From a natural disaster to a political catastrophe
HAKAN MERTCAN & HEVAL BOZBAY- The conscience of humanity is racked with pain and anger as a result of the earthquakes and the subsequent events that occurred in Turkey and Syria on February 6, 2023. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives, hundreds of thousands are injured, animals died, cultural property was lost. People in the earthquake zones are facing political pressure and manipulation as though the fundamental needs of food, shelter, and healthcare, unmet despite weeks having passed, were not enough. A bitter cry rises from the areas hit by the earthquake: “Where is the state? The state is not here!” Whether the state was truly absent or whether it demonstrated its presence in a matter suited to its character by keeping away is a debate on state theory that is not conducive to the purposes of this writing, but it will suffice to emphasize a few points here. The public’s exclamations of “where is the state” is a cry of rebellion against the fact that the state’s presence in the form of a “merciful” hand is nowhere to be seen — even in a context that would lend it legitimacy — and that the earthquake was turned into a massacre.
According to the “immutable” articles of the current constitution, the Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular, and social state with the rule of law. The expression “where is the state” is a cry that results from large segments of society bitterly coming to know that not a shred of these qualities remains. Communities that fall outside the dominant “Turkish-Sunni Muslim” identity are no strangers to the brutal and terrifying body of the state looming before them, or to its “there, but not really there” role akin to the fire brigade standing by and watching the flames. Without dragging out the topic of the nature of the state any further, at the very least, the following can be determined: The state, which was notably incapable in its delivery of aid to earthquake victims, has practically mobilized to prevent social solidarity and society from healing its own wounds through civil initiatives and organization. Furthermore, it is clear that the declared State of Emergency aims to save not the people who suffered a catastrophe, but the sovereigns themselves and their rule from a political earthquake.
The most concerning issues in the earthquake zone relate to shelter, food, and healthcare needs. It is no secret that survivors’ needs for tents, container homes, and similar places of shelter are still not being sufficiently met by the relevant institutions of the state. Tens of thousands of survivors without access to the requisite shelter were left with no choice but to reenter their damaged buildings. These conditions have led to more loss of life and victimization, especially after the February 20 earthquakes in Antakya (Samandag and Defne). Attempts to provide the urgent humanitarian aid were met by a myriad of roadblocks as a result of the state’s political machinations and ideological position, not to mention the Red Crescent’s scandal of selling tents to charities where it should have been distributing them to survivors.
Not only the aid sent domestically to the earthquake zone, but also that sent by civil society across European countries were seized by authorities on the pretext of coordinating the aid.* On top of that, the work of civil initiatives formed by society in order to foster solidarity and alleviate suffering is being blocked through arrests, the appointment of government trustees, etc. In the many meetings and solidarity programs that we attended, we saw that concern that the aid sent from abroad would not be delivered to the intended addresses caused a decrease in the contributions.
Reliable sources, social media posts, and earthquake survivors in the devastated regions all report that state officials carry out discriminatory policies even in the context of this humanitarian disaster. Serious reports contend that search and rescue teams were not dispatched for days and aid was not distributed adequately and fairly to areas densely populated by Kurds, Arabs, Alevis or to neighborhoods perceived to be in opposition to the ruling administration.** Every crime against humanity is a crime committed against us all regardless of language, religion, sect, ethnicity, etc. In the face of the hate speech of the powerholders, their curses and threats that come in the form of "we’re taking note of you,” and their finger-wagging, the obligation of greater humanity is to record these crimes and hold those responsible accountable.
Another cause for concern from the earthquake zone is the children left without guardians. In addition to anxieties regarding the organ mafia which is after these children, there are serious allegations that state officials have been handing over children whose parents have died, who have been separated from their guardians, or whose identities are unknown to religious organizations and sects. It is clear that awareness and a search for the truth in the face of all these allegations is a basic responsibility for all democratic persons, institutions, and human rights advocates.
Within the area the earthquake occurred, there are regions mostly populated by Kurds, Arabs and Alevis. It is no secret that the Turk-Islamic ideology and political power have been carrying out pogroms, massacres, assimilationist practices, and other policies in these regions for a long time in the efforts of demographic restructuring. It is unacceptable that this earthquake is considered an opportunity by the ruling powers rulers to change the demographic structure of the region. It is absolutely necessary for plausible plans to be made to facilitate the return of the people of the region, who have been forced to migrate to other places, to their ancestral lands in which they have lived for centuries. We believe that the fact that the opposition, in the broadest sense, starts to form anti-capitalist, alternative, and collective, that is, social life possibilities from these ruins, and puts this issue at the center of its agenda gives hope and strength not only to the earthquake victims, but also to humanity itself.
Lastly, although the earthquake has become identified with Turkey, many regions of Syria are among the places affected by the disaster. The peoples of Syria, who have been struggling with the pains of war and international embargoes for more than 10 years, have experienced another great calamity with this earthquake. The people there have practically been abandoned to their fate. The international community and responsible organizations must stop turning a blind eye to the suffering of the Syrian people. With the pressure created by the tragedy, the temporary easing of the sanctions against Syria by the US and the European Union are but measly attempts to ease the conscience of the public. We would like to conclude the article by emphasizing that permanent removal of all obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian aid to all regions of Syria stands as an urgent humanitarian responsibility for the authorities.
** See further examples here: call from the Alevi community ; discrimination in aid distribution to Alevi villages ; HDP member alleges discrimination ; discrimination against Kurd-Alevi people ; the Palace regime abandoned its people ; citizen wishes he had not voted for the administration ; Twitter thread by hasansvri