Turkish government bashed for weak efforts to extinguish forest fires

The Turkish government has come under fire for a weak response to the massive forest fires scorching through the country's Mediterranean and Agean coasts. Reports said that the state has allocated only three planes to extinguish the disastrous flames while the ruling AKP is often known for its extravagant spending. Journalist Murat Ağırel said that three of the planes were leased from Russia for a payment of 1.3 million liras per day.

Duvar English

The Turkish government has been bashed for its weak response to the forest fires scorching through the south of the country that claimed the lives of at least three people and countless animals while also dislocating thousands of residents. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was at the site of the criticism on July 29 when he was confronted by a citizen who asked why the government wasn't sending planes to help extinguish the flames. 

"We had three planes. All three were here...." Çavuşoğlu said, which was immediately met with protest, as citizens said that planes were laying around idly in the hangars of the Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK). 

The minister tried to convince locals who protested the seemingly weak efforts that the state was doing everything it could, while social media users seemed to be in agreement that Ankara was not working effectively against the disaster. 

"Thirteen planes at the [presidential] palace, eight planes go to Turkish Cyprus, three planes for three ministers to visit the Rize flooding disaster. Only one extinguishing plane for Manavgat where the mountains, trees, birds, homes, lives, humans have been burning for two days!" said actor Orhan Aydın in a tweet on July 29.

Journalist Murat Ağırel said that only three firefighting planes have been battling the flames, and gave the numbers of firefighting planes in other Mediterranean countries.

"20 in Greece, 26 in France, 17 in Spain and 19 in Italy," Ağırel wrote. 

"Turkey: Three rental planes," Ağırel said, referring to the fact that Turkey's fire planes are Russian-made Beriev Be-200s that were sent to Turkey.

Ağırel further noted that Turkey will pay Russia 1.3 million Turkish Liras per day for three of the planes.

The Russian embassy in Ankara confirmed in a tweet on July 29 that it had leased the planes as part of efforts to combat the flames.

Aviation board's trustee attends wedding during massive fires

Meanwhile, Muğla Mayor Osman Gürün said on July 29 that he had called the THK to send another rental plane, but was told that the entire staff had left the office at 3.30 p.m.

The appointed chair of the THK board, Cenap Aşçı said that he had been unavailable on July 29 because he had to attend the wedding of a family friend whom he had watched grow up. 

"I am not the general director of this institution," Aşçı said, adding that the institution was grappling with debts. 

He said that there was a need of 4 million liras worth of investment to get idles planes sitting in the THK hangars running. 

"In 2019, a management crisis [in THK] had occurred, and the financial crisis came to an exorbitant level. I have been assigned here as part of the trustee committee in line with the laws. The institution owes debts to banks in an amount of 1.5 billion liras. We have restructured our debts," Aşçı said. 

Meanwhile, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said that the government did not have a problematic relationship with the THK, adding that the only reason their planes weren't employed was because the vehicles were not in any shape to fly or to work effectively to extinguish the flames. 

Pakdemirli said that the ministry itself does not own any firefighting aircraft and that instead, it uses the planes of the THK. 

"In our inventory, we do not have any firefighting plane or helicopter. This has always been the case. We have launched works for the purchase of planes to the inventory with the instruction of our President. The supplier of the current planes is the THK," Pakdemirli said. 

Gazete Duvar columnist Bahadır Özgür said that the THK has been in a downward financial spiral for a long time, saying: "The THK which has been watching when the lungs of this county are burning, did not come to this point in a few years. As in many institutions, its properties, budget and opportunities are being plundered for years." 

Meanwhile, Minister Pakdemirli refuted contemplation that the forest fires were the result of arson geared towards clearing up space on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, prime tourism real estate.