Turkey’s minister of agriculture has said the government doesn’t have proper aircraft to combat wildfires that have been ravaging the country since Wednesday, prompting outrage among the public and the opposition to compare the lack of firefighting aircraft with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 13-airplane presidential fleet.
More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces on Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts as well as inland areas, Erdoğan said, adding that 14 were still burning. The death toll has risen to four with more than 180 injured as thousands of firefighters battled huge blazes spreading across the Mediterranean resort regions for a third day on Friday.
Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli told reporters during a visit to the affected region that Turkey does not have a firefighting plane in its inventory.
Planes from Russia and Ukraine helped battle the flames, and another from Azerbaijan was joining them. “As of midday, with the arrival of the planes, we are turning in a positive direction,” Erdoğan told reporters after Friday prayers.
However, the admission that the country had no firefighting planes has put Erdoğan’s government under immense pressure.
“While the palace [the presidency] has 13 planes and the agriculture minister travels everywhere in his jet, the government can’t employ a firefighting plane to put out these fires, demonstrating the terrible situation this administration has put us in. One palace plane could have bought dozens of firefighting planes,” pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) spokesperson Ebru Günay said on Friday.
Erdoğan, his family and the government are frequently criticized for waste taxpayer money on luxury and mismanaging Turkey’s resources. He raised eyebrows in 2018 when Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani gave him a specially equipped Boeing 747-8.
Turkish media outlets reported back then that the airplane, which was originally to be sold on the secondary market at a price of $400 million, landed at İstanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport to join Turkey’s presidential fleet.
Turkish ministers also sparked controversy with their use of jets when three ministers traveled to the country’s flood-stricken northeast aboard three planes, drawing backlash from critics who accused the government of squandering public funds.
Mürsel Alban, an MP from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), called on Erdoğan to resign, decrying the damage caused by the wildfires.
“I am addressing the Erdoğan government. ‘You don’t cut corners when it comes to prestige,’ you keep saying. You have a 300-room palace in Marmaris [a Turkish resort town], but you don’t have a plane to put out the fire in Marmaris. That is how [great] your prestige is,” Alban said.
Turks in the coastal city of Manavgat booed Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu when he made a visit to the region. Locals protested Çavuşoğlu after he said three firefighting planes were involved in the effort to extinguish the fires, lambasting government officials for their incompetence in fighting the disaster.
Çavuşoğlu said the Antalya Governor’s Office would launch a national donation drive to help people in southern Antalya province, where wildfires ongoing since Wednesday have claimed the lives of three people and injured more than 100.
“Those who want to donate in cash can contact our governor’s office. Our people are generous. They always do their best to provide the necessary support,” he said.
Gidin sürekli saray yaptırıp, uçak aldığınız başkanınızdan isteyin. Gidin de ülkeyi peşkeş çektiğiniz holdinglerden isteyin parayı! Gidin bilmem kaç milyar dolara yaptıracağınız kanalın parasını kullanın. Utanmazlık içinize işlemiş. @MevlutCavusoglu @bekirpakdemirli https://t.co/O6lI4JNTSf
— Barış Atay (@barisatay) July 30, 2021
“Go ask for money from your president who keeps building palaces,” Workers Party of Turkey (TİP) MP Barış Atay tweeted and added, “Go and fund [the effort] with the money you will use for the canal [Istanbul] that you will build for billions of dollars.”
Erdoğan is famous for his love of lavish presidential facilities. His presidential complex in Ankara was at the center of criticism when it was constructed due to its large budget, expensive interiors, more than a thousand rooms and luxurious design as well as the felling of trees in its neighborhood.
Over TL 1.7 billion ($244 million at the time) had been spent on the palace, twice the original estimate, when Erdoğan moved into the palace in November 2014.
Earlier this month, photos emerged showing his summer home in a resort town.
Şefik Birkiye, the architect who designed Erdoğan’s mansion in Marmaris, detailed the interior and exterior of the complex, nearly three years after its completion. The home reportedly cost 640 million lira ($73 million) at a time of increased poverty among Turks.