Outrage is overtaking grief in Turkey as millions of survivors have been left to fend for themselves since the 6 February earthquake that struck the country and neighbouring Syria.
The official death toll has reached an unfathomable 46,000, and yet even this is likely to be an underestimate. Osman Bilgin, an AKP Governor, who was appointed to coordinate the earthquake relief effort, has confirmed that the real numbers are much higher than the official estimates: “It is three to four times or even five times worse”.
Some cities have turned to burying the dead en masse, as there is no longer room in the cemeteries. Rows of freshly dug graves scatter cities, but the bodies keep coming.
Most of those who lost their lives were not killed immediately by the quake, but died because they were trapped under rubble for days. The real cause of the catastrophe is the breathtaking, criminal corruption, indifference and inaction of the ruling AKP. Their cosy relationship with construction companies made this tragedy inevitable. The days taken to dispatch any help into the earthquake zone to save those trapped and exposed to the elements without the essentials of life multiplied the death toll further.
In the days following the earthquake, social media was flooded with the most harrowing videos of mothers and fathers, pleading for aid to remove blocks of concrete beneath which their children were buried. A mother in Antakya, Hatay whose two sons were trapped under the rubble for two days, begged: “I’ve been begging and begging for just one crane to lift the concrete. Time's running out. A crane, for God's sake.” A crane arrived the next day, but it was too late. Both of her sons had died.
One weeping father, who could hear his son under the rubble for days, yet who did not receive help until the fifth day of the earthquake, cried out: “The earthquake did not kill my son, the state did”. These are the cries of thousands of parents across the earthquake zone.
Adding to the horror of the masses, just two weeks after the quake, the government announced it would end search and rescue efforts to begin rebuilding, even as family members reported hearing sounds from beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings. Thousands remained buried alive. Despite thousands of aftershocks taking place, AKP officials have told survivors without tents that it is safe to go back into damaged homes, which has so far led to another nine deaths from damaged buildings collapsing.
Not just an earthquake, but a massacre
Millions of people, thrown into a living nightmare, understand that this was not just an earthquake, but a massacre which the Erdoğan regime paved the way for.
This earthquake did not come out of the blue. Nestled between two continents, Turkey sits on several merging tectonic fault lines. Geologists and other experts have been warning for years that an earthquake was due in the region. Engineers and architects have been warning for years not to build on the fault lines.
But the ruling AKP ignored all warnings and rejected all the proposals brought forward by the experts. The failure to apply adequate building standards or to prevent construction along the fault line go to the very heart of the profiteering that Erdoğan’s allies were engaged in.
When the AKP came to power, they oversaw a massive economic boom, mainly based on construction. This sector has been a key pillar of AKP support. Over the years, Erdoğan has clashed repeatedly with experts warning of the dangers of his party’s construction projects, and he has even gone so far as to jail urban planners for fighting them.
Over the course of the AKP’s rule, the Erdoğan regime passed 11 zoning ‘amnesties’: laws that, in exchange for a fee, legalised buildings built in unsafe areas and constructed in disregard for building codes – including earthquake safety measures. Under this legalised system of bribery, dangerous buildings could even be passed off as ‘earthquake-proof’.
Years of cost-cutting measures by the construction sector have multiplied the death toll enormously. When the first earthquake hit, some buildings snapped from below and fell on their side, while others imploded into rubble. But a majority of the buildings fell into what is called a ‘pancake collapse’ where the entire building collapses downwards, ‘stacking’ floors on themselves.
Pancake collapses are often caused by the use of poor quality materials, and are therefore more likely where building contractors have cut corners to maximise profits. This is the worst form of collapse, as it creates few cavities in which people can survive between the rubble, hence the astronomical death toll.
And yet, there were buildings, which were completely intact, standing right next to others that were destroyed. A video that went viral on social media showed a kitchenware store in Kahramanmaraş in which even the plates and cutlery on display were unmoved. The glass storefront, including the high-rise building above it, were shown completely intact. Yet, in the same neighbourhood, hundreds of buildings had been levelled to the ground.
In short, the dead were murdered to satisfy the insatiable greed of the capitalist class and their profit-driven system.
Rescue operation in chaos
The first 48 hours were critical for search and rescue efforts, but there was a fundamental failure of the state to intervene and save lives. The majority of the quake zone, including the hardest-hit areas, did not receive any help until the third day. Some areas did not receive any help until the following week. Why was this?
The Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD, the state agency for disasters) had produced a mandatory report within 45 minutes of the earthquake, and an emergency meeting was held with all relevant response departments. Within hours, rescue and relief teams were ready to go.
But then the hours and days passed, waiting for orders to be dispatched. International search and rescue teams arriving in the country were kept in airport lounges, waiting for the final go ahead. All civil organisations, NGOs, volunteers, including the Turkish Red Cross and the national Search and Rescue Association (AKUT) were blocked from intervening in the quake zone until they were approved by AFAD and the Ministry of Interior Affairs. AFAD would be the sole agency to dispatch people into the quake zone.
Yet AFAD was engulfed in chaos. Victims and survivors were forced to wait, with fatal results – the victims of a paralysis that directly flows from the crisis of the regime.
The only organisation with the resources and organisation necessary to perhaps cut through this Gordian knot and launch a fast, effective rescue operation was the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Erdoğan, however, refused to dispatch the military. His behaviour reflects his constant fear that the military might move against him. Furthermore, he didn't want the military ‘stealing the spotlight’ from him. In other words, he was worried that the military would actually be quite effective in carrying out search and rescue efforts and saving lives!
The Turkish military, which has always been under the control of the dominant, secular, Kemalist wing of the Turkish bourgeoisie, has long been in tension with Erdoğan’s AKP government and the junior wing of the Turkish capitalist class that it represents. Erdoğan has attempted to purge the military over the years but has never been able to completely rein it in. In order to further curb its power, in 2009 AFAD itself was established with sole responsibility for responding to natural disasters. AFAD in turn is under the control of the Interior Ministry, and reports directly to Erdoğan. In 2010, Erdoğan followed up its creation by dissolving a protocol enabling the military to respond to disasters without instruction.
In January, Erdoğan appointed a theologian who was previously Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, with no experience in disaster training, to lead AFAD. This was another factor in the chaos that gripped the agency, paralysing search and rescue work, and preventing the coordination of the delivery of aid to victims. Erdoğan has erected a disaster agency unfit for purpose, and has filled it with individuals whose only qualification is loyalty to him. The utter incompetence of the Erdoğan regime, in the final analysis, is a product of the crisis of capitalism and the crisis of the regime.
Over the years, as Turkish capitalism has descended into crisis and Erdoğan’s rule has faced increased pressure, he has had to tighten control to secure political stability. Erdoğan has sapped all institutions of their independence and stacked them with loyalists. He has blocked and restricted the operations of civil and aid organisations, and he has shut down hundreds of civil organisations that do not support his regime. As the crisis has deepened, he has extended his interference down to the lowest levels of government. This has meant complete paralysis, and in this case has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of human beings.
The twin earthquakes, striking nine hours apart, rocked an area spanning roughly 430 km from the Mediterranean province of Adana in the west to the Kurdish province of Diyarbakir in the east, and 300 km from the province of Malatya in the north to Hatay province in the south. It destroyed or heavily damaged at least 214,000 buildings, including at least 608,000 apartments, impacting nearly 15 million people living in the area.
AFAD’s personnel (that the lower estimates number at as few as 6,000) could not possibly have responded to such a vast area. Yet AFAD was telling its 200,000 volunteers to stay at home, preventing volunteers from going into the quake zone without instructions. Survivors, abandoned to their fate, were trying to dig out loved ones trapped under rubble with their bare hands, whilst the 2.5 million people left homeless were without water, food or tents in freezing weather for days.
Racism and the rescue effort
In many areas, the incompetence of the regime’s relief effort has been compounded by its chauvinist bigotry. Anti-Kurdish racism is built into the foundations of Turkish capitalism. Even in the midst of this terrible human tragedy, the racist Turkish ruling class remains unmoved in the callousness and malice it reserves for Kurds and Arabs.
Two of the hardest-hit provinces, Hatay, where a majority of the population are of Arab origin, and Adıyaman, which is a Kurdish province, were not only abandoned by the government, but the latter deliberately prevented help from reaching them. One volunteer told the Independent Turkey:
“We heard Samandağ, Hatay needed help, they still had not received any kind of help, no one was there. We went to the local AFAD to coordinate but they said to us ‘Why do you want to go there? There aren’t even any roads, it is a terrorist zone. Your life will be in danger.’ They were very clearly trying to prevent us from going there.”
