Interview conducted in September 2012
Having built a successful textile business, what motivated you to dedicate your life to biodiversity conservation and environmental protection?
I've loved being close to nature since my childhood and always wanted to live in nature. When I realised my son was ready to take over business, I did not hesitate to leave business life behind and start travelling extensively in the countryside. During my visits in Anatolia, I saw alarming signs everywhere.
Our fertile land was facing the enormous threat of soil erosion. Over-fertilisation, over-watering and inefficient agricultural techniques led to a fall in the productivity of soil.
I wanted the authorities and the public to understand the problems we were facing. The more I saw, the more I wanted everyone to see and hear about these problems.
You say: "My wealth should not give me more rights than others". What do you mean by that?
Consumption is the main environmental threat. First of all, we should not consume beyond limits. By consuming, I become part of the problem. The global economy tells us to consume more and more. My direct impact on the environment is related with my consumption levels.
The carrying capacity of the ecosystem is not unlimited. I cannot exist without the earth's vital life-support systems. Therefore I should not destroy what is necessary for me to live. I do not have the right to ruin or destroy the ecosystem.
Your work takes the holistic approach, combining advocacy with livelihood and education projects. How can increased education and reduced poverty have a positive impact on the environment?
If the rural people can make a living in their hometowns, they will not have to migrate to urban areas. There is a close relationship between poverty, environmental problems and migration. I visited hundreds of villages in Anatolia and realised sadly that the deterioration in productivity of land can be seen everywhere. Fall in fertility and productivity of soil threatens food production and the livelihoods of rural populations. As a result of environmental degradation, rural populations migrate in search of better livelihoods.
Rural development is the key for improved food security and reduced poverty.
What would you say has been your greatest success in nearly half a century of environmental activism?
I feel TEMA Foundation has been my greatest success. We founded it in 1992 and TEMA is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The foundation has become a social movement influencing and touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. I take great pride and honour about the successes and accomplishments of TEMA.
What does the honorary Right Livelihood Award mean to you?
It has given me great joy and great energy, but more importantly this award means new a mission and new responsibility for me. I will try to be worthy of this award and work even harder.