Armed groups set up checkpoints in Antalya amid rumors that wildfires were caused by arson

Photo credit: Gazete Davul

Armed groups set up checkpoints in different parts of Antalya province amid rumors that wildfires ravaging the region were started by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkish media reported.

According to the Gazete Karınca news website, the groups demand to see identity cards and check the license plates of the cars to try to determine if the driver and the passengers are from a Kurdish-majority city. In one case a group attacked a car thinking the license plate was from Diyarbakır in the Southeast but stopped after they realized that the license plate was from western Denizli province.

In a series of tweets Şükrü Sözen, the major of Antalya’s Manavgat district, said some groups do ID checks, stop traffic and are involved in unlawful acts such as firing into the air to purportedly try to find “suspected arsonists” based on unsubstantiated information.

Sözen warned the locals against provocations, saying, “We need to control our emotions in this time of hardship and show unity.”

Rumors of arson started on social media as wildfires started in many different locations. Pro-government media and pundits also helped spread the claims. In a news report on Sunday, Daily Sabah said, “Turkey continues to suspect the fires may be linked to arson by the terrorist group PKK, whose affiliate threatened arson attacks Sunday.”

The claims were based on different social media posts including a tweet by a group called “children of fire” (ateşin çocukları) and a widely circulated video in which a masked man reads a statement saying they will take revenge for military operations against the PKK by “setting the cities, houses, businesses and cars of the fascists on fire.”

But the fact-checking website teyit.org refuted the claims that the video was related to the current wildfires, saying based on their research it was first shared in 2019.

Former mayor of Ankara Melih Gökçek also shared a provocative video on Twitter supposedly showing a drone setting a forested area on fire.

He later deleted the tweet after the national police made a statement saying the video was taken from a foreign movie film.

Law enforcement forces tried to calm people in the face of widespread misinformation. In a widely circulated video, a gendarmerie officer was seen warning a group of people about provocations saying, “Those WhatsApp groups that you are members of keep sharing wrong license plate numbers to create enmity between people. You will then stop such a car and lynch them and get into trouble. Do not trust such information.”

According to the officer there have been constant rumors of petrol bombs being used. “There is no such thing,” he said. “Those who were detained were also released because they were innocent. Many vehicles were damaged. … We keep getting calls about people carrying backpacks. This is a touristic area full of pedestrians.”

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