The U.S. Embassy in Ankara has confirmed that U.S. Ambassador John Bass was in the Black Sea province of Artvin but denied allegations that he visited three hydroelectric power plant (HES) project sites in the region with the aim of “provoking the local people.”Several Turkish news outlets claimed on Thursday that Ambassador Bass paid a visit to Artvin on the Turkish-Georgia border on Tuesday and Wednesday and during his visit had visited the Şavsat and Yusufeli districts of Artvin as well as three hydroelectric power plant (HES) project sites in the region. News outlets also claimed that the ambassador was trying to provoke locals by visiting HES sites in Artvin where several environmentalist demonstrations took place earlier this year.
Commenting on the issue to Daily Sabah, an official from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara confirmed that Ambassador Bass spent some of his private holiday in Erzurum and Artvin while denying the allegations that Bass visited HES sites in the region. “The ambassador wanted to see part of Turkey he hadn’t seen yet and therefore he paid a short personal visit to Erzurum and Artvin provinces during the Qurban Bayram holiday,” a U.S. official said. “Ambassador Bass likes hiking and he went hiking in the Kaçkar mountain chain,” an official added.
The U.S. official also denied the allegations that Ambassador Bass visited the controversial HES sites. “Ambassador Bass certainly did not visit any HES sites as claimed and he did not have any official meetings during his stay. He just met with a few villagers on the hiking trail and talked with them about the mountain valley,” an official added. U.S. Ambassador Bass also shared some of his pictures taken during the hiking trip on his Instagram account.
The HES has been a delicate issue in the Black Sea region, where locals and environmentalists have organized several demonstrations in recent years. In February, residents of the Cerattepe region in Artvin organized a day-long demonstrations to express opposition against the gold mining site in the region. Then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met with a delegation of locals on Feb. 24 and agreed to terminate the construction until a judicial process was completed. The judicial decision about the fate of the gold mining site is expected to be announced in the coming days.