It’s too early to draw conclusions. People are still begging for machines to help them rescue their loved ones from under the rubble, thousands and thousands of people are missing, and the ones who live hear the voices of their mothers, fathers, children, neighbours under the rubble – until they stop. The tragedy is immense and overwhelming, and absolutely no emergency service is well-enough equipped to handle a disaster of this scale efficiently.
Then again, there are questions that have to be asked.
A disaster of this scale, what does that mean exactly? What caused this shaking earth to be so devastating? Which apartment blocks were built under strict construction regulations and collapsed anyway? Who will be prosecuted for it? Who’s responsible? Who can run for president again despite his responsibility and the fresh blood on his hands?
Why wasn’t the army immediately tasked with setting up large-scale humanitarian aid? Sure, they were eventually given some tasks, but not instantly, and not on a large scale. A conversation about this that I had on social media taught me that this may have something to do with relations between the military and the civilian authorities. What if the army does a better job than AFAD [Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority] and Kızılay [Turkish Red Crescent]? Erdoğan may have control over the army, and the commanders may be on his side, but the delicate balance must stay in place. Are these kinds of political calculations part of the decision-making process?
Ironically, particularly in the regions affected by this earthquake, the army has a heavy presence. Alongside the Syrian border, weaponized with a high tech wall, and into Kurdish lands, where it has no legitimacy to begin with as an occupational force that has never respected the lives of the people. The people urgently need help and the army could contribute, but is it right to ask for their help? Just to draw a comparison: if an earthquake were to happen in Ukraine, would people demand that the occupying Russian army assist in humanitarian relief, or would they tell the army to get lost because the Russians are part of the problem?
Is that a bad comparison? Or… Should the Turkish state have dedicated less money to the military, and instead have invested in secure housing and a solid system to check building regulations? Should a zero tolerance policy for corruption have been in place, especially in a country with so many faultlines? If such choices had been made, would the disaster have been less horrific? Can these calculations be made? Why not?
A state of emergency, OHAL in Turkish, has been declared in ten provinces, namely Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Diyarbakır, Adana, Osmaniye, Şanlıurfa, Adıyaman, Gaziantep, Malatya and Hatay. Erdoğan said that this is necessary to send enough money, aid and rescue workers to the affected provinces, but OHAL is about much more than that. OHAL makes it possible to restrict freedoms by decree, including press freedom, the freedom of association, the freedom to demonstrate, the freedom of movement, in short, to restrict fundamental freedoms. Erdogan’s warning about people spreading ‘lies’ (read: truths) doesn’t bode well for the way OHAL will be used. So, how will OHAL be balanced with the protection of fundamental freedoms? Is it the intention at all to find such a balance?
The OHAL was declared for a three month period, but it can be extended. Advice about the continuation of OHAL will be called on from the National Security Council, a council made up of the president, ministers and the army’s top brass, with no parliamentary oversight. Can the state promise the citizens in the affected areas that the OHAL will not be used against them but only in service of their needs? How solid are such promises without parliamentary oversight, in a state in which the parliament has been rendered powerless to begin with?
Is the state aware of the traumas that people in the Kurdish provinces especially, in this case mainly Diyarbakır and Şanlıurfa, still suffer from the grave human rights violations against them during previous OHALs, which lasted for many years?
Talking of trauma: does the state take into account that when people in, for example, Kahramanmaraş, Malatya and other areas with a huge Alevi population wonder in desperation where the state is to help them, the depth of their desperation has an extra layer? I mean, the state has a long history of not protecting Turkey’s large Alevi population. The history of massacres and murders is decades long, and still their religion hasn’t been recognized by the state and they don’t have equal rights. The people can find shelter in more mosques than cemevis, and that’s again very ironic. The state isn’t there, but then again, it defined their lives and that of their ancestors. Cruel, right?
Faultlines. They don’t always show, but they are there and then suddenly, without warning, they strike. Impossible to control. But wait, let’s nuance that. It’s the faultlines in the earth that can’t be controlled. And if the tectonic plates shift and the earth shakes, faultlines in society become visible and audible too, as extra layers deepening the pain. Or is that a shallow assessment? Why?
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan .