Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said on Saturday that the Turkish government has been trying to use ethnic and religious conflicts in order to legitimise the state of emergency declared on Tuesday in 10 provinces following the twin earthquakes.
The earthquakes on Monday happened in southeast Turkey which does not only sit on seismic fault lines but also on conflict fault lines. Many provinces in the earthquake area are either Kurdish majority or heavily Kurdish populated, as well as being home to a significant Alevi religion population. In the epicentre of the earthquake, Kahramanmaraş, a 1978 massacre against the Alevi people are still alive in people’s memories and many people fear that they will be discriminated in relief efforts under an Islamist government.
The region also borders Syria where five million people risk being homeless after the earthquake and is home to Syrian refugees who have fled war.
In the midst of a devastating earthquake, news about Syrians looting shops or aid trucks in the region, many of which have been proved to be false, have already exacerbated the hostility towards Syrian refugees. Ümit Özdağ, the far-right leader of Zafer Party, known for his xenophobia, has been using the lack of security in the region to put the blame on the Syrian refugees, disseminating unverified news.
In a series of tweets, Demirtaş said that racists and those who benefit from polarisation had been disturbed by the high level of solidarity among people, calling Özdağ a clown.
The politician said the Turkish government remains silent against news targeting refugees as it benefits them, creating an atmosphere of “insecurity and fear”.
“There was no justification for the state of emergency. They are trying to trigger xenophobia and turn it into social conflict to justify the state of emergency,” said Demirtaş.
The three-month state of emergency declared by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was passed by the Turkish parliament this week, despite the objections of the opposition parties. Many in Turkey fear that the government will use the state of emergency in 10 provinces to impose extreme security measures throughout the country. The opposition says that the government does not need to declare a state of emergency to ensure the safety and security of citizens affected from the earthquake. Journalists in earthquake-hit areas have been the first to experience those security measures, as the police have started to use the state of emergency as an excuse to prevent reports from the disaster area.
The International Federation of Human Rights, along with the World Organisation Against Torture and Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) criticised the state of emergency declared in Turkey in a statement.
“The state of emergency appears therefore unnecessary and disproportionate in terms of its length to emergency response, and the additional powers it grants to the president carry the risk of weaponisation against civil society and anyone critical of the government’s crisis management, as well as disruption of humanitarian aid and human rights work in affected regions by civil society,” the statement said.
“Reports of abusive practices curtailing freedom of speech and media freedom that go beyond any reasonable response to the earthquake are already surfacing,” it added.
“The state of emergency is also impacting rescue efforts and humanitarian aid, as the government has politicised cooperation with local stakeholders despite insufficient centralised efforts. Humanitarian aid by independent civil society organisations, professional organisations, citizens’ initiatives and district mayorships run by the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Republican People’s Party (CHP) were prevented from reaching affected areas by governors under the orders of the central government,” the statement also said.
Meanwhile, the Turkish presidency declared measures to be taken for the judiciary during the state of emergency. All new cases as well as complaints and objections being submitted have been put on hold until 6 April.