With the Turkish government attempting to control the media narrative over the deadly earthquake which has killed 45,000 of its citizens to date, including by restricting press access to the worst-affected regions, testimony and reporting from the ground is vital in developing a picture of the scale of the catastrophe.
Gaël Le Ny is a freelance photographer who has spent 20 years covering the Kurdish question, and vice-president of the Brittany Kurdish Friendship Association, which works to defend the civil and cultural rights of the Kurdish people both in his native region and in Kurdistan itself. As a freelance photographer, he recently travelled to the disaster zone in southern Turkey, beginning his trip in Turkey’s largest Kurdish-majority city Diyarbakır (Amed), and moving on to the badly-affected city of Adıyaman (Semsûr).
He spoke with Medya News to share his observations from the disaster zone, discuss ordinary people’s response to the earthquake, and analyse the Turkish government’s response to the deadly catastrophe.
Can you give a brief overview of the situation following from the earthquake?
Adıyaman has been affected really badly by the quake. According to what we know and the people there, it was less than in other cities like Elbistan and Kahramanmaraş, which were heavily destroyed… In Adıyaman, one in three buildings were on the ground, and the buildings that were still standing were damaged as well. The streets of the city are deserted, there’s not many people left. The only ones you can find there are the people with no other alternative, and have to stay there because they can go somewhere else.
The situation is clear. No water, no electricity, and the nights are pretty cold. You have to stay outside the buildings. AFAD gave some tents, but not that many. These tents were given to so-called Turkish citizens, and all the refugees coming from Syria were neglected and had to manage by themselves.
What did you hear from people on the ground about the response to the catastrophe?
People invited us for tea and a chat for a moment, and every time the people said exactly the same thing: ‘the quake arrived, and no help for three days’… We spoke with a guy we can call Erdal. His three brothers were trapped under the rubble of the family house, alive and not injured, but three days without help… He said there was no police, no military, no AFAD, nothing.
This testimony is always the same: no help, nothing. People were pretty angry. And Adıyaman supports [Turkey’s governing] AKP. People vote for AKP, about 67% of the population. And all the people were mad about how the municipality wasn’t there, and did nothing.
Is the Turkish government evenly distributing aid?
You’ve got some municipalities where the mayor is elected for AKP, but there are other cities under the HDP, which is the legal, pro-Kurdish party in Turkey. The state simply dismisses the mayor, and puts in place an administrator or ‘trustee’. The population says they were doing very little even before the quake – just imagine after! The reality is that the trustees collect money from the taxes, and do very little on the ground.
What was the message people on the ground wanted to give to the West?
The people we met said: just look. We pay our taxes, we are good citizens, and we have been suffering a lot, and we received no help at all. People felt totally abandoned, and that the state had failed. That was really strong. Just look what our situation is right now, just ten days after the quake, and this situation will last for months, years.
Did you also see aid and solidarity going on without state interference?
I would like to talk about the work of a coordination group of trade unions and leftist parties in Adıyaman. They are doing an incredible job. People were doing just a few days, coming back and forth to their homes due to the conditions they were living in – warehouses full of dust, sometimes they had difficulty breathing. But people are very keen on working on the ground, and doing an incredible job. So my thoughts are going to them. Within Turkish and Kurdish society, there are people who want to make a difference on the ground. They are the ones who stand against power in Turkey. This is the alternative.