The Earthquake in Turkey: the View of Kurdish Women

15/05/2023 |

By Free Women’s Movement

Kurdish women denounce the government's neglect of earthquake victims and share their actions in support


On February 6th, a wave of 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes struck the city of Marash in Turkey within a span of nine hours. The earthquakes, which affected 11 cities, had been long expected, with scientists warning the government and local authorities, for years, to take necessary precautions. Despite these warnings, no action was taken and this disaster occurred; a natural one, that should not have caused such destruction in residential areas. The cities built by modern capitalism and supported by ruling parties – such as the Justice and Development Party (JDP) and the Nationalist Movement Party – were in a state of simultaneous ascent and descent, due to the flawed urban planning. Given that modern capitalism and ruling powers turn disasters into crises, wars, and massacres, tens of thousands of people lost their lives as a result.

According to official sources, 75,717 buildings were either destroyed or suffered serious damage. In the area where debris has not yet been cleared, the death toll exceeded 43,000 and the number of injured exceeded 100,000. However, according to some organizations, this number may be multiplied by 4-5 times because the authorities, who weren’t aware if there were people still alive under the rubble, started to remove debris with machines.

During the first 48 hours after the earthquake, the governments of the ruling parties did not deploy any forces, search or rescue teams, nor provide clothing, food, or shelter equipment. Lots of people lost their lives, and aid did not reach many places. The direct government of JDP, which had full authority, turned this situation into a crisis, declaring a state of emergency to protect its interests, but also aimed to leave the affected areas uninhabited. Instead of finding local solutions and alternatives, the authorities encouraged people to migrate.

According to reports, women, children, and the elderly were the most affected by the earthquake. Women gave birth to babies under the rubble and in front of damaged buildings. Many mothers and children died due to delayed rescue efforts. The urgent needs of surviving women were not included in any government aid lists. Many children lost their parents, as well. But Instead of mobilizing to help them, the Presidency of Religious Affairs issued a fatwa [religious decree] stating that “there is no harm in marrying orphans to those who will take care of them.” Despite the incompetence of the current government, people outside the earthquake-stricken areas reached out in their own way and mobilized to send relief equipment to the affected region.

As the Free Women’s Movement (TJA), we established, from day one, coordination with women’s organizations, social institutions, activists, and workers in the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) to meet the needs of vulnerable people, especially the elderly, and women in the villages, neighborhoods, and cities affected by the earthquake. Unfortunately, the governments of the parties mentioned above, created many obstacles to these grants. The aid sent from communities to areas where Alevi Kurds live, and to the city of Hasan Pasha Bazirjekh, was seized and collected by so called “government trustees”. Besides that, the aid sent by municipalities was stopped, and the names of municipalities written on the aid were removed and replaced with the names of government trustees.

Genocide and disasters in the country have been caused by the authorities and capitalism. Despite the difficulties, we will organize the necessary support and increase aid for those affected by the earthquake to receive treatment. Since February until now, our activities – which are many – have been ongoing in the cities affected by the earthquake, including neighborhoods and villages. After our activists contacted the earthquake victims, it became clear that they needed more than just food and shelter. Therefore, the joint coordination of TJA and Kongra Star is working from a psychological, social, and research perspective. Our activists provide psychological support in addition to livelihood activities. Many art workshops are organized for children. This work and organization we have done have been an example for Turkey, Syria, and the rest of the world. It has been revealed that the organization of women, youth, and the community can continue.

The rescue workers were able to save thousands of people from under the rubble in the earthquake-stricken areas, thanks to our coordination. We were present in all places where there was no state, as people saw in both Marash and Afrin. However, this coordination of volunteers and members, which was created to protect and rescue people, was besieged. Also, the aid offered by the Autonomous Administration and by the popular one, to the areas that are under Turkish occupation in Syria, was met with rejection. However, the women’s movement is now working with thousands of people to fight this mentality. It has taken the initiative to provide aid to earthquake victims, and women in Shahba refugee’s camp have opened their tents, to shelter displaced families.

We canceled all other activities due to the earthquake in both northern and western Kurdistan, and we declared that our mourning is the reason for our struggle. We also prepared slogans such as “It is time for women’s freedom”, “Our sorrow is the reason for our struggle”, and “Women’s cooperation is pulsing with life”.

What is happening in Syria?

The Syrian people have suffered greatly over the past eleven years, enduring all the horrors of repression, war, forced displacement, and occupation. These policies are still being imposed over civilians. The people of Afrin were displaced from their land due to the Turkish occupation and its mercenary groups since 2018, and they have been living in camps in Al-Shahba and the neighborhoods of  Aleppo, hoping to return to their homeland. Besides all that,he seismic disaster also struck Syria, claiming the lives of more than 5800 people, and the numbers of injured and displaced are increasing. All of this was a result of wrong policies that work against nature, such as storing a huge amount of water in the Ataturk Dam. This dam stores 48 billion cubic meters of water from the Euphrates River, and it represents a violation of nature, and Iraq and Syria’s water rights.

Turkey has built 2000 dams, reservoirs, and artificial lakes, some of which are close to the earthquake site. It is worth noting that dams, the storage of water, and its leakage into tectonic layers are considered a cause of earthquakes.

Several buildings collapsed in various areas of Syria, such as Aleppo, Jindires, Afrin, Atarib, Latakia, and Hama. Bearing in mind that Jindires and Afrin are located in the area under Turkish occupation, where buildings collapsed completely without any rescue teams or aid reaching them. Furthermore, the Turkish state prevented aid from reaching the northeast regions of Syria. Amidst all the events and disasters that befell both Syria and Turkey, the Turkish occupation state did not stop its attacks on sites in northern Syria, such as Tal Rifaat, Ain Issa, and Qamishlo.

Similarly, the Syrian regime also bears great responsibility for the suffering of the Syrian people. The buildings have been affected by the ongoing war, and as a result, have been subjected to bombing, causing the infrastructure to weaken. Additionally, the Syrian regime has prevented aid from reaching areas that are not under its control and has stipulated that the Autonomous Administration, which offered aid to affected areas, must provide the largest share of these aids for the regime’s benefit at the expense of the affected people.

It is necessary to expose these practices carried out by all these authoritarian regimes, from genocide to discrimination in the distribution of aid, and politicizing humanitarian assistance. It is also crucial to save what remains of lives, especially those that are endangered. Additionally, avoiding causing displacement and thus preventing this issue from becoming a target to achieve a policy of demographic change in the region, which creates a new hotspot of conflict instead of finding alternatives that ensure security and peace.

And our slogan is as always “Woman, life, freedom!”

This article was written by the Free Women’s Movement (TJA) in Northern Kurdistan and the Kongra Star in Western Kurdistan.

Editing by Bianca Pessoa

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