Mustafa Karasu (Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union): Civil society and solidarity help earthquake victims, not the Turkish government

Kurdistan Community of Societies Mustafa Karasu

First  published at ANF English.

Over 46,000 people have been officially confirmed in Turkey, North Kurdistan, Syria. More than 40,000 of them in Turkey alone. According to the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, more than 84,000 buildings there have collapsed or have been badly damaged as a result of the 2 earthquakes that struck the area on 6 February. However, the damage is likely to be much more serious, as it is being exposed that the authorities are declaring buildings that are in danger of collapsing as "slightly damaged".

In an ANF interview, Mustafa Karasu, member of the Executive Council of the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union (KCK), commented on the earthquake and its aftermath. He accused the state of using the disaster as a "weapon" against the people in the region and emphasized that the consequences of the earthquake would have been far more serious than they already are without the action of civil society and social solidarity. The epicenter of the earthquakes was in Maraş), a Kurdish-Alevi region in which mass emigration was triggered by the pogrom of 1978. Karasu warned that depopulation should continue now as a result of the way the government is dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake.

The reason for the scale of the disaster is the prevailing politics

The earthquakes of 6 February are among the worst natural disasters experienced in the country or the last century. But the catastrophe affecting Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian cities did not come out of the blue. Turkey is geologically considered to be extremely endangered anyway. Mustafa Karasu emphasized this and criticized the fact that urgent warnings from experts have been ignored for years. “The fact that the earthquake turned into a catastrophe of this magnitude is due to the prevailing policies that have been followed to this day. This state was not prepared for the earthquake and completely underestimated the situation at the beginning.”

Instead of concentrating on quick help for the earthquake victims, Ankara was mainly concerned with saving its face. The Turkish President called the earthquake a ‘plan of fate’. Karasu said: “The government claimed that the 'Republican Alliance' [AKP-MHP regime electoral alliance] was everywhere to help the population and the State Disaster Management Agency AFAD said its rescue teams were deployed in all affected areas. But what people experienced was just the opposite. The state forces were neither prepared nor did they correctly assess the extent of the disaster. Because the catastrophe was underestimated. Timely mobilization for the disaster areas was not ordered. And this, inevitably, became a catastrophe within the catastrophe. Because the most important thing was intervening in the first two days after the seism. If nothing is done in the first two to three days, deaths will inevitably increase. And so it happened. AFAD went into the cities, cleared some ruins and attempted rescues. Heavy equipment for search and rescue operations had only started working on the third day after the earthquake.

Only civil society helped

According to Karasu, the rescue work by the state was only carried out on a small number of buildings. He said the authorities were not organized and added: “The state did not have the organizational potential or the power to invest in this work. That's why no one will care about the thousands of buildings in ruins for a long time. Even large-scale search operations did not take place at all for days, important hours were wasted. Of course, from day one, volunteers and the civil society tried to dig people out of the rubble with picks and shovels and then take care of them.”

Karasu assumed that only a few of those buried could be rescued. “Without the volunteers, without civil society, without the search and rescue teams from a few communities, without the efforts of some parties and organizations, the consequences of this earthquake would have been far more serious. In fact, such a government would have already collapsed. In reality, it was the volunteers who saved this government. It was civil society organizations. Mostly, Alevi Kurds live west of the Euphrates. The HDP, the Cem houses helped, the civil society organizations and young volunteers, mainly from the big cities, rushed to the region. They prevented the situation from getting worse. That must be clear to everyone.”

The state uses its forces for war

Rescue work carried out selectively by state institutions was taking place in the cities, but nothing like this happened in the villages. This approach has led to a massive increase in deaths, said Karasu, adding: “We know this state. The people know it. Thousands of police officers are deployed against a handful of protesters. The state then behaves like a bull in front of a red flag and attacks. If it encounters the guerrillas in the mountains, it immediately deploys dozens of helicopters and drones, hundreds of special vehicles and thousands of soldiers. For war, it mobilizes all its strength. But when it comes to rescuing the population from an earthquake and saving lives, the state does nothing. Because this state was set up to be against the people and designed and formed on the basis of the principles of oppression and repression. It is designed for war, for the oppression of the Kurdish people. This state is a totally militaristic state.”

