Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said there were connections with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) among those arrested in relation to the wildfires that have been burning for more than a week in the country’s southwest, during a live interview on Wednesday.
“We have determined that there are persons with connections to the PKK among the families of those arrested,” Erdoğan told journalists on the pro-government network A Haber.
Several people were detained in relation to the fires throughout the week, with at least two people arrested, including one C.Y., a 16-year-old boy.
“As you know, we experienced this clearly last year in forest fires in Hatay. After experiencing this last year in Hatay wildfires clearly, it doesn’t make sense to say we didn’t this year,” he said, adding that police, the intelligence service and the gendarmerie continue their investigations and said “the necessary will be done”.
The Turkish president also blamed opposition parties for not taking enough action against the wildfires.
The government’s duty is “to care for all these forests, to rehabilitation of forests, to put out fires as a first responsibility”, Erdoğan said. “Meanwhile, responsibility for fires in residential areas is in the hands of municipalities.”
The Antalya, Muğla, Izmir and Aydın municipalities, all governed by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayors, “have the first degree responsibility”, he continued. “Let them open the law on local governments and study it. What are they doing right now? We continue our fight against forest fires. We have eight martyrs.”
The government has been under fire for a belated and insufficient response to the wildfires. Critics have accused Erdoğan’s cabinet of profiteering and sacrificing preparedness for short-term gain. The Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK) has not been provided with the means to maintain its fleet of fire planes, and currently several aircraft remain grounded as they haven’t been kept ready to fly.
A social media campaign started among Turkish users, calling on the global community to send help to Turkey in the form of airplanes and helicopters to help fire fighting efforts.
“That we are strong must annoy them this much,” Erdoğan said. “A campaign started against this, called Strong Turkey. Liars couldn’t hold up. Strong Turkey saw much bigger support. Turkey is in a different place now, especially in the defence industry.”
Turkey received support from foreign countries, too, the president added. “Russia sent three planes and four helicopters, Iran sent one plane and two helicopters, Ukraine sent three, Spain two, Croatia one.”
Erdoğan also spoke about accusations that the forest areas that burned down would be rezoned for development.
“I have a single-sentence response to Mr Kemal,” Erdoğan said, addressing CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. “I haven’t given such an authority to my Culture and Tourism Minister.”
As Erdoğan spoke, the flames reached the Kemerköy thermal power plant in Milas, Muğla and the plant was evacuated. The president was not notified of the fact, and spoke of the risk to the power plant during the broadcast.
“There is a thermal power plant there, owned by some of the important businessmen in our country,” Erdoğan said. The Kemerköy plant is owned in part by Erdoğan’s close ally Limak Holding.
“As we try to put out the fire, there is the threat from the wind and burning cones. But that is not all we fight against,” he added, accusing the opposition of “waging a terrorism of lies”.
The whole world is battling forest fires right now, Erdoğan said. “This is an international threat like COVID-19. This, in fact, is a threat of terrorism.” He continued:
The president repeated his previous accusation of “terrorism of lies” against the opposition. “Is there terrorism of lies in Turkey? There is. Who is doing this? The opposition. They call this a perception operation, it is in fact called a threat and terrorism of lies. Be honest. Be sincere.”