The Turkish government should halt its warfare and security policies while communities struggle to come to terms with the devastating effects of the major earthquake disaster, pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Mithat Sancar said on Monday.
During a press conference that followed a meeting on disaster-relief efforts with the HDP’s Crisis Centre, Sancar highlighted the ceasefire announced by the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) after two earthquakes hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on 6 February.
The Kurdish People’s Defence Centre (HSM), the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), declared that they would halt military operations in Turkey in the wake of the disaster.
The tremors hit 10 Kurdish-majority, or densely Kurdish-populated provinces, in Turkey while also heavily destroying northern Syria.
Communities in the earthquake-hit areas in Turkey have for decades coped with clashes, military operations, and severe security measures imposed over the country’s unresolved Kurdish question.
Ankara views armed Kurdish groups as a security threat, and had planned a ground operation into Kurdish-controlled northwest Syria (Rojava) prior to the earthquake.
The KCK’s decision to ceasefire was critical, Sancar said.
“Such a decision that can lay the ground for ending clashes is important in an environment where, on the one hand, an intense war is going on, and, on the other, all financial resources are allocated for warfare. Societal solidarity created by the disaster can open the door for new opportunities,” Sancar said.
“The warfare and security-oriented policies of the state and the government should halt during this period. I believe this will be an important step,” he added.
However, the Turkish government has continued cross-border operations despite the humanitarian disaster.
An armed unmanned aerial vehicle belonging to the Turkish military on Sunday attacked a vehicle on the road to the village of Menaz, west of Kurdish-held Kobanê in Syria.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) media centre announced that an off-duty SDF fighter was killed in the attack, reported North Press.
Joint patrols of Turkish and Russian security forces also continue in the countryside west of Kobanê, the Syrian news agency later reported.
Sancar also discussed acts of solidarity that enabled some vital supplies to be delivered to victims, despite the government’s failure in organising disaster relief.
Since last Monday, the HDP had received nearly 60,000 applications from the earthquake area, had delivered humanitarian aid with 617 vehicles, and had ensured the accommodation of 345 families in other parts of Turkey, the politician noted.
The HDP will continue to mobilise all available resources for earthquake survivors, Sancar said, adding that tents and heating appliances are most needed.
Sancar continued to explain that the Turkish presidential system collapsed in the aftermath of the earthquake, creating a humanitarian crisis.
“In every disaster we see that for this government what is saved first is not the lives of the people, but survival and image. Their argument that this regime, which they call the Presidential government system, helps the executive branch to make decisions and act quickly, has also collapsed. The one-man rule has collapsed,” the politician said.
“While people were looking for survivors under the rubble, it is a great shame that this government was looking for and recording enemies over the rubble,” Sancar added.
The importance of local governance was highlighted as the centralist system paralysed the rescue and relief efforts through bureaucratic obstacles and the autocratic style decision making of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to Sancar.
“The only thing the government acted rapidly on was bans, oppression, and intimidation,” Sancar said, referring to a three-month long state of emergency declared by Erdoğan the day after the disaster.
“By using the earthquake as an excuse, they are planning to hand unlimited authority over to the state of emergency. We should prevent that,” the politician said.
He also mentioned rising anti-refugee sentiments:
“Some groups who see the earthquake as an opportunity have been organising hostility towards refugees and migrants step-by-step. People who put them on the target board, are responsible of individual and collective attacks and lynching attempts against refugees and migrants,” Sancar said.
The situation in prisons was similar, Sancar noted. “While all eyes turned to the wreckages, oppression and violence in prisons escalated,” he said.
The politician added that under such severe circumstances, the opposition in Turkey must come together to alleviate suffering.
Sancar also talked about the disruptions in aid deliveries to northern Syria. He urged the Turkish government to immediately open new border crossings to northern Syria, to remove obstacles preventing international agencies to transport vital supplies to the country, in particular at the Mürşitpınar border gate to Kurdish-controlled Kobanê in northeast Syria.