Turkish state weaponises earthquake disaster against Kurds

February 22, 2023
HDP relief centre
Turkish officials, accompanied by security forces, took over the Hasankoca village Crisis Coordination Center on February 15, established by the People's Democractic Party. Image: hdpeurope.eu

The dictatorial regime led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is weaponising the triple earthquake disaster in south-eastern Turkey (north Kurdistan/Bakur) and north-eastern Syria (east Kurdistan/Rojava) against the Kurdish population by delaying and minimising state emergency responses, obstructing Kurdish community-organised aid relief and using the state of emergency to terrorise Kurds into leaving the affected areas.

“Erdoğan sees this terrible disaster that has killed nearly 50,000 of our people and made millions homeless as an opportunity to step up the ethnic cleansing of Kurds from this area along the Turkey-Syria border,” Ismet Tashtan, co-chair of the Democratic Kurdish Community Centre (NSW), told Green Left.

“It has been Turkish policy since 1923 to displace the Kurdish majority to create a so-called ‘buffer zone’.

“Since Turkish-backed Jihadi terrorist militia groups occupied Afrin in Rojava in 2018, about 300,000 Kurds were expelled and hundreds of thousands of Jihadi militia supporters were settled in Afrin. As a result, the Kurdish share of the population fell from 97% to less than 35%.

“That was before the recent earthquake disaster. At least 1000 people in Jindires, a town in the Afrin district, died as a result of the earthquakes and thousands more were injured. About 5000 families are said to have become homeless.

“About 30,000 Kurds were living in Jindires but now the government of the Gulf emirate Qatar wants to support Turkey's ethnic cleansing of Afrin by building a new town for Arab refugees called 'Madinat Al Karama' on its ruins.

“A Qatari diplomat announced this plan after entering occupied Afrin through the Hamam (Hatayhamami) border crossing. But Kurdish-raised emergency earthquake aid to Afrin has been blocked at this border crossing for two weeks.

“Only members of the Turkish occupying power, weapons and ammunition are allowed to pass, but not relief supplies for the suffering Kurdish population, according to Dr Kamal Sido from the Society for Threatened Peoples, an aid and human rights group based in Göttingen, Germany.

“Syrian Arab families that support the Jihadi militias will be settled in this new town to accelerate this genocidal ethnic cleansing campaign against the Kurds.”

There are reports of similar moves in the worst-hit areas in Turkey as well, Tashtan added.

“The Erdoğan regime is using the state of emergency to arrest and beat up Kurdish volunteer relief workers and confiscate aid supplies that have been contributed by Kurdish communities around the world. They are trying to frighten Kurdish people into leaving their hometowns.”

Tashtan’s concerns are supported by multiple reports from relief workers on the ground in Turkey.

The left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest party in the Turkish parliament, reported that its grassroots earthquake relief efforts have been disrupted by the Turkish state.

According to Feleknas Uca and Hişyar Özsoy, the HDP’s co-spokespersons for foreign affairs, Erdoğan’s government is now “using emergency rule powers to cover up its failures by hindering or unlawfully taking over the collection and distribution of humanitarian aid organized by NGOs, political parties, or ordinary people across the country”.

“From the first day of the earthquake, NGOs, especially trade unions and community associations, political parties, and private citizens have mobilised to help earthquake victims in the ten affected provinces.

“The HDP has joined these efforts by organising and delivering humanitarian aid and establishing crisis desks in all ten provinces. However, the government has been preventing us from distributing the aid to the victims by raiding our warehouses and confiscating the aid we have collected.

“Four trucks carrying aid sent by the HDP’s Crisis Coordination Center to the earthquake areas were confiscated and one truck was sent back.

“The government’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) in Adıyaman, a place that has suffered huge destruction, seized a truckload of tents sent to the victims by the HDP. The police seized another truck carrying aid from Izmir to Osmaniye and detained three people, including the driver.

“Eighty five stoves and a truck containing tons of wood and coal sent from Siirt and Batman to the Nurdağı district of Gaziantep were also seized by AFAD, and the aid we collected was emptied into AFAD warehouses in Gaziantep.

“And on February 15, the district governor, accompanied by the police and gendarmerie, appointed a government ‘trustee’ to take over the Crisis Coordination Centre that we had established in Hasankoca village in Pazarcık, the epicenter of the first Kahramanmaraş. The centre was delivering humanitarian aid to the victims in the district and over one hundred villages around it. HDP’s volunteers in the town were forced to leave the town to avoid detention.

“The government is destroying civilian networks of social solidarity and cooperation by abusing state of emergency powers. These confiscations seek to monopolise all humanitarian aid in the hands of the government and hide the government’s ineffectiveness in responding to the crisis.”

The HDP called upon the international community to closely follow the government’s destruction of the networks of social solidarity and humanitarian aid when they are needed the most by the victims.

“Despite all obstructions of the government, the HDP will continue its efforts to provide urgent aid to the victims,” Uca and Özsoy promised.

The Turkish state’s use of natural disasters as a weapon against Kurdish people has a long history, according to a February 10 report by the Rojava-based North Press Agency.

“The government in Ankara has history of instrumentalising natural disasters for political gain — particularly against Kurds. The response to the twin earthquakes on February 6 appears to be the latest installment in this tradition,” the report said, citing documentation by Dastan Jasim, a political scientist at the GIGA Institute in Hamburg.

“Examples include the 1975 Lice earthquake, in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority Diyarbakir Province, which killed upwards of 2300 and destroyed three-quarters of the city. At the time, residents complained of belated aid by the government and a lack of investment in infrastructure in the region. The anti-leftist and anti-Kurdish putschists in Ankara, who had grabbed power in 1971, at first denied that the earthquake had happened and only sent aid when it was too late, the Kurdish researcher writes. The Kurdish residents resorted to erecting emergency shelter tents on their own.

“A 2003 earthquake in Bingöl, a Kurdish Zaza-majority area, claimed the lives of 177 people and injured over 500 others. The mishandled aid distribution caused local residents to protest. The province’s governor claimed they had been incited by the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party] to 'set the people against the state and security forces'. Erdoğan, who had been elected Turkey’s prime minister that year, gave credence to the conspiracy theory and defended the police’s heavy-handed response.

“In 2011, twin earthquakes near the Kurdish-majority city of Van led to the deaths of at least 600 people ... 2445 soldiers flooded the area, though most did not help with rescue efforts, but instead securitised the area, even conducting security raids on recent victims.

“Moreover, the Turkish government systematically prevented aid from reaching Kurdish-majority cities which were besieged and then razed by Turkish armed forces in 2015 and 2016, such Diyarbakir’s Sur neighbourhood, Cizre and Nusaybin.”

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