Is Turkey Burning, Or Being Burnt?
On July 27, Turkey woke up to one of its most devastating wildfires of the decade. Thousands of houses have been burnt, habitats have been lost, and lives have been at stake. Although experts claim that rising temperatures in the Southern provinces are the prime reason for the forest fires, its major cause appears to be more than what meets the eye.
Home to major tourist resorts and bestowed with extremely high summer heat, the Southern provinces of Turkey saw wildfires last month and since then, more than hundreds of fires have set approximately 32 provinces ablaze, with major damage at Mazikoy town in Mugla province, along with, Manavgat in the Antalya province. Large fires have also broken out in nearby Greece, Sicily, and Lebanon.
Several villages and tourist spots had to be evacuated, with many tourists escaping through small boats. The wildfires have also garnered global response, with #TurkeyIsBurning and #PrayforTurkey topping the search results.
— Oğuz Baran Bucak (@OguzBaran98) August 4, 2021
— Iria Nicola (@IriaNicola) August 4, 2021
'Firefighters are being completely outpaced by the flames and the fire.'
Our special correspondent @AlexCrawfordSky reports from Bodrum in Turkey where wildfires are burning out of control.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) August 2, 2021
Experts have credited climate change as the main culprit behind the fires, along with accidents caused by people. They have stated that forest fires can occur due to weather conditions or campfires.
A heatwave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has also been cited as a major source of wildfires across the Mediterranean, including in Italy and Greece. Temperatures in Marmaris, in Mugla, reached an all-time high of 45.5 C (114 F) on Tuesday, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said.
But contrary to this, the Turkish citizens, along with netizens, were quick to point out that, the fires broke out at several spots simultaneously in the forest, eventually moving towards the center, without the wind carrying them further. Turkey’s Agriculture and Forestry Minister, Dr. Bekir Pakdemirli also supported the statement, and hence, has linked the wildfires as an act of terrorism.
“This is not something we will ignore. After all, these are fires that, although broke out in different places, happened almost at the same time, from Manavgat to Marmaris and Bodrum,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said speaking to the media.
All the fingers have been pointing to the same prime suspect, the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK, designated as a terror group by Turkey, the US, and the EU, is infamous for using forest fires to incite terror.
The group has been in a constant feud with the Turkish government since 1984, and had adopted forest fires as its strategy to threaten Turkey since the 1990s.
Recently in October 2020, four provinces near Turkey had been victims of PKK-induced forest fires that had ravaged a number of forests simultaneously. The PKK-linked terror group, Children of Fire Initiative, had claimed responsibility for the fires.
Apart from PKK, speculations have risen about Greece’s involvement in helping the PKK workers to initiate fires since the Kurdish Workers’ were trained in the neighbouring country. Turkey has also rejected Greece’s proposal to help in tackling the situation, amid such allegations.
Apart from Greece, it has been alleged that Turkey’s opposition party, Republican People’s Party (CHP), was also involved with the PKK in instigating wildfires.
“CHP acted together with the PKK in forest fires. PKK burned the forests and they [CHP] misled [the public]. This is a very dirty alliance. Kılıçdaroğlu [CHP leader] is a national security problem. This is how they burned Marmaris,” tweeted (later deleted) Journalist İbrahim Karagül.
No official statement has been announced yet regarding the fires, either by the group or by Greece. Meanwhile, the CHA has issued a criminal complaint against Journalist İbrahim Karagül for slander, insult and inciting the public into hatred and animosity. Although, certain pieces of evidence have been discovered that have revealed the perpetrators.
A video was uploaded on Twitter, which has revealed two men being caught for arson in Turkey.
— fatih (@fatihbaey) July 29, 2021
On July 28, a suspect was captured outside a military base in Ankara’s Polatlı district as he set a grassy patch inside the base on fire. Two suspects also set a shrubbery near a military base on fire, which was housing a training center for Turkish soldiers.
Furthermore, another video was uploaded, showing PKK workers confessing about the burning of the forests.
— GLOBAL NEWS NEXUS (@globalnwsnexus) August 2, 2021
Shortly after these instances, the Children of Fire Initiative claimed responsibility for the wildfires. The PKK subgroup has stated the reason for starting the forest fires as a response to “the Fascists Turks, who invaded and exploited our country, pillaged our nature by burning it” and “spewed blood, death, and brutality on us Kurds, and supported the army, police, and government of the colonial Turkish Republic.”
The Children of Fire Initiative has also stated that they’re not only targetting the Turkish military, but also supporters and members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) coalition.
Impact and response
Approximately 234,750 acres (95,000 hectares) of land have been burned in 2021. In the previous 12 years, an average of 33,398 acres (13,516 hectares) had been burned by this point in the year.
Eight people have been killed, 27 remain hospitalized while hundreds have been treated and released. Thousands have been evacuated from villages and resorts. Seven of the deaths were in Manavgat and one in Marmaris in Mugla. Two of the deaths in Mangavat were firefighters and another was a 25-year old man who volunteered to bring water to firefighters.
Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said, “Houses located in areas that could be impacted by the fire have been evacuated. Several homes, offices, farms, agricultural fields, greenhouses, and vehicles have been damaged by fire.”
Farmers have reported devastation to animals and crops. Until the fires are under control, it is not possible to determine the full extent of the damage.
Turkey’s forest fires and their subsequent damage have garnered a global response, and many nations have come forward to help the country to tackle the situation.
Planes were deployed from Spain and Croatia which joined aircraft from Russia, Iran, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan. A total of 16 planes, 51 helicopters, and more than 5,000 personnel were tackling the fires. Four helicopters would be arriving from Ukraine on Wednesday, Cavusoglu said.
The officials evacuated residents from dozens of holiday homes as fires advanced toward the Turkevleri region, near the town of Milas, in Mugla province.
Erdogan and his government have been criticized for their mismanagement of the crisis. Erdogan has also been asked to step down, while his government was heavily condemned for their lack of resources to combat the calamity, and were also called out for their inadequate preparations.
The Turkish government is also being accused of putting the lives of people at stake, by allegedly declining help from Western nations during the early stages of the fires.
Currently, Some 117 fires, out of 125, have been contained or extinguished, according to the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Bekir Paldemirli, while Seven fires are still continuing in the popular holiday resorts of Antalya and Muğla in the country’s south, said the minister.