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Is Erdogan setting Turkey on fire?

It’s Monday, 2nd August, 2021. For about a week, alongside my normal desk chores of the day, I have been following a running story about wildfires threatening human life, domesticated animals and wildlife, plants and insects, and property in Turkey. My country, Tanzania, and Turkey are thousands of kilometers apart in Africa and Europe respectively. But they share the same timeline.

At around 10:30p.m., I feel I have to abandon my other jobs and concentrate on the Turkey developments. I still have memories of Australia going through the worst season of bushfires in history. Through its foreign ministry, Turkey was among world countries that expressed deep sympathy and empathy.

What was special about the wildfires of Turkey that would not like to be tamed? Some other countries in the Mediterranean and Aegean region (Italy and Greece) had some share of the problem and had managed to control it without making much fuss about it.

What was the version of the Turkish wildfires? A closer look makes all sorts of indicators, literally flickering the hazard warning sign of motorists on the road. Indicator Number One is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan coming out in person to declare: “It is our duty to find those who burned our forests and burn their lungs…”


Then, in his “A Gift from God” response language style of the failed July 15, 2016 attempted coup, he invokes: “By Allah’s leave, Turkey will soon erase the traces of these fires.” The President must have felt angry. This forest cover must have been a product of commendable government forest assets development programmes. He is human. But “burning their lungs” is not a palatable language to come from presidential lips. Arson is a crime punishable by law.

Indicator Number Two goes back to what Said Nursi points out in the “Seedbed of Light” discourses about how we judge others. He points out that the problem is that when we are in the process of doing this, we tend to see others from what we are.  That is, from our own perspective or experience.

So, in the event of simultaneous multiple fires breaking out at about the same time in different cities, that alone is enough to fill in the blanks and say: “That must be the work of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), its youth wing or other pro-Kurd agents.” In the absence of a live government conscience, a decision is made for the air force to bomb perceived PKK positions in Iraq. “Lungs are burnt” before arsonists have been verified.

Erdogan’s office first blamed the worst fires on arsonists that pro-government media linked to Kurdish militants. Apparently did not hold water following the growth of fires in numbers as days went on.   Forestry directorate said 105 fires had been recorded in 35 towns and cities across the country since Wednesday, last week. Experts’ talk was about climate change, increases in frequency and intensity.

The flames have destroyed farms, homes and forests, and killed livestock in Turkey.

Indicator Number Three is panicking after the people noticed a sluggish government response to the problem. This is evidenced in a scenery where President Erdogan visits the most seriously affected areas under heavy police guard and finds himself  throwing, tossing (I don’t have the right word) tea bags to the local people under the scourge of COVID-19 and encroaching wildfires.

Indicator Number Four the people stand divided over the government ability to protect them against wildfires. This gives rise to two twitter-based schools of thought — #helpturkey which attracts 5.7 million tweets against #WeDon’tNeedHelp 61,000 times and #StrongTurkiye” repeated 161,000 times.

Indicator Number Five, the government concedes that it does have   fire-fighting planes in its inventory and has to rely on foreign help.Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu thanks Brussels for a plane sent from Croatia and two from Spain.

Indicator Number Six is Turkey refusing an offer from Greece to handle the fires. The premise for this refusal is that accepting this aid might water down propaganda that the Greeks were somehow happy with the fires ravaging their lost lands. Greece has the largest fleet of airplanes in Europe for fire-fighting. In this incident, it had successfully put of fires on the Rhodes Island.

Indicator Number Seven. This stark fact sent the people of Turkey having a second thought on their government through their twitter accounts. “It’s horrific and opts to import a few hundred Azerbaijan conscripts with super soakers,” Lingsey Snell posted.

If the Erdogan regime is tired of reading the Quran, London-born Cypriot Ineia Paphos came with an alternative in a “simple   lesson from the Bible. We all struggle with pride in life! Sadly, many of us do not realize the potential that waits for us if we just let go our pride and move forward in God’s plan.

“In fact the Bible goes so far as to warn us that God hates the sin of pride and will discipline the proud. Let us not see ourselves as wise in your own eyes, but let us become humble and willing to learn from God and others! Memorize these Bible verses about pride to help you focus on being like Jesus Christ, our ultimate example of  (being) selfless….”

Another account posted: “They would rather let Turkey burn than accept Greek assistance.”

Indicator Number Eight:  While Erdogan’s communications director has said an aid campaign launched on the social media was aimed at humiliating the country a prominent lawyer has filed a criminal complaint against agriculture and forestry minister Bekir Pakdemirli and several ministry bureaucrats due to their poor handling on ongoing fires in the country. 

Facts of the complaint is that he blocked the Turkish Aeronautical Association (YHK) a non-profit organization whose planes had been used in fire-fighting for decades from taking part in the tenders to lease the firefighting aircraft to the government since 2019 causing the ministry to spend four times more money on the maintenance of leased aircraft than would have been spent on THK aircraft. According to reports Turkey had only one plane available to respond to the fires leading it to lease two more from Russia at $154,563 per day.

In the meantime, the ministry said fire fighters had put under control 122 of 129 fires that had erupted in 35 of the country’s 81 provinces. It said 13 planes, 45 helicopters and 828 fire-fighting vehicles were battling the blaze. As I was completing this report-cum-analysis of the situation from my desk (7:09 AM Tuesday), Sky News Special Correspondent Alex Crawford reporting from Bodrum in Turkey said “firefighters are completely outpaced by the flames of the fire.”

Could the opinion of one twitter account holder be right?  Namely that, “as paradise burns in Turkey, it reveals a governance system that is utterly dysfunctional and in desperate need of replacement with one that is accountable, democratic and transparent, only then what little might be left of the paradise can be saved and reconstructed.”

Or could an alternative opinion be more representative of the situation attainable in Turkey today in the wake of the fires? Namely that: “Still not sure how the fires started. We don’t know if we have extinguisher planes. No planning, no organization from officials. Press is silent and actors/ influencers are literally crying … That’s new Turkey. No government, no system. All alone…”

The question is: “With or without the wildfires, is there room for any meaningful change in Turkey today in terms of a delivering governance system?” Or did he, who posted “God have mercy”, tweet the best for the country?

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.

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