Efforts are continuing to extinguish dozens of forest fires that started in Antalya’s Manavgat district on 28 July and have broken out in 26 different places in Turkey. A total of five people are known to have died in the fires within the last week, including four in Antalya and one in the Marmaris district of Muğla. Thousands of animals have also died, and forest, agricultural land and market garden areas in the region have turned to ash. Some villages and other settlements have also been evacuated.
The fire in Manavgat quickly grew fierce in the strong wind and spread to a wide area, affecting an area of 60 square kilometers, within which 1,200 hectares of woodland were reduced to ashes.
As efforts to extinguish the flames continued, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) co-Chair for Manavgat district Yüksel Şahin warned about possible provocations against Kurdish people living in regions where forest fires are raging.
When the fires first broke out in the region, various comments were made in social media claiming that Kurds had started them. Despite the fact that the Ministry of Interior has made a statement that there has been no sabotage, nevertheless Kurds are being accused of setting the forests on fire, and have become targets.
However, Yüksel Şahin believes that this is nothing new in the region.
“As for the region we are in, nationalist and fascistic tendencies make themselves felt here. Whenever there is the slightest problem, the guilty party is clear, it’s always the Kurds that did it.”
Şahin also states that there is an organised group deliberately trying to provoke people against Kurds.
“There is a group that gets worked up like this. They create provocation from time to time to keep this group active. After the fire broke out they started the gossip… “Oh, the Kurds are burning our forests.”
Şahin tells Mezopotamya Agency (MA) that these groups see themselves as state officials and regularly do things like patrolling the streets and asking to see ID cards. He warns the Kurdish community living in the region to be especially careful these days.
“Do not go out to those places without one of the local people with you, even if it is to help put out the fire, do not go alone”
Şahin is right to be alert to the situation. A group of men attempted to lynch two people, accusing them of setting the forest on fire on 30 July. The two young men were attacked on the edge of Hocalı neighborhood, and their vehicle was set on fire by the group, but later it transpired that they had been heading to the region to help out.
Şahin thinks that there might be further provocations.
“I think they have chosen Manavgat, where Turks, Kurds, and Alevis live closely together, as ripe for provocation, because they always try out the provocation here and then they bring it alive in other parts of Turkey.”
On 1 August, after Şahin’s interview, MA reported that racist groups are attacking Kurdish people following the forest fires in Manavgat.
Certain racist groups have set up roadblocks in some places, searching for Kurds. In more rural neighbourhoods of the city, racist groups have attacked people they thought were Kurds.
The mayor of Manavgat Şükrü Sözen has confirmed this. Sözen announced yesterday that certain groups are checking roads in the region and terrorising people by firing guns in the air.
Bu şahıslar “kundakçı, şüpheli” yakalama teşebbüsüyle asılsız ihbarlardan yola çıkarak, sokaklarda kimlik kontrolü, yol kesme ve masum vatandaşları korkutacak derecede havaya ateş etme gibi eylemler gerçekleştirerek yaşadığımız bu süreci daha da zorlaştırmaktadır.
— Şükrü Sözen (@sukru_sozen) July 31, 2021
Some images of the roadblocks and scenes of attacks by racist groups have also been shared in social media. Footage of an attack last night shows a racist group chasing a man with guns and clubs.