The earthquake of 6 February was not the first to devastate majority-Kurdish populated regions in recent years, it was not the first time a natural disaster has left thousands dead and many more injured and displaced. Recurrent natural disasters have highlighted not only the tragedy of the catastrophes themselves, but also the vulnerability of Kurdish communities and the four separate governments’ indifference towards their plight.
On 12 November 2017, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck near the city of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan close to the Iranian border, killing more than 600 people and injuring over 8,000 others. Most of these fatalities were in Halabja or the Iranian Kurdish province of Kermanshah.
This was the deadliest earthquake in all of 2017 according to the BBC. The quake caused significant damage to infrastructure and homes in Kurdish areas, leaving as many as 70,000 without shelter or access to basic necessities like food and water (BBC again).
The publicity following the 2017 earthquake prompted many charities, NGOs and celebrities to call for aid to the effected areas. But a lot of the supposed helped never reached the people on the ground, and both the Iraqi and Iranian governments’ relief efforts were criticised for being slow, inadequate and above all – untrustworthy. Sound familiar?
Hamed Seddighi, an academic focusing on natural disasters and humanitarian aid, especially in Iran, wrote the following in the beginning of 2020, in reference to the 2017 Iraq-Iran earthquake:
“Since the early days of the earthquake, many people had challenged the integrity of aid distributions… This time, more people preferred to donate to disaster victims through celebrities and influencers rather than official organizations. A reason could be donators’ declining trust in the government and official organizations… Government and humanitarian organizations, such as Red Crescent, with many humanitarian activities did not report to people about their activities in detail. The Iranian Parliament, a special committee for Kermanshah earthquake, mentioned some shortcomings in their report. Their report emphasized that the coordination among different organizations in the area was poor, humanitarian organizations were not prepared for the earthquake logistically, and also those organizations failed in aid distribution to the affected people.”
It is hard not to see history repeating itself here. Once the dust from the 6 February earthquake which hit heavily Kurdish-populated areas of northern Syria and Turkey’s southeast settled, cries for aid began to rise over the rubble. Cries that were often met only with disappointment with both the Syrian and Turkish governments. These incidents beg the question – when disaster strikes who can the Kurds count on to protect them?
The earthquakes of 2017 and 2023 have highlighted the ongoing political and social marginalization of Kurdish communities in the region. Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria have long faced discrimination and persecution at the hands of their respective governments, with little or no support for their cultural and linguistic rights. The lack of attention given to Kurdish areas in the aftermath of the earthquakes is just another example of this ongoing neglect.
In conclusion, the earthquakes that have affected the aforementioned Kurdish regions are a tragic reminder of the vulnerability of these communities and the lack of care shown by their respective governments. It is time for these governments and the international community to recognize the importance of investing in infrastructure and emergency services in Kurdish areas, and to give greater attention to the needs and rights of their Kurdish citizens.
Robin Fleming is an American Researcher who worked with the Rojava Information Centre and specialises in North and East Syria.