One search and rescue volunteer told Time Magazine that when he rushed to the local AFAD branch on the first day of the earthquake, the organisation told him to wait at home. The next day he went back to “badger” them to send him and other volunteers to Iskendurun, Hatay, but they refused. The volunteers didn’t listen and managed to catch a ride to Samandağ, Hatay with a local man where they asked the residents in the city for tools to begin the rescue operations.
Survivors in the Kurdish-majority province of Adıyaman went to the AKP governor Mahmut Çuhadar’s office to demand help, when they got there Çuhadar smirked as survivors shouted. The survivors, appalled, begin to chant “Adıyaman is alone”.
After receiving no help, the survivors went back to the Governor’s office the next day, flooding the Governor's office to protest the lack of response. Çuhadar and the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, Adil Karaismailoğlu fled with the protection of bodyguards, under a hail of kicks and curses.
A spike in anti-refugee sentiment – whipped up by the AKP regime and opposition parties to divert the anger of the masses from the ruling class to the refugees – has added another, vicious layer of suffering for the 1.6 million Syrian refugees in the quake zone.
Refugees report being denied help. Many are reporting that they have been kicked out of temporary shelter centres and that the AFAD is refusing to give them tents. One Syrian family retrieved from the debris gave a gut-wrenching description of their ordeal trapped under rubble: “We don't speak Turkish and we were afraid if we called out for help in Arabic, they wouldn’t save us. So we just made noise”.
Far-right Victory Party leader Umit Özdağ and his tiny, rabid reactionary base have been targeting the community, accusing them of looting and stealing aid and organised marches to expel them from shelters. Syrians who have survived the earthquake have even been attacked by these thugs.
Disillusionment with AKP
In Kahramanmaraş province, a stronghold of the AKP and the epicentre of both earthquakes, survivors are learning in the most painful way that the AKP is not on their side. When AFAD members reached the city, while thousands of people were waiting for cranes, AFAD rescuers used the crane to retrieve the safe of an Islamic school from the rubble of a building in which 12 people were trapped.
On the sixth day, with thousands of people still under the rubble amidst a shortage of cranes, AFAD used a crane to retrieve the safes of two banks, İşbank and Halkbank, outraging survivors and family members who were waiting for days for their loved ones to be rescued.
After all the Islamic and jingoistic talk by the AKP-MHP alliance, their utter contempt for the masses has been fully exposed. AKP officials are being rejected by the masses wherever they turn up to show their ‘support’.
One survivor shouted: “I never want to see any of you here again. Not for votes, not for anything. You left us to our fate. We don’t have water to drink, we don’t have food to eat, our children are freezing”. A survivor next to him joined in, shouting: “This is Kahramanmaraş. The AKP’s Kahramanmaraş”.
When the Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdağ, came to visit the Kurdish province Diyarbakir on 11 February, he was met with protests and boos amid shouts of “the government is finished”.
When the mayor of İskenderun, Hatay, Fatih Tosyalı (AKP) finally came to visit the site of a destroyed hospital on February 14, eight days after the quake, survivors who were still waiting for the bodies of their loved ones chased him away.
Across the quake zone, people are chasing away AKP-linked media outlets as they shout “you are only here to put on a show, get out of here!”
In Osmaniye province, which is the hometown of the far-right MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, people are shocked that Bahçeli did not visit or open the doors of his (fully-intact) empty mansion to survivors who were left out in the freezing cold for days. One woman in Osmaniye said: “If they have left us to die, there is no vote for them in this country. I regret voting for them.”
These layers are opening their eyes to the fact that while they were left to die in the freezing cold, their trusted representatives did not lift a finger, far away in their warm mansions and palaces.
They see the divide that separates them from these politicians and it is tearing the old bonds that connected them. “What would Erdogan do if it were his child?” and, “What would Erdogan do if it were his mother?” are the questions they are asking.
Many layers are beginning to understand the party they trusted are in fact their class enemies. It is bursting into a burning class anger, with one former AKP supporter saying: “They scared us with the fear of hell for years, but there is nothing to fear anymore because we are now living in hell. From now on, they should be afraid".
These words of warning are coming straight from the traditional base of the AKP-MHP.