The state is hiding the true extent of the death toll

The state is organized for war and, therefore, it is not in a position to provide real disaster relief. Karasu quoted experts who said that there could be 200,000 deaths in the end, as they suspect that countless bodies are still under the rubble. In the event of an earthquake, assistance in the first three days is crucial, as people can usually survive without water for around 72 hours. In many places, however, help arrived much later, Karasu underlined, adding: “The state wants to hide the real number of victims and does not help the survivors either. In the first three days, people died not only from hunger and thirst, but also from the cold. They fight for survival in such cold temperatures - up to minus 20 degrees - and are exposed to the risk of frostbite. In such wintry conditions, blankets and tents alone cannot protect people. Containers are needed to protect victims against the cold. If there are no containers, then at least ovens must be set up. This is absolutely necessary. Tents or blankets alone are not enough. But in the first few days after the quake, there wasn't even that."

The earthquake has shown the absence of the state 

Mustafa Karasu underlined the great solidarity of the people throughout Turkey and Northern Kurdistan on the one hand and the failure of the state on the other as a clear sign that the state has been completely absent. And this, he said, will have important consequences. "The state initially downplayed the catastrophe - now it speaks of a completely unexpected catastrophe of the century. So it tries to relieve itself. There are magnitude eight and magnitude nine earthquakes in Japan. The ground is constantly shaking in Mexico. However, very few people die in these very strong earthquakes. It is said, with good reason, that it was not the earthquake that killed people, but rather the lack of precaution, poor preparation and flawed policies."

Religious feelings are abused

Karasu also accused the AKP regime of abusing people's religious feelings by speaking of a "plan of destiny" and "fate" in relation to the earthquake. "When the AKP-MHP regime speaks of 'fate' or 'destiny', it means that it is the work of God. Should one say such a thing? Maybe some people say that too. There are some fanatics. 'We have done wrong, so Allah has punished us,' they say. That is what destiny means."

Karasu continued: "Erdoğan steps shamelessly in front of the camera and speaks with audacity. Enough with these insolences. Erdoğan is trying to protect his palace, his regime that was shaken by the earthquake."

Talking about suffering is persecuted by Erdoğan as 'disinformation'

Regarding the suppression of any criticism by the regime, the KCK representative said: "The people are complaining. People express their pain. They say they have been left alone. They show openly and clearly how much they are suffering. What is Erdoğan doing? He calls what people say 'disinformation' and 'lies'. We are dealing with such a regime. A special war regime that twists facts and lies straight in the people's faces." At the same time, the regime is making unfounded promises. Karasu addressed Erdoğan and said: "First give an account of your crimes, then we will see what you will do."

This is not incompetence, but the result of the policies of the regime

As to the government discourse that there may have been a few shortcomings, Karasu said that clearly this is an understatement and added that "due to a lack of precautionary measures and a lack of preparation, people faced the earthquake without any protection. That's the reality. How can one speak of inadequacies? We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people buried under rubble and dying. Specific warnings had been made in advance. These are not shortcomings. It is clearly the result of this government's endless pursuit of profit and its failure to take action against such a disaster. Like everyone else, we too ask ourselves: what happened to the tens of billions of dollars collected from the earthquake tax?"

Help must go neither to AFAD nor to the state

Karasu emphasized that a great deal of aid is now flowing into Turkey from abroad and from civil society. "This aid – he said - should not be left to the AKP and AFAD, because it is well known how the regime has embezzled the enormous sums of earthquake tax collected since 1999. The same is bound to happen with aid money, which is why the aid has to reach the people in a different way. This can happen through civil society, the city administration, professional associations such as engineering and bar associations, women's organizations, political parties and relatives of earthquake victims. Relevant organizations could set up a fund to collect money for the victims and for preventive measures. In this way, Turkey can be protected from the consequences of future earthquakes. Nobody should rely on what Erdoğan says in front of the camera. And above all, our people, patriotic circles, civil society and the peoples of the world should not send aid to AFAD. This aid should be channeled to the people through NGOs, through structures that use this money in the right way. Because this government cannot be trusted. We are not saying this from a subjective perspective. We're not saying this because we're fighting this government. What we are doing is exposing the reality of things."

