Forest fires raging in Dersim for weeks have only made it onto the agenda in the last week after increasing public pressure. State officials have not only remained indifferent to the fires, they have actually prevented people who wanted to fight them from doing so.
A special report by Medya Haber TV emphasises that it is not the first time there have been forest fires in Dersim, and there have been reports in the past of fires deliberately started by the military in the region.
While it is a part of state policy to gain control in areas where there is guerilla activity, the state also aims to force out locals through the destruction of their means of living, namely forestry and animal husbandry.
In a video, reportedly posted on social media in 2017, Turkish soldiers at the Amutka military post are heard boasting about starting a fire in the forest by shooting off rounds of ammunition.
“This is the last hill we set on fire… We fired 150 rounds with the heavy machine gun… 400 PK rounds … We fired six rounds with the cannon,” the soldiers are heard saying.
The Medya Haber report points out, however, that the Dersim fires might not be linked solely to military objectives.
It draws attention to survey reports on mineral ores in the region, prepared by national and international companies, and government contracts granted for areas declared mining zones.
“These are clues as to why the Turkish state might want to start fires in the region with motives other than the military one,” it says.
2009 reports by the Turkish company, Anadolu Madencilik, and the international mining consultant, Watts, Griffis and McOuat, prepared under the surveillance of Dr. Robert H. Page, reveal commercial interests possibly providing clues to the forest fires in Dersim.
Almost all of the forest fires in Northern Kurdistan, especially those in Dersim within the last five years, have occured in areas indicated in reports as drilling fields where rich sources of ore have been discovered.
It does not appear to be coincidental that twice in 2009 a survey team under the supervision of Dr. Robert H. Page visited Cevizlidere, the location of the most recent forest fire in Dersim, and obtained soil samples by drilling.
Page 23 of the aforementioned report provides a detailed map of the areas of interest. The area labelled ‘the Cevizlidere Project’ and marked with red dots is the same area in which forest fires have been raging for two weeks; an area where firefighting is carried out only by volunteers.
A wider area, borders of which have been highlighted in black, has 26 drilling fields marked.
The state has been gradually burning the forests in this region. While it was initially the forests around the Ali mountain pass that were burned, the targeted areas gradually expanded towards Cevizli through the Kozluca region.
Then they stretched further north towards Kâhperi and Bilgeç, through the Tanzi region.
It is the giant holdings that are fed profitable projects by the government; holdings also known as ‘the Gang of Five’, including Cengiz Holding and Limak.
Almost all mining fields indicated in the survey reports have been marketed to international mining conglomerates by the Gang of Five.