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The corrupt one-man regime killed us in Turkey

Thursday 16 February 2023, by Sanem Oztürk

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The two earthquakes of 6 February 2023, with magnitudes of 7.7 and 7.6, which struck south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria and Rojava 9 hours apart, were natural, undoubtedly. What happened before and after was certainly not.

On the seventh day of the disaster, as national and international rescue teams are still struggling to find survivors under the rubble, the common popular feeling is unimaginable rage, pain, abandonment and chaos. And of course, an unimaginable solidarity of people.

Destructive neoliberal greed, the governmental mentality that prioritizes profit over lives, fatalism about science, which perceives development as cement, concrete and construction, have combined in Turkey. The two earthquakes affected 10 cities and nearly 15 million people. To date, the death toll has reached 25,000 in Turkey, 4,000 in Syria. Tens of thousands of people have been injured or disabled; millions have been left homeless.

Twitter, a means of survival

The main means of survival has been Twitter, no one can deny that. People under the rubble shared their exact location, asked for help, tried to reach their relatives or help via Twitter. Civil initiatives and citizens organized and extended their help via Twitter. People expressed their anger and support via Twitter. And yes, they criticized and blamed the government as harshly as possible on Twitter. After all, the government is responsible for corruption and nepotism in the country’s most important institutions. Construction companies, Erdoğan’s staunchest supporters, owe him a lot. Add to that the lack of oversight, the 2018 Construction Peace Law (which essentially consisted of the government allowing buildings without a license), this monumental destruction was inevitable. Unhappily, we knew all this. What we did not know was that the lack of resources, knowledge and coordination within the public institutions that were supposed to manage the crisis was on this scale. The blocking of Twitter by the government on the third day of the earthquake was the only solution to silence the voices of the opposition. It literally committed a crime against humanity by blocking the only chance of survival.

A centralized and corrupt regime

For the AKP government and President Erdoğan, loyalty has always taken precedence over competence. So much so that the warnings of scientists three years, one year, or even three days before the earthquakes, were in vain.

Bureaucracy and the crazy level of centralization in public policies have always been debated in Turkey, but today millions of people are affected at the same time. The “one-man regime” killed tens of thousands of people as authorities waited for that man’s instructions every step of the way. He appeared on television 25 hours afterwards, even after some international rescue teams had arrived in the area. These teams were stuck at airports, excavators didn’t work, aid waited in trucks, miners from all over Turkey who have expertise in search and rescue, were immobilised for days, as were the volunteers, as if time had stopped while awaiting the directives from one man.

Volunteers working tirelessly

Fortunately, some municipalities controlled by the CHP, the main opposition party, opposition parties such as the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), political organizations, civil initiatives and feminist groups did not wait for this directive. Until the seventh day, they provide the most coordinated assistance. As President Erdoğan insults and threatens critics and blames his administration at every stage since his first television appearance on 7 February, volunteers are working tirelessly for survivors. Imagine how many thousands of people would still be alive if the rescue teams and supplies had been there in time, not 48 hours later. In addition, the airport, the city hospital and the highway, three sources of pride for Erdoğan, were demolished during the earthquake, which aggravated the situation.

We know that millions of people need food, clothing and shelter. Millions of people need psychological help. The perception of what is “normal” for the people of Turkey and Syria has changed in many ways, and the problems go beyond survival. For example, serious hate speech is present and is beginning to take on physical manifestations. As the disaster area is also a densely populated refugee area, rage against the system, the government and the feeling of powerlessness easily turns against looters and the refugee population, sometimes in the form of physical violence, due to hateful tweets organized mainly by nationalist party leaders. In addition to building and extending our solidarity with the survivors of the earthquake, we are compelled to remind everyone, at every opportunity, that we were all under this rubble. We will heal our wounds and seek justice together, with our solidarity.

The wounds caused by Erdoğan and the AKP are, on the other hand, beyond healing. They must go. They have to go.

13 February 2023


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