Boron Landscapes of Turkey (2019)

Boron mining in Turkey © Steffen Krämer & Gözde Şarlak

Project introduction

Boron is a mineral of great economic hope in Turkey, which holds the world’s largest reservoirs. It is used in a wide range of products such as ceramics, detergents, fertilizers, heat-resistant glass, or steel, and has been recently proposed for binding and storing hydrogen in energy production.

The official narrative by governmental agencies in Turkey are accordingly euphoric when it comes to the mining of Boron. At the same time, the development of Boron mines and mining infrastructure has transformed rural landscapes and social life at various locations in Western Turkey to a great extent. Former agricultural lands were expropriated and integrated into the expanding mining sites and in some locations entire villages have been relocated. In addition, new road infrastructure had to be built to facilitate heavy trucks and machinery and the course and shape of river beds had to be altered.

As mining progresses, masses of soil are being redistributed and once a mining site is exhausted, it leaves behind new topographies with less vegetational diversity than before.

With our research project, we aim to give visibility to otherwise neglected geographies in transformation and to bring in the voices and accounting practices of those experiencing the change on site. We are primarily drawing from interviews that we conducted with nearby residents as well as former and current mine workers and from our own exploratory field visits. In doing so, we wish to interrogate the euphoric yet one-dimensional framing presented by the state and state-run mining company and instead multiply the voices, gestures, narratives, and material practices that shape the everyday life on site. 

Project so far

  • During our field trip to four different boron mining sites in Western Turkey, where almost all of the boron reserves in Turkey are located, we had the opportunity to record the memories of a dozen of residents from the towns who had themselves worked for the mine in the past and who had witnessed the transformation of the town and landscape at first hand.
  • The ethnographic flow of the research was exploratory and directed by what we encountered on site. Besides preplanned interviews we would be drawn into unplanned conversations, on the streets, in cafés, or over lunch, that would direct us to our next interviewees, topics and sites, and we would be taken on spontaneous tours through the mines and their surroundings.
  • Interestingly, the concept of ‘landscape’ did not resonate very strongly with our interviewees and we started to pay closer attention to how they enact the change in their environment without imposing a landscape lens.
  • This sensitivity seemed particularly valuable to us in the framework of the year’s theme “landscape and language”, because we would need to reflect on the meaning, risk and (limited or exclusive) scope of verbalizing landscape as our object of interest.
  • Currently, we are drafting a multimedia essay that integrates this reflection and our academic writing with photographs, sound and video from our field visits. The essay is currently being finalized and prepared for journal submission.

Applicants: Gözde Şarlak & Steffen Krämer, Germany