The border between Turkey and Syria was the scene of the 7.8 Richter earthquake that left more than 35,000 dead. The region is home to autonomous Kurdish, Arab and Alevi communities grouped together in Kurdistan, regardless of the borders imposed by the states. No humanitarian aid has reached all of these communities.
According to sociologist and activist Azize Azlan, there are at least 20 cities and 26 million people living in towns and cities along this border. According to her calculations, there are 15 million in Kurdistan and Turkey and 11 million in Kurdistan and Syria. Of these, more than 5 million are considered vulnerable in places that were totally collapsed by the earthquake.
There are collapsed buildings, no electricity, no water, destroyed roads, no communication signals, destroyed schools, no access to clean water and the spread of diseases in freezing winter temperatures. In short, the bombing has not stopped.
“We have failed the people”
Humanitarian aid has failed to reach the region. The United Nations itself acknowledged that the delivery of aid to Syria has been a failure. It said that at least 5 million people have been left homeless.
“So far we have failed the people in northwest Syria. No wonder they feel abandoned, looking for international help that has not arrived,” said UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths.
The UN counts 33,000 deaths, of which 5,25 thousand are from Syria. Almost 10,000 people are wounded in Syria, 84,000 in total, including those in Turkey.
The little aid provided by governments has been unequal and militarized, says Alessia Dro in an interview.
The struggle belongs to women
Alessia Dro is an international activist who accompanies the Kurdistan Women’s movement, which currently has a presence in Latin America. She is originally from Sardinia and tells in an interview what is happening in the autonomous territory of Kurdistan after the earthquake.
Alessia became involved at a very young age with the women and communities in Kurdistan that formed the Kongra Star. She witnessed how the reconstruction process of this city located on the Syrian-Turkish border was carried out. This, after every building, house, shop and street was in ruins. The whole day was spent in neighbourhood assemblies where they discussed how to rebuild the city and how to get out of the dynamics of the war.
The communes were daily choosing how to work without exploitation; how to rebuild the city. From building a road, to recycling materials, even with the embargo dictated by Turkey. The women were at the forefront of this reconstruction and now, as 10 years ago, they are rising again from the ruins.
“What is worrying is not only the earthquake, but also the context in which it occurred, which refers to the internal and external war“, describes Alessia Dro.
Almost 10 years after the Kurdish revolution, what activists who have been in constant communication with the affected people in Kurdistan describe is that, in the face of tragedy, villages and women are organising themselves to care for the hundreds of wounded and trapped.
As people who have lived through war, they know how to share tasks, form initiatives, produce, find and distribute. They have formed women’s communes, so they named them, who are cooking for everyone, sewing tents, making lists of people, and reaching out to the most forgotten villages.
It is worth remembering that the war began in 2011 as a popular revolt against President Bashar al-Assad. Since the first attacks by Turkey on 9 October 2019, when more than 400,000 people had to migrate after the attacks and as attacks by the Turkish state increase, more people are forced to migrate.
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that the war in Syria has left 350,000 civilians dead.
In the earthquake-affected area in Syria, half is controlled by Syrian armed forces, the other half by Turkish forces and jihadists backed by the Turkish army, Azize Aslan points out.
Context of War
–What is happening in Rojava – Kurdistan after the 7.8 earthquake? What are they telling you from there?
-There are no words. The humanitarian situation is dramatic at the moment after the swarm of earthquakes that hit communities in northern Kurdistan in southeastern Turkey, and in the Rojava area of northeastern Syria. There are no words to describe the rage and pain.
The WHO says today that more than 20,000 [now 35,000] people have been killed under the rubble in Syria and Turkey as a result of the earthquake, and there is growing expectation and hope for further rescues.
Thousands of people are still under the rubble. I have friends who are waiting for their loved ones to be rescued, hearing their voices for help, but in Northern Kurdistan, southeastern Turkey, for the marginalised communities affected by the tremors, the Turkish government has not sent rescue teams, operating in a discriminatory and militarised way against the areas most affected by the earthquake, which are inhabited by marginalised communities such as Kurds, Arabs, Alevis….
An article in the Washington Post underlined in its headline that “The death toll from Turkey’s earthquake could be more than just a natural disaster”. Asli Aydintasbas analysed the consequences of the earthquake in Turkey and the implementation of the Erdogan government.
Although Turkey is in a known seismic zone, few buildings have been designed to take earthquakes into account. This article points to government corruption, whereby there are many buildings that withstood the quake, saving the lives of their occupants, while others next door collapsed due to their sloppy construction processes as the main cause of death.
But it is not only this that is worrying, it is also worrying that Erdogan’s AKP government, which is a war government with a lot of corruption, steals the budget for earthquakes to spend it on invasion policies and military attacks instead of taking precautions regarding earthquakes.
-In what political context is this earthquake taking place?
-The handling of this national calamity in Turkey – a country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world – was immediately organised by excluding from the discussion on the implementation of the national emergency plan the democratic political forces opposed to Erdogan’s conservative and Islamist ones.
And this, a few months before the elections in the country, aggravates enormously the chances of solving the current humanitarian crisis and is a clear sign of the kind of dictatorial regime Turkey is living nowadays, at a time when solidarity and unity are needed and not a touch of stay-put and discrimination.
