Militarism and corruption will compound the human costs of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria
In the early hours of 6 February, Turkey’s Kahramanmaraş province became the epicentre of a massive earthquake. The quake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale.
The cities of Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Hatay, Adiyaman, Osmaniye, Malatya, Sanliurfa, Adana, Kilis and Diyarbakir in Turkey were all affected. Across the border in Syria, the cities of Aleppo, Afrin, Hama and Latakia all saw buildings collapsing.
As of 8 February, at least 11,200 have died, including 8,574 in Turkey and 2,662 in Syria. The World Health Organisation warns the death toll could rise to a massive 20,000.
People are calling for a massive relief operation. A large part of the affected area is in the Kurdish region, and funds are being collected through Heyva Sor a Kurdistanê
Kurdish groups blame loss of life on AKP-MHP government
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared seven days of national mourning. However critics of the Turkish government have placed responsibility for the number of deaths on Erdoğan‘s authoritarian government. The co-presidency of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) – a body of the Kurdistan Freedom Movement which connects across all four parts of Kurdistan – wrote:
The reason why this earthquake has caused such great loss of life and material damage is the Turkish state and the ruling AKP-MHP government. After every earthquake, this government resorts to some token initiatives and tries to create the perception that it helps the people. These attempts are purely for the purpose of saving their own faces and covering up their crimes.
The statement continued:
The AKP-MHP government does not take any precautions against earthquakes, and spends all the resources and means of the country on its own cronies and the war against the Kurdish people.
Another Kurdish organisation, the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), blamed corruption for compounding the effects of the quake:
The effects of this devastating earthquake are compounded by pervasive corruption that has been institutionalized during two decades of rule by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Appointments to ministries, including the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, and other government bodies are determined by nepotism and loyalty to Erdogan and the AKP rather than merit, and construction projects, long touted by the Turkish state as symbolic of its success, are assigned to companies with close relations to the AKP.
Erdoğan‘s government has faced accusations of corruption in the construction industry for over a decade now. After the earthquake, many people have asked whether corruption in the industry has compromised peoples’ safety. News About Turkey, a news website founded by a group of Turkish academics who have been persecuted under Erdoğan, tweeted:
The newly built apartments, state hospitals, and municipal buildings collapsed too during the #earthquake due to the corruption and shoddy construction in #Erdogan's #Turkey. https://t.co/yV3sq7nih7 pic.twitter.com/UfNtQd72aO
— News About Turkey – NAT (@NewsAboutTurke1) February 7, 2023
One Turkish state official’s statement that public buildings collapsed because they were “old” has been the subject of anger and ridicule. Writer and academic Rosa Burç tweeted:
A Turkish state official about collapsing hospitals in a TV interview this morning: „well the buildings were already old”. The audacity though…who is responsible for the modernisation and earthquake safety of public buildings such as hospitals if not the state? https://t.co/gaa0npRqcd
— Rosa Burç (@rosaburc) February 6, 2023
And lawyer Samira Ghaderi pointed out the deep seated racism inherent in the fact that the Kurdish areas have been left without earthquake protection:
In a world where HUMANITY actually mattered, #Turkey would’ve invested in #earthquake resistant construction in #Kurdish areas, but alas—the death of 1000s of Kurds is a gift 2the Turkish govt & nationalists who have made it their life mission to eradicate the Kurdish population pic.twitter.com/CFodWAFd6p
— Samira Ghaderi (@Samira_Ghaderi) February 6, 2023
Disaster in North Syria compounded by Turkey’s occupation
Across the border in Syria, years of occupation by Turkish proxies has already decimated infrastructure. This means that responding to the earthquake recovery will be more difficult.
In Afrin, its difficult to count how many died. We know that more than 50 were reported dead in the early hours of 6 February. Hospitals are overflowing, and many people in Afrin have been trapped under the rubble of their homes.
The catastrophic impacts of the earthquake for people in Afrin will certainly be made worse by the effects of the five year long occupation of the region by the Turkish state backed Syrian National Army (SNA).
Turkey invaded in 2018, aiming to crush the revolution – based on principles of direct democracy, ecology and women’s freedom – that was taking place across Northern Syria.
Since 2018, the SNA and associated gangs have plundered the resources of Afrin. Agriculture – which 70% of people depend on – is in a bad way. The Turkish state has a tight grip on the provision of basic services, including health. These services have been in a desperate state since the occupation begun.
In other parts of northwestern Syria, the devastation of the earthquake will be exacerbated by the effects of war too. Al Monitor pointed out that most of the residents of the northwest “found refuge in the area after fleeing the bombing in their hometowns during the war”. According to the United Nations, 2.9 million people in the region have been displaced already, and 1.8 million live in camps.
On the streets of Aleppo, North Press Agency reported that residents slept outside their houses, for fear of an aftershock. At least 161 people are reported to have died in Aleppo and the surrounding area.
And Turkish bombing continued despite the earthquake
Turkish bombing and attacks on Northern Syria continued on 7 January, in spite of the earthquake. Turkish forces reportedly fired shells which destroyed homes in Tel Rifaat, which lies between Aleppo and Afrin. The bombing provoked an angry response on Twitter:
As of now, #Turkey is bombing the Tel Rifat district of #Rojava. Tel Rıfat, who suffered an earthquake, was bombarded before he could remove the debris. #deprem #PrayforSyria #Pray4Kurdistan https://t.co/GMMor1px3N
— Hekim Çeken ☀️🇪🇺 (@H21K63M47CKN) February 7, 2023
The Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) explained that Tel Rifaat had already been badly hit by the earthquake, before Turkish forces began shelling:
🚨 Til Rifat, one of the places hit by the #earthquake, was being shelled by Turkish artillery
➡️ The earthquake caused buildings to collapse & forced people to stay outside
➡️ Shortly after the earthquake #Turkey & its allied mercenaries shelled the area with heavy weapons
— YPJ Information (@YPJ_Info) February 7, 2023
One UK veteran of the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) tweeted:
I wish I could say I'm shocked that the Turkish army is continuing to shell Tel Rıfat even during the earthquake. No amount of Kurdish suffering will satisfy their bloodlust.
— Charlie the Fox (@SabCharlie) February 7, 2023
If anything, this earthquake increases the risk of military action. Erdoğan needs to distract his electoral base from the disaster (and probably his disastrous response), and nothing will do that quite like another war.
— Charlie the Fox (@SabCharlie) February 7, 2023
The state fails the people
It seems like the Turkish state has all the money in the world when it comes to its military policy. But people are already complaining about its relief efforts. Across the border in Hatay, people responded angrily after the Turkish Disaster Relief Agency reportedly failed to help them:
I am so angry. There are no rescue teams from the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management in Hatay. People are trying to dig out loved ones trapped under rubble. It is cold, raining, no electricity. One family member is trapped under a heavy concrete slab, waiting for rescue +
— Gönül Tol (@gonultol) February 6, 2023
The Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (#AFAD) is reportedly absent in quake-hit cities, leaving many residents using only their bare hands to extricate their family members from the rubble. The process following the earthquake was/is being managed very poorly.
— Dr JanrojYilmazKeles (@Janroj) February 7, 2023
We can’t expect Erdoğan and the Turkish state to help the thousands of people affected by Monday’s earthquake. The people of Turkey and Syria need our help to recover from this disaster. One way that you can support the disaster relief efforts is by donating to Heyva Sor a Kurdistanê. You can make a contribution here.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/ Voice of America, public domain, resized to 770*403
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