Politicians are responsible for the corruption of contractors

Karasu emphasized that the arrest of businessmen from the construction industry is only a way to deflect blame from the regime: "Yes, some contractors may have stolen cement or iron. The contractors are not blameless. Because they don't build stable houses, although Turkey is an earthquake zone. But politics is responsible for that. One has to question whether the government has fulfilled its supervisory duties. After the Marmara quake it was claimed that the buildings should now be made earthquake-proof. Taxes were collected for this, decisions were made for this. But why didn't anything happen? Why weren't the buildings on the tectonic fault lines made earthquake-proof?" Karasu said that this responsibility cannot be placed on contractors alone, and called for the government's resignation. Those responsible in the government and at AFAD must be punished.

Neoliberalism has normalized theft and greed in Turkey

Karasu also said that the contractors' actions correspond to the reality in Turkey: "Greed for profit and theft have become normal in Turkey. Everyone wants to steal something from somewhere. Who is the role model? It's the government. All of Erdoğan's relatives have enriched themselves incredibly. The AKP clique has enriched itself. How? With their ruthlessness, they have seized the wealth of society. If Erdoğan's relatives act this way, if those around him act this way, his contractual partners will also act this way. With the advent of neoliberalism in Turkey, unscrupulous profiteering and theft have become the norm. Erdoğan said: 'Europe envies us.' In Europe, if a prime minister or minister accepts bribes to enrich himself, his relatives and friends by exploiting his authority, then this politician will be prosecuted. Is there something like that in Turkey? Erdoğan and the AKP government cannot save themselves by blaming constructors."

The state of emergency is a tool of oppression

After the devastating earthquake, the AKP regime declared a state of emergency in the affected provinces. The state of emergency is to last for three months and gives the military and police special powers. Karasu said that the leadership in Ankara has not just created a temporary tool to suppress criticism of the government because of the ongoing chaotic conditions in the earthquake area and to cover up the truth. "The state of emergency became a state of repression for the government from the beginning. Repression has increased and anyone who speaks out will be imprisoned. It is not about reducing the suffering of the people or taking action against alleged looting. The supposed looters are only used as an excuse to attack the people. In Turkey, the state of emergency is used as a justification for repression. You have to take action against it, you have to uncover it. The state diverts attention to save itself. People are lynched, killed and massacred by state forces because they are accused of being thieves, when in fact they are earthquake victims. Erdoğan and the AKP government are using this situation to silence society. Some of the people beaten and murdered are volunteers. They came to Kurdistan from western Turkey to help the people. This is how the state tries to hide its own guilt."

Turkey will enter a process of radical change

Karasu said that political awareness in Turkey will change as a result of the earthquake. There will be a revolution of conscience. He made an appeal to "democratic and revolutionary circles and all those who love their people, women and youth. You must understand this situation and play your role in Turkey's transformation. After this earthquake, Turkey can no longer remain as it is. It will have to change. It will have to enter a process of radical change. It was already in such a process, but with this earthquake it has become inevitable for Turkey to change, become democratised, develop democratic politics and democratic life. Everyone should join the fight to achieve this change. It is time to overthrow this government and change Turkey. I call on everyone to play their part, reject the status quo ante and struggle to build a new Turkey."

Rebuilding life west of the Euphrates

At the same time, Karasu appealed to the region west of the Euphrates to be rebuilt. "The areas there have become practically uninhabitable. I call on all our people, living today in the metropolises and in Europe as well as in the areas west of the Euphrates, to contribute to the reconstruction of the region. At the moment, there are people who are leaving their homes for various reasons, including the cold. We must once again transform the region into a place worth living in. We should rebuild it and thus prevent emigration. Since the Maraş massacre, a depopulation policy has prevailed in the region. The earthquake could now complete this policy. I call on all democratic forces, the Kurdish people and the peoples of Turkey to be sensitive and to play their part in the reconstruction."