The fact that the epicentre of the 6 February earthquakes is an area densely populated by Kurdish Alevis is behind the Turkish government’s inefficient disaster relief work, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) told Fırat News Agency on Saturday.
The twin earthquakes hit a region with a population of 13.5 million, who are to a large extent ethnically Kurdish and of Alevi faith. Many in the area claim that there is obvious discrimination in the efforts of the state institutions to distribute humanitarian aid, while the Turkish government has been allegedly trying to block Kurdish Alevi people from organising themselves to heal their own wounds.
“Even in this apocalyptic situation, the government is only concerned with maintaining its own power,”said the umbrella organisation that brings together organisations following the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“As we know, the epicentre of the earthquakes was in a region with a high Kurdish Alevi population density. The people in the earthquake area say that the reason why the Republic of Turkey, which boasts of being one of the most powerful states in the world, is not giving them aid, and even preventing aid from social groups and our people is because they are Kurdish and Alevi,” said the KCK’s Committee for International and Religious Affairs.
The organisation said that since the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the state has followed a policy of assimilation and genocide against both the Kurdish and the Alevi identities.
“The reason the aid mobilised after the earthquake has been blocked is the Kurdish Alevi identity of the population in the affected regions,” the KCK said. “This is because this government sees the people of this region as an enemy that must be destroyed. So the fact that the state is abandoning the people affected by the earthquake is not the result of inability to help, but of a very deliberate and planned genocidal policy,” it added.
In fact, the population affected by the earthquake have historically suffered terribly from the identity policies of the Turkish Republic. Massacres like the 1978 Maraş pogrom against the Alevis and the armed conflict lasting more than four decades between the PKK and the Turkish military have shaped the perceptions of the population in the area and created serious mistrust of state institutions.
Apart from a short-lived peace process to resolve the country’s Kurdish issue which collapsed in 2015, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have preferred a policy of oppression and war over peace and a solution based on equal citizenship for the Kurdish population.
The AKP’s policy against Alevis of Kurdish and Turkish descent has been no different. The ruling party have announced several times what it called “Alevi initiatives”, supposedly attempts at rapprochement, but all such attempts largely failed as the Alevi institutions understood that the aim was not to respect equal rights, but to control people who do not follow Islam’s Sunni tradition.
The fact that just before the earthquake many in Turkey were discussing whether or not the Alevi faith of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), would prevent him being elected as president, is just one example of the many unresolved identity-based issues in Turkey.
The disaster has left many homeless and in recent days the ten provinces hit by the earthquake have been largely emptied by people trying to find a temporary shelter in other parts of the country. With the government presenting itself as the single authority to decide on the redesign of those provinces, many Alevis fear the earthquake will be used as an opportunity to push them to the metropolitan cities in the west of the country to achieve the aim of creating a Sunni faith-dominated region in Turkey’s south.
The post-disaster population-engineering aims of the government are also acknowledged by the KCK.
“In the current situation, everything is being done to make the Kurdish-Alevi population leave the earthquake area permanently. By not helping and, moreover, by preventing non-governmental aid from arriving, a signal is being sent to the people: ‘There is no more life here’. In this way, they intend to continue their centuries-old policy of forced migration. They are depopulating the places where Kurdish Alevis live. The Turkish state wants to settle their own chosen ‘migrants’ there in their place,” the KCK said.
The KCK Committee urged the Kurdish-Alevi population not to leave their ancestral homeland and to resist these policies.
Reports from the earthquake-hit area prove the validity of such fears. In the Alevi-populated Pazarcık (Bazarcix) district of Kahramanmaraş, the epicentre of the first earthquake according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), the Alevi population is wary of moving to established tent-cities, as they are located in neighbourhoods mainly inhabited by supporters of the AKP, Mezopotamya News Agency reported on Sunday.
According to Mahmut Toğrul, an MP of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the authorities have been using the earthquake as a tool to manipulate the demographic structure of Alevi-Kurdish populated neighbourhoods.
“Something we have been observing in recent days is that the government persists on establishing a container-city in an area called Upper Pazarcık. The Kurdish Alevi population living in Lower Pazarcık do not want to go there. This situation escalates demands to move abroad and leave the ancestral lands,” Toğrul told Mezopotamya.
“There is a small remaining Kurdish Alevi population. I want to make a call out not to utilise the earthquake to make these people leave their lands,” he said.
“The Kurdish Alevi living in the region complain about insufficient aid being delivered. There are numerous Kurdish Alevi villages in the area which have not received any help at all. Humanitarian aid delivered by lorry do not reach those in need because they are obstructed by AFAD and the Turkish Red Crescent,” said Deniz İnce, a volunteer helping the disaster relief efforts of the Alevi Culture Association in Pazarcık.
The district governor of Pazarcık this week allegedly appointed a trustee to a cemevi (pronounced jemevi – an Alevi place of worship) used by the HDP to distribute humanitarian aid to earthquake victims.
The situation is similar in other provinces affected by the earthquake. Deutsche Welle on Saturday reported that the Alevi populated Yaylıkonak district of Adıyaman, where only 10 of 280 homes remain habitable, there are serious problems caused by insufficient humanitarian aid being distributed by state agencies.
Mehmet Ali Aslan, a former HDP MP said on Saturday that he and others had visited Alevi associations and a cemevi in Adıyaman. “Most of those in the administrations have lost their lives. Their aid lorries have been confiscated,” Aslan said.