cultural features in its historical heartland. Rural exodus and assimilationist policies have put Laz language under threat. The recent opening of optional Laz courses in a few public schools (including one in Arhavi) are unlikely going to reverse the trend.
However, the Arhavi district is facing a more direct threat. For the past years, local activists have been struggling against hydro-electric power stations (known in Turkey as HES). As part of a controversial countrywide program to boost hydropower production in Turkey, a dozen of HES projects are on the way in Arhavi. A few of them started already, including one in the outstanding and remote Kamilet valley. Activists warn that the rivers will dry up and that the rich and fragile local ecosystem will be destroyed. The main company owning hydro-electric station licenses belongs to Mehmet Nazil Günal, a billionaire born in Arhavi.