North Cyprus, summer and fire

North Cyprus, summer and fire

Temperatures increased to well over seasonal averages. Some academics and meteorologists say we are living the hottest days of the past 75 years, some others claim this was the hottest of the past 130 or 140 years. What was the case in those past hottest years, I have no idea, but the current one that has suffocated us at a time when we are indoors due to the coronavirus is indeed terrible.

Yet, there is something far worse… North Cyprus was burning during the weekend. Unexpectedly high temperatures as well as the government and municipalities unable to clean dried grasses along the roads and empty lots because of COVID-19-related staff unavailability and funds must have been the most prominent factors of three major and several smaller fires on the weekend. To what extent was it the picnicking and barbequing habit of Turkish Cypriots factors to the fires? This might be a subject for heated debates for the weeks to come as neither climatic conditions will get better during the next four months, nor even with the COVID-19 threat will Turkish Cypriots give up picnicking unless the government confines people indoors.

It is all the same every year. The only difference now is it started in May. Why then have the Turkish Cypriot authorities so far could not develop a sufficient firefighting capability? It might sound odd to a foreigner, but three institutions in North Cyprus are directly linked to Turkey. One is the Security Forces Command, which is always headed by a one-star general from Turkey, who technically is a subordinate of the two-star general heading the Cyprus Turkish Peace Forces. Even though the Security Forces Command, an evolved continuation of the Turkish Cypriot Resistance Movement (TMT) is manned by all Turkish Cypriot civilian personnel, conscripts and officers, why it is always headed by a Turkish general remains a taboo question. Another is the police department, as well as the fire brigades of North Cyprus, that are affiliated to the Security Forces Command, which is headed by a Turkish general who is a subordinate of the commander of the Turkish forces on Cyprus.

While a Turkish general heading the Security Forces Command may be related to Turkey’s military presence and coordination, the Turkish Cypriot governments and political parties have failed to make amendments in the so-called Provisional Article 10 - due to the Turkish intervention and many constitutions - and bring an end to these key institutions in becoming the subordinates of the Security Forces Command headed by a Turkish general. Why can’t North Cyprus “civilianize” and “nationalize” these two key institutions? This question is one that — irrespective of political or ideological differences — most Turkish Cypriots agree on but somehow could not take action on so far.

The discussion, therefore, is not directly related to fires engulfing North Cyprus every summer, but rather it is a matter of to what degree Turkish Cypriots are a self-governing people.

Yet, like every year, the Turkish Cypriot prime minister and the foreign minister contacted whoever he managed to reach in Ankara and eventually got three helicopters to fight the fires that almost devastated a precious forest next to a dam. The dam is where water, which used to be brought from Turkey until five months ago, was collected before being distributed to Turkish Cypriot houses in this water-scarce country. The suspended pipeline was damaged by fishing boats and now it is being claimed that at least five million Turkish Liras would be spent to replace the broken pipes. The fire also affected the Cyprus campus of the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ).

If fire is a reality Turkish Cypriots must fight with every summer, why can’t the fire department directly affiliated to a general from Turkey ordain itself with sufficient capacity instead of each year the prime minister or the foreign minister having to call Ankara for a firefighter helicopter or plane to help it extinguish the fires