Ecologist Beyza Üstün: The fires in Turkey persistently not extinguished

The inadequate firefighting in Turkey is leading to fierce criticism of the government. Plans are already in place for the future use of the burned forest areas. Ecologist Beyza Üstün says the fires were not persistently extinguished.

In the Mediterranean region of Turkey, forests have been raging for 13 days. Thousands of hectares have burned to ashes, and countless creatures have died. To fight the fires, numerous volunteers have traveled to the affected regions. One of them is the ecologist Beyza Üstün, an HDP politician who was charged in the so-called "Kobanê trial" and was only released from pre-trial detention at the end of June. She has been traveling between Datça and Marmaris for days and spoke to ANF about the current situation.

Üstün said that the fires in Köyceğiz, Yatağan and Milas around Marmaris and Muğla in the Aegean Sea continue. Several fires near Marmaris were extinguished by firefighters and volunteers. In the region where she is staying, ash from the fires in Bodrum is raining down. "In Datça, it is pitch black because of the ash and smoke. Everyone here is active. Some are helping to extinguish the fires, while others are taking care of the necessary supplies for the helpers. I myself was not in the fire area, but only brought supplies there."

For eight days, no helicopters were used to fight the fire, reported Beyza Üstün. After that, helicopters arrived sporadically. However, they did not take care of the forests, but of the hotels in Marmaris-Içmeler. The ecologist pointed out that helicopters are more important than airplanes. "In Marmaris, hotels were the first place where helicopters were used. Only now helicopters come from time to time. We have not seen the planes rented from Russia, Croatia and Spain here. As it is said, they should have landed at Dalaman airport, but we have not noticed that they have been here. It is mainly the municipalities that have become active. Firefighting teams from all provinces have been sent to the fire areas and are doing an incredible job.”

Beyza Üstün pointed out that mining licenses had been issued for several areas affected by the fires before the fire disaster. In addition, she said, it has been openly announced that the state housing company TOKI will build houses on the burned areas. The AKP mayor of Gündoğmuş had even said, "TOKI will build houses. The owners of old houses will wish that their buildings had burned down as well." Üstün therefore sees both an ecological and political background to the fire disaster:

"Ecologically, there is extreme heat and strong winds. This leads to more fires anyway. The fire may have been started by the heat and related to it, for example, by a discarded cigarette butt, but the important thing was, above all, to intervene immediately, and this did not happen. The fires have been extinguished with great effort by the local population, the volunteers who traveled, and the local fire departments. At the moment, fires continue to rage in Çine and Köyceğiz, with one fire spreading toward the Aliağa Power Plant. The fire in Manavgat has most recently spread in the direction of Antalya. But fires have also broken out in Dersim and Lice. There are also political reasons for this. What we observe, above all, is that measures were not taken immediately. There should have been helicopters in the fire areas. The forestry administration should have had enough helicopters, because firefighters cannot do anything in the higher areas. This measure was taken very late. On July 28, when the fires started, an instruction was published that the development of the riparian and forest areas becomes the competence of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Before that, mining licenses had been issued for the current fire areas. The fact that the affected area has been declared a mining area and this instruction has been published, and at the same time no firefighting helicopters have been deployed, gives us the impression of a political intervention here. I am not saying that the forests were deliberately burned down, but it is at least clear that the fire was not persistently extinguished. No effort was made by the political power to fight the fire."

For years, Beyza Üstün has warned against the destruction of the ecological balance and demanded action. For this reason, she has experienced repression and has even been arrested. She is also now calling for an urgent directive for an ecological policy. She also believes that the government is not prepared for other natural disasters, such as earthquakes. The ecological struggle is a political struggle, she stressed: "The habitat must be protected and this is a political struggle. It's not enough to get together and form an association. Rather, it must be fought for in politics. We all have to stand up for it and protect our habitat from capitalism and fascist government."