Workers rush to help victims
Besides the response of the bankrupt, incompetent ruling class, there has been a huge outpouring of coordinated solidarity from the Turkish working class into the earthquake zone. In all corners of the country, workers gathered their own tools, organised truckloads of aid, and rushed to the quake region. Thousands of civilians, many of them Turkish, went to volunteer in the region, especially to the Kurdish and Arab populated areas abandoned by the government.
More than 10,000 miners rushed to the earthquake zone to help with the search and rescue efforts. Over 600 Zonguldak miners with the Turkish Hard Coal Corporation (TTK), were the first in the quake zone, followed by miners organised with Bağımsız Maden-İş, Genel Maden İşçileri Sendikası (GMİS), and more than 7,600 miners organised with TÜRK-İŞ. Construction workers organised with Dev Yapı-İş (DİSK) and İnşaat-İş also rushed to the quake zone. Firefighters organised with Tüm Bel-Sen İzmir have also joined the search and rescue efforts. Metalworkers organised with Birleşik Metal-İş (DİSK) and TOMİS, municipality workers organised with Genel-İş (DİSK), factory workers, warehouse workers, retail workers, and many, many more are also in the area. Energy workers, electricity workers, gas line workers, water works workers and dam workers have all coordinated to take on responsibility for repairing faulty and damaged utility lines in the disaster area. Agriculture and forestry workers coordinated to volunteer in the rural areas hit by the earthquake.
The skilled efforts of the miners in particular have proven superior in the search and rescue efforts. Across the earthquake zone, survivors say AFAD teams walked away from sites deemed ‘too dangerous’, despite hearing the sounds of survivors. Miners were nevertheless able to go in. Making use of the ‘pig roof’ mining technique, the miners opened up corridors in the rubble whilst preventing the collapse of the debris, and advanced through these corridors into the depths of buildings to rescue survivors.
We have also seen healthcare workers rushing to the area to treat the injured; couriers announcing they would deliver aid on motorbikes on impassable roads; donations from workers at Posta, Telegraf and Telefon (PTT); textile factory workers at OSB Industrial Park in Uşak and Izolli textile factory in Gölyaka working overtime shifts to make blankets for survivors; architects and carpenters, ironworkers, welders and ironsmiths coming together to build portable homes for the survivors; education workers organised with Egitim-Sen organising classes for children, as well as mental health and rehabilitation centres for survivors. The list goes on.
Workers’ solidarity has even extended internationally, with the All-Workers Militant Front (PAME) in Greece coordinating with DİSK to set up blood transfusion centres and send tonnes of goods into the quake zone.
These examples show the self-sacrifice and the capacity for organisation in the working class, in sharp contrast to the bankruptcy and incompetence of the ruling class and its state. This is genuine proletarian morality: the working class making the most remarkable sacrifices to come to the aid of their class brothers and sisters.
AKP and bosses attempt to smother workers’ solidarity
The militant solidarity which is being coordinated by the Turkish working class, and which is cutting across ethnic and national lines, poses a very dangerous scenario for the ruling class and the AKP-MHP government. They have therefore set out to attempt to break the spontaneous solidarity and unity that has emerged.
Many of these workers had to go up against the bosses to be able to join the rescue and relief efforts. Miners report being threatened with termination. The mining bosses, more concerned with their profits than saving lives, told the miners that if they did not have any vacation days to use, they would have to fend for themselves. Construction workers also defied the bosses and left for the quake zone. At least 30 construction workers have been fired after returning from the quake zone. A number of couriers, warehouse workers and retail workers were also fired for joining the efforts.
On top of all this, workers then had to overcome the barriers erected by the state. Although the Zonguldak miners were the first to leave for the quake zone they did not reach the area until 36 hours later as they had to wait at the airport to be ‘approved’ by the AFAD and then for a plane to be arranged. This was also reported by other workers as well as other volunteers who all report being made to wait until the second or third day.
The regime has been confiscating aid trucks of various organisations, including the Kurdish-based, left-wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the Turkish Workers’ Party (TİP). The HDP has reported multiple aid truck confiscations. Most recently, the Crisis Coordination Centre established by the HDP in the district of Pazarcik in Kahramanmaraş has been taken over by the government.
