While Turkey burned

When it comes to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it looks as though it has made little impact on Turkey’s leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Not only has Turkey not ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change, but President Erdoğan has chosen to make political capital out of the wildfires that have devastated Turkey rather than address the underlying issues.

The IPCC has stated that greenhouse gas concentrations since around 1750 are unequivocally caused by human actvities and that each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850. Moreover, that human-induced climate change is the main driver of extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones.

In Turkey this is not only borne out not only by the wildfires, but also the heavy rainfall and catastrophic floods in the Black Sea regions. The report concludes that many changes due to past and future greenhouse emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.

In what U.N. Secretary-General calls “a code red for humanity”, the report also concludes that global warming of 1.50C and 2.00C will be exceeded unless deep reductions in C02and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.

António Guterres said that if we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe.     

It was clear that with the onset of the wildfires Turkey was ill equipped to deal with the situation. The Turkish Aeronautical Association’s six firefighting planes were in need of repair, which President Erdoğan in a TV interview blamed on “a CHP mentality” with reference to Turkey’s main opposition party. Instead, Turkey relied on airsupport from Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Spain and Croatia.   

Both Erdoğan and his Agriculture and Forestry Minister, Bekir Pakdemirli, have blamed CHP-run municipalities in the disaster areas for the inadequate response, but the blame game has been extended to “terrorist organizations”and more specifically the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Vigilantes have started to search for arsonists and Cihat Yaycı, the architect of Turkey’s “Blue Homeland” doctrine, has even gone so far as to claim “the state is facing Greek-PKK terror”.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has, in contrast, apologized for the government’s failures in its response to the wildfires which have also ravaged Greece. The chief heat officer of Athens, Eleni Myrivili, has gone one step further and blamed “the criminal lack of preparedness”by the world’s political leaders for the extreme heat and warned, “this summer is only the beginning”.

According to Yıldıray Oğur, columnist for Karar daily, “There is no bipartisan position left in Turkey”,which is broadly true. Yet Meral Akşener, leader of opposition Good Party (İYİP), who is in the running as Turkey’s next president, has called for unity and solidarity in the face of the disaster.

Oğur also has a point when he claims “the truth is an orphan in a polarised society”. Ankara has cracked down on the critical response in the social media to its handling of the crisis, and Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) has threatened to punish TV stations for their coverage of the wildfires and the floods.

This presages an even greater crackdown planned for October, when the government intends to penalize spreading fake news on social media with up to five years’ imprisonment and up to two years for online insults. The government also plans to establish a Social Media Directorate to monitor online comments.

The Turkish sage Nasrettin Hoca once told about what happened when he visited a village one cold winter’s day. He was attacked by dogs but couldn’t lift the frozen stones to defend himself.

He exclaimed, “What kind of country is this, where they tie down the stones but let the dogs loose?” 

The U.S. State Department has just issued a travel advisory for Turkey: “Do not travel to Turkey due to Covid-19. Exercise increased caution when traveling to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions.”

“Security forces have detained tens of thousands of individuals, including U.S. citizens, for alleged affiliations with terrorist organizations based on scant or secret evidence and grounds that appear to be politically motivated. U.S. citizens have also been subject to travel bans that prevent them from departing Turkey. Participation in demonstrations not explicitly approved by the Government of Turkey, as well as criticism of the government (including on social media) can result in arrest,” the advisory says.

For these reasons, Turkey’s tourist industry is now primarily dependent on visitors from Russia and the Middle East. Which is a pity, for Turkey is renowned for its hospitality and culture. But the mood in Turkey is grim. The Turkish people have suffered under the privations of the Covid-19 pandemic, the collapse of the economy as well as the summer’s wildfires and floods. 

Ahval News in an editorial titled “Turkey’s wildfires expose chaos, despair and rage” warned that “Drop by drop, the fury against Erdoğan’s rule is accumulating”.

Metin Gürcan, a geopolitical analyst, who is also a founding member of Ali Babacan's opposition party, DEVA, believes that the public outcry has reached an existentially threatening level for President Erdoğan’s government.

Whatever the forecast, one thing is certain: In Turkey, a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.  

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.