June 1-14, 1996
Report from Alanna Hartzok, UN NGO Representative
International Union for Land Value Taxation

Alternative Habitat Activities

Contrapuntal to the officially scheduled Habitat events were several alternative Habitat activities organized by Turkish human rights groups and Green politicos to publicly protest the destruction of almost 3,000 Kurdish villages and the consequrent creation of almost 3 million refugees. These groups contended that such a situation is incompatible with the goals of Habitat and reflect serious threats to democratic governance in Turkey.

Several times the government of Turkey responded to these activities with severe repression and curtailment of freedom of speech. At one point the police closed down a building used by NGOs boycotting the conference and protesting government policy towards the Kurds.

I had been invited to speak on the theme of "Who Owns the Earth?" at one of the alternative Habitat events but the afternoon session was canceled because there were demonstrations on that street and over 600 people were arrested. My Turkish friend, Ozguc Orhan, a young student who had invited me to speak (organized over the Internet) left in order to write press releases and to do other work in support of those arrested but was soon arrested himself and spent two days in jail sitting on a bench with 50 others in the cell.

Fred Christiansen and his wife Winnie were in the thick of it that day, and saw people getting bashed and blood flowing. Lucky they were not jailed as well. Myself and David Stanfield, who is working in Albania under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin Land Tenure Center, were thankful to take refuge offered by a shop owner on that street that day. Massive numbers of police were a continued presence at this conference, where they provided alternatively security and repressive services.

Alternative Habitat events sponsored (and therefore "sheltered") by the European Parliament Greens did continue uninterrupted. I spent part of two days at this venue and learned firsthand of the atrocities being perpetrated against the Kurds, who pleaded that those of us from Europe and the USA urge our governments to stop marketing and sending military equipment into the region. Such war zones reflect the land problem in its most horrendous and violent form.

But on a hopeful note, one of my greatest Turkish delights was when I first met Orhan and he was wearing an Alternative Habitat button bearing the question "Who Owns the Earth?" I told him I liked his button and he laughed and gave me one, saying "You are the mother of the button." Our email and Internet correspondence had resulted in the inclusion of the land problem and consideration of our proposals for ground rent collection in the Alternative Habitat activities. They were selling these buttons as a way to raise a little money. I will treasure mine forever.