Europe

Monumental Olive Trees in Cyprus Destroyed by Wildfires

Wildfires ravaged northern Cyprus last weekend, destroying tens of thousands of acres of crops and forest. Olive growers and oil producers, already struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, are facing additional challenges in the aftermath of the blaze.

Hakan Temizyurek,
May. 20, 2020
By Julie Al-Zoubi
Hakan Temizyurek,

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Around 5,000 hectares (12,400 acres) of farm­land and forests were destroyed by wild­fires, which swept across north­ern Cyprus last Sun­day, wip­ing out around 90 per­cent of the regions 2,000 mon­u­men­tal olive trees.

The mon­u­men­tal olive trees of Kalkanli, in north­west­ern Cyprus, had Euro­pean Union pro­tected sta­tus and were renowned for their size and stature. The old­est trees had dot­ted the land­scape for more than 800 years and a fur­ther 400 trees had a 500-year his­tory.

We need to act very quickly to find the best way to pro­tect our for­est and nature with new tech­nol­ogy.- Hakan Tem­izyurek, direc­tor of Tem­p­los Olive Oil

As a Cypriot and an olive grower, I was dev­as­tated to see these ancient olive trees burnt down,” Hakan Tem­izyurek, the direc­tor of Tem­p­los Olive Oil, an award-win­ning pro­ducer from the region, told Olive Oil Times.

Temizyurek’s sen­ti­ments were echoed by the deputy com­mu­nity leader of Kor­ma­cit, Valenti­nos Koumet­tou, who told CyBC radio, the extent of the destruc­tion is unbe­liev­able,” and added, the sit­u­a­tion is depress­ing, most tragic.”

See more: Nat­ural Dis­as­ter Updates
Roughly 12,400 acres of crops and for­est were burned in the wild­fires. (Photo Haken Tem­izyurek)

Tem­izyurek told Olive Oil Times that the imme­di­ate pri­or­ity was to cre­ate a plan for clean­ing the charred area and to begin plant­ing new trees, includ­ing olive saplings.

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We need to act very quickly to find the best way to pro­tect our for­est and nature with new tech­nol­ogy,” he said. Also, we need to arrange to rent a fire heli­copter or plane dur­ing the hot sum­mer months.”

The weekend’s fires dealt a fur­ther blow to the region’s farm­ers, many of whom had been unable to access their land or har­vest their crops since cross­ing restric­tions were imposed on the island’s buffer zone, in March.

This attempt to pre­vent the spread of COVID-19 has forced many farm­ers to pay labor­ers to har­vest their ripened crops.

Police and the forestry depart­ment have begun an inves­ti­ga­tion into the cause of the two sep­a­rate fires, which simul­ta­ne­ously swept across the land­scape. Ini­tially, a dis­carded cig­a­rette butt was blamed for spark­ing one of the fires while the sec­ond blaze, which began in the mil­i­tary zone of Dio­r­ios, was believed to have been caused by an elec­tri­cal fault.

A man was later arrested for attempt­ing to start a third fire and is under sus­pi­cion of start­ing the ear­lier blazes.

Although the Turk­ish and Greek mil­i­tary put aside past hos­til­i­ties and ral­lied to fight the flames engulf­ing the Maronite vil­lage of Kor­ma­cit, their efforts largely failed to save either crops or olive trees. How­ever, Cyprus’ pres­i­dent, Nicos Anas­tasi­ades was hailed for his rapid response to the Turk­ish Cypri­ots call for help.

The Turk­ish news­pa­per, Hur­riyet Daily News reported that three mil­i­tary heli­copters were sent from Ankara to assist two Greek Cypriot air crafts in tack­ling the fires and Turk­ish author­i­ties pledged sup­port for the Turk­ish Cypriot’s Agri­cul­ture and Forestry Min­istry.

Olive grow­ers and oil pro­duc­ers from both side of the divided island have been impacted by the fires.

Maronite com­mu­nity lead­ers have called for state assis­tance for the Kor­ma­cit farm­ers fac­ing finan­cial hard­ship after los­ing their homes, crops and inher­ited olive trees. The vil­lage’s 200 res­i­dents are pre­dom­i­nantly farm­ers and the com­mu­nity is made up of 56 res­i­dents who have remained in the vil­lage since 1974 (when the de facto divid­ing of Cyprus occurred after the Turk­ish inva­sion), plus 150 more recent set­tlers.

A num­ber of the mon­u­men­tal olive trees had been given names such as Athena (queen) and Afrodit (king). Unfor­tu­nately, Afrodit was destroyed by the blaze, but Athena sur­vived the flames.

In 2014, Olive Oil Times reported on an ini­tia­tive in which Greek and Turk­ish Cypriot olive oil pro­duc­ers hoped to reunite the divided island with their shared pas­sion for olive oil. Both sides col­lab­o­rated in an olive oil fes­ti­val named Let’s grow together”.

This aimed to bring the com­mu­ni­ties together and help them to solve com­mon prob­lems. Cop­ing with the after­math of the wild­fires is the newest chal­lenge fac­ing both sides of the divide.





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