ISTANBUL – The forest fires raging across the southern Turkish region of Antalya have nothing to do with terrorism or the fight against it. Some fires in others parts of the country do: the Turkish army sometimes lights them in its fight against the Kurdish PKK, which threatens to set forests on fire in the west of Turkey in retaliation.
In most Turkish newspapers the military is portrayed as playing a heroic role in a huge operation to extinguish the fires in, for example, the tourist region of Antalya. Their efforts are hampered by thick smoke and strong winds, and already the first death has been recorded and many villages have been evacuated. Most of the fires are caused by carelessness or are lit by people clearing land for agriculture. Some of them however are assumed to have been started by the Kurdish separatist movement PKK, which threatens to do so on various websites, according to English language newspaper Today’s Zaman. These fires are thought to be in retaliation for those that the Turkish army started recently (as it has in the past) in the southeast of the country. Last month there were fifteen fires raging that had been started by the army in an attempt to destroy suspected PKK hide-outs. The fires are left to burn out by themselves: the government doesn’t extinguish them, and in some areas land mines make it difficult and dangerous to fight them on the ground.
Civilians and mayors in different regions in the southeast have protested the army-lit fires at the Human Rights Commission of the Turkish Parliament and demand that the government make the army stop setting forests on fire. The fires destroy the little remaining forest in southeastern Turkey, where only three percent of the area is forested. Recovery of the forests is difficult in that part of the country: the oaks generally will recover, but the southeastern junipers have a harder time surviving the flames. The whole of Turkey contains about 20% woodlands; almost 7% has been lost due to forest fires over the last fifteen years.
(written for news agency ANP)