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Fighting Insurgency, Ruining the Environment in the Dersim Province of Turkey

Published Open Access in the journal Human Ecology. The article is authored by Pinar Dinc, Lina Eklundh, Aiman Shahpurwala, Ali Mansourian, August Aturinde and Petter Pilesjö

Environmental destruction has long been used as a military strategy in times of conflict. A long-term example of environmental destruction in a conflict zone can be found in Dersim/Tunceli province, located in Eastern Turkey. In the last century, at least two military operations negatively impacted Dersim’s population and environment: 1937–38 and 1993–94. Both conflict and environmental destruction in the region continued after the 1990s. Particularly after July 2015, when the brief peace process that began in 2013 ended, conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) resumed and questions arose about the cause of forest fires in Dersim. In this research we investigate whether there is a relationship between conflict and forest fires in Dersim. This is denied by the Turkish state but asserted by many Dersim residents, civil society groups, and political parties. We use a multi-disciplinary approach, combining methods of qualitative analysis of print media (newspapers), social media (Twitter), and local accounts, together with quantitative methods: remote sensing and spatial analysis. Interdisciplinary analysis combining quantitative datasets with in-depth, qualitative data allows a better understanding of the role of conflict in potentially exacerbating the frequency and severity of forest fires. Although we cannot determine the cause of the fires, the results of our statistical analysis suggest a significant relationship between fires and conflict in Dersim, indicating that the incidence of conflicts is generally correlated with the number of fires.

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