Turkey has been shaken by news of multiple fires that have broken out over the past three days, primarily on the country’s popular tourism coasts, with many questioning whether the simultaneous fires are the result of arson or naturally occurring.
According to the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry, a total of 63 fires have erupted across 21 provinces, 20 of which have yet to be contained, while 43 have been brought under control.
Three people have lost their lives in the fires in the Manavgat district of Antalya in southern Turkey, while one died in Marmaris in the western province of Muğla.
People are now questioning how so many fires in so many places could break out at once, with allegations as well as conspiracy theories put forward.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy group chairman Engin Özkoç announced on Thursday that he spoke with Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on the phone about the possible cause of the fires and said arson was not the likely cause, according to initial findings.
“He [Soylu] told me no intelligence has yet been obtained suggesting that the forest fires in various parts of the country are the result of arson,” Özkoç tweeted, adding that Soylu told him the fires might have broken out due to the scorching temperatures in those regions.
But Antalya Mayor Muhittin Böcek said he suspected foul play because the fires started in four locations at once.
“This suggests arson, but we don’t have clear information about that at this stage,” Böcek said.
According to Kazdağları İstanbul Dayanışması, (Ida Mountains İstanbul Solidarity), a network for activists defending nature, Turkey is not the only country in the world afflicted by multiple fires. Such fires are taking place in every country on earth due to government policies that damage the environment.
“Never give credit to provocative claims and conspiracy theories. Not only Turkey but the entire earth is on fire. Pro-capital governments, which take no measures [to protect the environment], have no emergency plan for the climate crisis, insist on using more concrete, asphalt, fossil fuel, are taking the earth into extinction,” the group tweeted.
Komplolara, provokatif paylaşımlara itibar etmeyelim!
Sadece Türkiye değil, gezegen yanıyor!
Önlem almayan, iklim krizi acil planı olmayan, betonda, asfaltta, fosil yakıtta ısrar eden sermaye iktidarları, gezegeni yok oluşa sürüklüyor! #TürkiyeYanıyor@NASA yangın haritası👇🏿 pic.twitter.com/FuPkn38t9H
— Kazdağları İstanbul Dayanışması (@kazdaglariist) July 29, 2021
The network also posted a map from NASA showing the ongoing fires around the world as well as videos indicating fires in countries such as Lebanon and Russia.
Although the cause of the fires has yet to be discovered, some pro-government figures were quick to put the blame on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a bloody war in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984 and is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU, while others claim that Greece or Jewish groups were behind the fires.
Aziz Üstel, a columnist for the pro-government Star daily, claimed on Twitter that the fires were started by the PKK at the request of Turkey’s historic rival Greece with which the country is at odds on a wide range of regional disputes.
Üstel said Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) submitted a top secret report to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan which informed him that the forests were set on fire by the PKK upon an order from Greece.
The columnist faced backlash from social media users, who asked questions such as how he could have access to a top secret intelligence report, why Turkey is not condemning Greece if Greece had ordered the fires and whether ongoing fires in other parts of the world were also ordered by Greece.
Former ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmaker and a current member of the party’s Central Executive Board (MYK), Şamil Tayyar also put the blame on the PKK, saying the outbreak of 58 fires in 17 provinces in two days could not be a coincidence.
“In addition to terrorist organizations like the PKK, the intelligence services of some countries like Greece might have a role in the outbreak of these fires. There are examples of this in the past. Just be cautious,” tweeted Tayyar.
A Twitter user named Hasan Hüseyin Kahveci, who introduces himself as a journalist and the chairman of an ultranationalist Turkish foundation in Europe in his bio, claimed the fire spots were exactly the same as the stops of a Jewish rabbi, Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, chairman of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States, who is traveling across Turkey for a Jewish legacy project. Kahveci said the coincidence was thought-provoking and needs to be investigated.
The Turkish Jewish Community was outraged at the claim from Kahveci, tweeting that his words were a reflection of the “hatred” in the country. The community said Kahveci was targeting the entire Jewish community, mainly Rabbi Chitrik.
In the meantime, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced the arrest of five people on suspicion of starting one of the blazes in the southern city of Osmaniye.
“Who started these fires?” he asked in televised comments. “We, as well as our citizens, have our suspicions.”
The private DHA news agency said two children — one 8 and the other 10 — admitted under questioning in the presence of their teacher that they accidentally started one of the fires in Marmaris by burning their books.