The regime is also carrying out arrests of activists and volunteers from all organisations. The Turkish Communist Party reported that 10 of their members were arrested for helping with relief efforts. Three communist Greek volunteers with the T-34 Labour Group were arrested in Hatay and were put on a plane and sent back to Greece. Defne Sevgi Park in Hatay which had been turned into a Crisis and Coordination tent city by aid organisations and left wing organisations has been cleared out by the Hatay governors’ office.
The contrast between the working-class response and the way the regime is frustrating these efforts is impacting consciousness. One survivor said: “My house is gone. I am an MHP member. The MHP has done nothing. They did not even give us one piece of bread. TÖP [a far-left organisation] is here. A ‘terrorist’ organisation. They are taking care of us. The French are here, the English are here, people from all countries. They are helping us and giving us food.”
When far-right Ozdağ came to visit an area in the quake zone, one of the volunteer rescuers confronted him: “Here are Syrians, Europeans, people from all over the world, even Greece is helping us. We, whether Muslim or Christian or Syrian, are fed up with hearing this sort of talk. Please put on your gloves and pick up the trash.”
When the earthquake struck, Erdoğan called for ‘national unity’ and immediately declared a state of emergency. This has given him enormous powers, which he is using to save his political skin in the upcoming elections. He has also been expanding their use to silence and repress any kind of opposition to his government’s response.
In a televised speech, he threatened those criticising the government’s response, stating that these “dishonourable” people “will be dealt with when the time is right”. AKP officials have doubled down on its threats throughout the past few weeks and stated: “we are taking notes” of those criticising the government.
When Erdoğan finally left his warm palace and visited survivors camped out in a stadium in Kahramanmaraş on the third day, he blamed “fate” for the disaster: “Such things have always happened. It’s part of destiny’s plan.” However, he did not explain why “such things” never seem to be the destiny of the rich. For Erdoğan, the workers and the poor are dispensable. They are merely instruments for exploitation, enabling him to live in opulent wealth.
In the week following the quake, the regime arrested more than 80 journalists and social media users, accusing them of spreading ‘disinformation’ about the government’s response. A number of opposition TV networks have been suspended and fined for reporting on the response. Erdoğan even blocked Twitter soon after the earthquake hit, and slowed the internet down to stop the spread of news of his incompetence. This callous, self-interested act stymied the coordination of rescue efforts on social media, as well as attempts by those trapped under the rubble to seek help, further stoking anger.
Erdoğan is attempting to invoke fear to repress and contain the masses, but he also fears that the situation is dangerously close to spinning out of control. A number of protests against the state’s response to the quake have been taking place, and the burning anger of the masses is beginning to rise to the surface.
At the end of February, football fans filled stadiums with chants of ‘20 years of cheating and lies’, and ‘Government resign’. The regime is now pressuring The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) to hold games without an audience. Erdoğan rightly fears the process taking place, but nothing he does can curb the outrage of the masses.
In order to placate the anger of the masses, the regime has arrested more than 230 building contractors and is investigating more than 600. Some of the contractors were caught in the airport, just before they were about to fly off, images of which AKP-linked media made sure to catch. The fact that an AKP mayor has even been arrested, as well as other AKP officials, shows the palpable fear of the regime, which is trying to scapegoat a few individuals.
The shameless hypocrisy of the AKP in blaming the criminal acts of a few ‘bad apples’ can only provoke disgust. These are not isolated individuals but part of a system which pursues profits at all costs. The fact that over 600 have already been identified shows how widespread the corruption is. As the anger of the masses increases, more arrests will be carried out, but justice will not be served.
In fact, the capitalists are already circling like vultures to make a profit from this catastrophe. The Turkish Housing Development Administration (TOKİ) has already awarded eight housing construction tenders worth 6 billion Turkish Liras in the quake zone through sealed bidding. Billions of dollars will be handed over to these ruthless parasites linked to the ruling AKP in the course of rebuilding these cities.
The AKP are rapidly being exposed before the eyes of the Turkish masses as nothing more than a gang of murderers and thieves, who have no qualms about sacrificing them for profits and then leaving them for dead. The hashtags #HesapSoracağız and #HesapVereceksiniz which translate into “We will settle accounts” and “You will pay” have been trending on Twitter since the earthquake struck. The rage of the masses could not be more clear and fearless.
Justice will only be done once the masses settle accounts precisely with Erdoğan, the AKP and the whole capitalist class, whose hands are all stained with blood. And the only way to achieve this is through the socialist revolution.