Arson or incompetence? What's causing wildfires in Turkey
Wildfires and terrorism in Turkey
The Turkish authorities are inclined to the version of deliberate arson and terror as being the cause of wildfires in the popular tourist area of the country on the coast of the Black and Aegean Sea.
The opposition considers these assumptions untenable and claims that the cause of the disaster was the incompetence of the government.
Meanwhile, at least ten people and countless animals were killed, dozens of buildings were destroyed, and tourists were evacuated from Bodrum and Antalya as the fires continue to rage for over a week now.
On the seventh day of wildfires in Turkey, which began on July 28, 2021, fire extinguishing operations continue, although more than 125 fires have already been extinguished or localized, about seven more continue, Turkish Minister of Agriculture and Forests Bekir Pakdemirli said.
The main work on extinguishing fires was carried out from helicopters. In the area, engulfed in fire, helicopter teams of firefighters were involved. The helicopters arriving from Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Iran made the task of the Turkish authorities a little easier.
Chagatay Tavusoglu, a professor at Hacettepe University, says the fires could be caused by climate change: “There is a drought in Central Anatolia and there are seven fires on the Mediterranean coast there are severe fires”.
Meteorological forecasts for the coming days are disappointing – the air temperature will be 4-8 degrees higher than the seasonal norm, and this will only complicate the work of firefighters. The highest temperatures are expected in Mugla (38-41 degrees) and Antalya (40-43 degrees).
Only from August 6, the air temperature will begin to correspond to seasonal norms.
“Children of Fire” and the government’s version of sabotage and terror
On August 1, the Children of Fire Initiative, one of the branches of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), a recognized terrorist organization in Turkey and several other countries, claimed responsibility for the forest fires. The following message was circulated in the media and social media:
“The Turkish regime does not understand another language, and the time has come to bring them to their knees with the help of fire”.
Since the 1990s, the PKK has been fighting for the creation of a Kurdish autonomy within Turkey and over the years has repeatedly assumed responsibility for terrorist acts, including forest fires. In 2020, there were severe fires in Hatay province, which were also taken over by the Children of Fire Initiative.
In the same year, PKK functionary Murat Karayilan stated publicly that he had given instructions to “burn the forests”.
The authorities tend to accept the version of sabotage and even terror. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, during a trip to the popular resort town of Antalya to the site of the fire, said about the suspicious simultaneity of several fires in different parts of the country:
“A special investigative group has been created to look for traces of terror in the fires. There are already detained suspects”.
Erdogan throws tea bags at the tragedy cite
In the media and social networks, many criticize the episode that occurred during the meeting of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the residents of Marmaris, one of the provinces affected by forest fires.
After completing his speech, Erdogan started throwing tea bags into the crowd right from the podium.
— Diken (@DikenComTr) July 31, 2021
“Can’t he read the crowd? People are in the midst of a tragedy. Why would they need tea? Come to your senses”, social media users write.
Millions of stolen dollars and wildfires
The opposition does not consider the versions of sabotage and terror being the cause of the forest fires reliable. The dominant opinion in this environment is that the Kurdish Workers’ Party is trying to add credibility and frighten the population, and the authorities use their statements to divert attention from their incompetence.
The leader of the main opposition force, the Republican People’s Party (PRP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, accused the authorities of not having “a healthy and viable policy against forest fires that recur annually”.
Kilicdaroglu said that during the years of Erdogan’s rule, the Turkish Air Administration and the Turkish Armed Forces, responsible for extinguishing forest fires, became unusable: “In 2002 [a year before Erdogan came to power], 176 forest fires were recorded in Turkey, and they were all extinguished in the bud”.
The accusation of the disappearance of funds allocated to fight the fires was made in an article by the political observer of the opposition publication Sözcü Saigy Oztürk.
“In 2018, the then head of the Turkish Air Administration, Kurshat Atylgan, at a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture and Forests Bekir Pakdemirli, said that one million dollars would be needed to repair firefighting aircraft. The minister granted this request and allocated funds.
But this money went to other needs. And now three million dollars are required to repair the same aircraft.
Now these planes are at the airport, and the state spends millions of dollars on the lease of planes and helicopters from other countries”.