Members of the Turkish gendarmerie’s special forces on Monday threatened earthquake volunteers from a feminist group and a left-wing party working in the southern province of Hatay.
The gendarmerie withheld volunteers from Mor Dayanışma [Purple Solidarity], a women’s rights group distributing supplies and hygiene products to survivors in a village in the earthquake-hit region, Gazete Duvar reported.
According to Pelin Songül Çiçek, a member of the group, the gendarmarie turned up when Mor Dayanışma gathered at the local school to be welcomed by volunteers on arrival at the village.
“While we were talking to the volunteers, they said things like ‘the state does not come here, AFAD [the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority] did not come, the Red Crescent did not come, they come after three or four days, they had no equipment’. These are things people have gone through. While we were talking about these, JÖH [Gendarmerie Special Forces] members arrived, and intervened in our meeting with weapons,” Çiçek said.
The activist said the gendarmerie threatened the volunteers, ran criminal record checks for those present, and forced volunteers to delete images stored in their mobile phones.
The volunteers of the Social Freedom Party (TÖP) were also present during the incident. According to Hasan Özgün, a member of the party who is originally from Hatay province’s Antakya district, the gendarmerie held them in the school for a few hours, while a team of six lawyers also joined the scene. Özgün said the gendarmerie handed them to the police, and they were later released.
Eyewitness accounts also indicate that sites used for the distribution of humanitarian aid are forcibly evacuated by authorities.
According to accounts on the ground, police and AFAD teams came to Sevgi Park, in the Defne district, and told several left-wing organisations to empty the area used to distribute humanitarian aid to over 1,000 people.
A volunteer who was in the park at the time, told Artı TV that the authorities said buildings around the park were about to be demolished and therefore they should leave the area due to safety risks.
Earthquake survivors present in the park protested the order to evacuate the area and refused to leave, posting videos of the situation online.
Left-wing group Halkevleri claimed that AFAD has also asked volunteers to evacuate other sites in the province used in relief operations. The group said on Twitter that a group intended to meet with the governor to solve the issue.
Despite claims that other locations used in solidarity activities are expected to also be evacuated, no prior warning is given. Verbal notifications are made, on the spot and on-site, at which point teams leave, eye witness accounts indicate.
In Hatay left-wing organisations are well-established and receive support from locals. The left-wing parties and groups have substantially raised their profile in the province after the 6 February earthquake, as the state institutions were slow to act, disorganised, and failed to reach those in need.