Putting out fires where arson is policy

For Erdoğan's AKP, the ship to become a Muslim Democrat movement, modeled on European and Latin American Christian Democrats, since long sailed away. With the climate change worsening, forced immigration and environmental damage will create enormous stress for the already fledgling Turkish democracy.

According to 2021 Gallup World Happiness Report Turkey fares among the worse in almost all categories. First and foremost Turkey tops the category of the least smiling nations. You get the picture. Then there is Ebrar Karakurt for example, who plays as setter-diagonal in Turkey’s women national volleyball team currently competing successfully in Tokyo Olympic games. Born in 2000, just two years before the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Erdoğan came to power, 1.96m of height, sporting a militarily short and deliberately punk pink haircut, she represents, to my mind and very inspiringly at that, the future of the republic in her own particular way. So there is still reason to smile after all.

I will not further elaborate, yet, but enumerate more. Please bear with me. There is also Mete Gazoz who brought a very precious gold medal at the same Olympics in archery. Born in 1999, he practiced swimming to develop his shoulders until 8 years of age, played basketball for coordination, took painting lessons for a year for his eyesight and attention capacity, followed piano playing courses for two years again to develop his eyesight and coordination. An unlikely hero, looking quite nerdy in appearance what with oversize glasses and a wiry body, he is intelligent, happy and modest. None other than the members of the same women’s volleyball team applauded him by bursting into a spontaneous march written to the memory of Atatürk and sang “long live Mustafa Kemal Pasha” to celebrate his achievement. 

Elsewhere in the jungle, the Turkish government, through its Religious Affairs Directorate, copying the famous Sultanahmet (“The Blue Mosque” as is affectionately known for tourists) built a gigantic mosque in Accra, the capital of Ghana. The price tag for that generous offer hovers at an eye-popping ten million U.S. dollars. By the way, Ghana’s population is less than 20% Muslim. At the same time, Turkey is at present ravaged by disastrous forest fires. There are no firefighting aircraft in the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry’s inventory. Why? Because the government had a grudge against the THK (Turkish Aviation Institution) and not only kept their aircraft mothballed but did not procure new ones on time.

Here the story is twofold. First THK was founded by Atatürk and since then, unless you were an aviation aficionado willing to train with propeller driven aircraft, you wouldn’t hear much of them. With one big exception though and there lays the glitch: During the Sacrifice Feast each year the THK would collect the skins of the slaughtered lambs and use them to finance its’ own activities. This good old republican “trick” was deemed as profanity for the islamists in power and hence their grudge. The second time you would hear from the THK would be during summer time when their decades old planes glided over the skies to put out forest fires endearing them to the public at large. No, no republican institution could not be allowed to be left standing. So down goes the THK, up goes the mosque in Accra and the fires rage on.

There is more. Ankara rejected the helping hand of Greece in particular (so long, the days of “earthquake diplomacy” of yore) and of the EU in general. What Ankara did was to choose to work with Iran and Russia instead. To add insult to injury, the Turkish Defence Ministry promoted the scope and efficiency of its ground services provided for the Russian aircraft. Many envied the numbers of aircraft and helicopters in Greece’s inventory while others mused that even with that sort of equipment Greece was unable to stop the many catastrophes that befell recently upon it. But no one with their sane minds could predict that President Erdoğan would descend upon Marmaris where the fires are raging with his customarily extra-long vehicle convoy, blocking the traffic and the fire engines in his wake and throw packs of tea from his bus to the hapless public watching him. For the record, Erdoğan has 13 aircraft in his presidential service.

To prove how the last social seams holding the country together are stretched to their extreme limits, in many locations where the forests and villages are ravaged by the fires, the local inhabitants created so-called vigilante groups or outright lynch mobs to go after “terrorists” who they believe are the perpetrators of the fires. Mostly those terrorists turn out to be Kurds, as simply being a Kurd can label one of being a PKK affiliate. Even though the hawkish and utterly populist Interior Minister Soylu himself declared that there is no evidence and no intelligence to doubt arson to be the cause of the current fires, President Erdoğan couldn’t stop himself from stating that “we will burn the hearts out of those responsible.” Perhaps Erdoğan tried to reflect the anger that can be directed at him. Coincidentally in Konya in Central Anatolia where there are no fires, an entire Kurdish family of seven were massacred. 

What is the correlation among all of the above –if there exists one?

Which consequences can be drawn?

Climate change and Islamist ideological blindness brought us here. The two’s effects converge in Turkey quite dangerously both for the environment and the political environment. Aris Roussinos sees this crystal clearly: “Turkey has become, indeed, the archetype of Europe’s new border guard states, the model for what will no doubt become a ring of authoritarian states bordering the continent’s southern and eastern fringes, whose rulers will be lavishly bribed to keep migrants and refugees from landing on European shores, a relationship somewhere between clients and blackmailers.”   

Where know-all western pundits and Turkish Islamists agree that secularism is historical and cultural anathema to Turkey, republican institutions and the secularist social base proved themselves to be unexpectedly resilient under constant attack. There is no room for any real democracy for Islamism: it’s an either-or situation. For the AKP, the ship to become a Muslim Democrat movement modeled on European and Latin American Christian Democrats since long sailed away. The last consequence is that with the climate change worsening, forced immigration and environmental damage will create enormous stress for the already fledgling Turkish democracy. The EU proved its short-sightedness. Women’s National Volleyball Team and gold medallist archer Mete Gazoz on the other hand, provide a rare glimmer of hope for the future.  

September 13, 2021 The new cold war