The removal of landmines on Turkey's borders, which will take place in the near future, may spell the end for endemic plants and historical sites according to experts. Areas that remained untouched for decades due to the presence of lethal mines host a vast array of endemic plants as well as several historical sites, buried artifacts and other valuable heritage.
The Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) Administration and Harran University in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa conducted a study along the border areas stretching from Şırnak in the remote southeastern region to Hatay in the south where mines were scattered abundantly along the Turkish-Syrian border. A total of 23,347 hectares of land and a length of 734 kilometers spanning six provinces are still mined. The study formed part of recent demining efforts.
Sadrettin Karahocagil, head of the GAP Administration that oversees the ambitious project for the economic and social development of the region, said their study found a rich flora of endemic plants in the area. "We defined, photographed and mapped all of the mined lands and examined historical sites, mining sites, oil fields and arable lands. We found that endemic plants grew freely in mined areas, and there were an immense stretch of fields suitable for organic farming," he said.
Karahocagil stated their priority was to preserve the current state of the mined areas, and they were planning to set apart "preservation areas" to protect the plants. Professor Hasan Akan from Harran University stated that these areas have been rich in the cultivation of crops ranging from wheat to grapes since prehistoric eras, and noted that they encountered endemic plants long thought to be extinct. Akan noted that the region was part of the Fertile Crescent, the crescent-shaped area stretching from southeastern Turkey to the Persian Gulf and the Nile Delta, known for fertile lands - an oasis in a largely arid region. "There is abundant flora, especially alfalfa and clover. It is important to keep the flora unharmed either through preserving them in botanical gardens or museums of natural history," he said. Akan pointed out that the mined areas hosted hypericum capitatum - also known as St. John's wort - an endangered species, and suggested that its seeds should be preserved in seed banks.
The government plans to clear its borders of more than 975,000 landmines, four years after it ended the use of anti-personnel landmines by the army.
Turkey's efforts to clear the landmines were hindered in 2011 when unrest erupted in Syria, with which it shares a 915-kilometer-long border, heavily littered with mines. Conflict between the government and the opposition on planned tenders for the landmine clearance work further complicated the efforts.
According to statistics, more than 6,000 people were either maimed or killed between 1984 and 2009 due to landmines in Turkey. The country's armed forces had started planting landmines along the borders in the 1950s as a precaution against smugglers. Unofficial figures provided by anti-mining activists show seven people were killed in landmine explosions in the past two years and another 29 were wounded.