The autonomous Kurdish municipalities, therefore, in the north of Kurdistan in Turkey are organising themselves to mobilise and generate not only in words an extended call for human solidarity. Women’s associations and the whole society joined the rescue operations.
Due to the aftershocks of the earthquake, because of the total destruction of buildings, yesterday and today people were forced to stay outdoors in a harsh winter with sub-zero temperatures without adequate materials for these harsh weather conditions.
Solidarity groups and not governmental groups delivered water, blankets and without any shadow of state intervention human chains were created to save the lives of the missing.
Thousands of people, Turks, Kurds, Armenians and all communities in Turkey have gathered to donate blood for the thousands of injured without distinction: human solidarity is what saves lives today.
What is worrying is not only the earthquake, but also the context in which it occurred, which refers to the internal and external war affecting communities in Turkey and Syria today. Erdogan has previously waged a bitter internal war against the Kurdish towns of Cizre, Silopî Nusayibin and Amed in 2015.
Now, while receiving international emergency aid, he is declaring curfews (states of emergency) in more than a dozen Kurdish-majority provinces in the interior of the country. And without showing the slightest human sensitivity to the tragedy, according to Medya Haber sources, he has issued threats, in a heated tone in these hours, to the people who survived in the quake-ravaged areas.
Women in emergencies
–Are women at the forefront of rebuilding cities after the attacks in Turkey? How have they reacted to this event?
-In Rojava and across Syria, the earthquake situation affects an area devastated by a decades-long international war and has affected displaced people and precarious housing.
Women in northeastern Syria have been at the forefront, in the areas affected by today’s earthquake, both in Kobane and Afrin, in rebuilding entire towns after the liberation of Isis, rebuilding their homes and their lives.
I was with the autonomous communes of Kobane in 2016 to decide together how to rebuild the city after the war. With women of all ages after the liberation of Isis, it was rebuilt from the schools, and from a deep sense of freedom, with the self-managed free academies with the proposal of Jineoloji and the opening of women’s houses in each neighbourhood, houses active in the field of community justice, in the field of health, in the field of education, for the construction of social relations in a profoundly anti-patriarchal sense.
I was in the Shehba camps in Rojava in 2017 and I have seen there with my own eyes and felt with my heart how Afrin, a very green region, had become the area that most in Rojava had welcomed so many refugees affected by the war and coming from other parts of Syria and Iraq to welcome them under the Social Charter of the People’s Contract of this area, which, beyond the statocentric mechanism of citizenship, establishes, as a contract between Peoples, the universal right of asylum for people of any origin, an inalienable right of asylum, for all people who decide to stop and live there.
That year there was a climate of coexistence, peace, direct democracy and self-government for the people who have refuge in Afrin.
–Afrin, one of the hardest hit areas and the place with most refugees from war, what has happened to its populations?
Since 2018, the city of Afrin has been overrun by a Turkish military occupation followed by a so-called “Peace Spring” invasion in 2019. This military operation has created a demographic shift in the area by committing gross human rights violations, and has replaced refugee populations of different communities and spiritualities, with Islamist jihadist gangs allied and funded by Turkey.
As a result of this occupation by the Turkish state, thousands of women from Afrin are missing today, following this military operation, and international campaigns have been launched for their reappearance alive. Around Afrin, and up to Aleppo and Til Rifat there are now camps for displaced people after the Turkish occupation.
Now it is difficult to receive information from Syria, but I have received news from northeastern Syria: Afrin, along with Cizre and the Euphrates region, is one of the areas most affected by the earthquake in Rojava. And it is there that the Turkish state has decided last night, in the midst of the national emergency after the shocks of the earthquake, to carry out a military operation by bombing the areas of northeastern Syria affected by the earthquake.
We should not forget that on the global geopolitical stage, Erdogan is the mediator of migration flows to Europe and represents the most explicit face of NATO’s modus operandi.
He carries out war crimes while presenting himself to the eyes of the world as a mediator of peace between Russia and Ukraine, but in reality we are dealing with a dictatorial government that in a humanitarian emergency during an earthquake decided to carry out military operations to attack neighbouring areas, such as the Syrian Rojava.
This is what Turkey is currently doing, while the Autonomous Administration is lending its aid without distinction to help throughout Syria wherever it is needed, even though embargoes and harsh restrictions remain in place.
How to help
-What is the best way to support at this time from Mexico?
-In the last few days, the Kurdistan women’s movement in Latin America has shared the data of the Kurdish Red Crescent, a worldwide organized humanitarian organization, which called on all people of solidarity, international organizations to provide urgent help to the victims of the earthquake.
Organized Red Crescent volunteers are rescuing people and providing basic necessities, tents, blankets, water, emergency medical supplies.
Communities in Rojava, in northeastern Syria, as well as in northern Kurdistan, in southeastern Turkey, are organizing to cope with the emergency of thousands of injured people and thousands of collapsed buildings.
Although heartbroken, we have received in the last few hours, many messages and a collective embrace addressed to the earthquake affected communities in Kurdistan, with unprecedented human sensitivity especially from Mexico, and across the South American continent. Where power and catastrophes aim to destroy, solidarity without borders makes us rebuild, with strength and without borders.
In this indescribably hard moment, this gives us much hope.