Turkey-Syria earthquake exposes Erdogan’s failing government

Destroyed buildings in Diyarbakir, Turkey, Photo: Public domain

The video footage of a woman, just rescued from under the rubble, pleading with ambulance workers not to take her to a private hospital went viral in Turkey, almost two weeks after two powerful earthquakes hit south eastern Turkey and northern Syria on 6 February.

This footage of an earthquake survivor more concerned about her hospital bills rather than her health is yet another example that exposes everything that is rotten with capitalism.

According to official figures, the death toll has surpassed 41,000 in Turkey and 5,000 in Syria. More than 100,000 people are injured, thousands are still beneath the rubble, and a huge number of people are left homeless. The true scale of this disaster is not yet clear, but the death toll is likely to dramatically increase still.

Even though the ruling party led by Turkish President Erdogan is doing its best to hide all of its faults, there is widespread anger as people blame Erdogan for the scale of this disaster.

In 2013, Erdogan tweeted: ‘Buildings kill, not earthquakes’. And he’s right. His government turned a blind eye to building contractors and construction companies who cut corners to maximise their profits.

The ‘zoning amnesty’ of 2018 enabled the registration of millions of illegally built properties that breached safety and licensing standards. This was one of Erdogan’s populist policies and he boasted about the amnesty during his election campaign in 2019. Those buildings in south eastern Turkey have now become graveyards for tens of thousands of people.

Cynically, Erdogan has now overseen the state issuing 113 arrest warrants for building developers.

Lack of help

A vacuum has formed in the affected areas after the earthquake as the government fails miserably to provide the basic necessities for local people.

The vacuum in some areas has been filled by trade unions, left-wing organisations and volunteers from day one. But despite the best efforts of the volunteers, there are still shortages of toilet facilities, tents, sanitary products and electric heaters in the area.

In the chaos that followed the earthquake, some people who felt like they had no choice looted supermarkets. A mother said she had no choice but to steal nappies from a supermarket as there was no help from the authorities.

Far-right groups are spreading rumours that it is Syrian refugees who are looting shops and stealing valuable items from the rubble and empty buildings. Some Syrians, or people who were mistaken to be Syrians, have reportedly been lynched by small groups and police officers.

The far-right wants to scapegoat Syrian refugees for the looting and lack of resources in the area. This is in the interest of the government as it wants to channel the anger towards the refugees rather than the government officials, building contractors, and construction companies who are responsible for the scale of this disaster.

With over four million refugees, Turkey hosts the world’s largest refugee population. Anti-immigration sentiments were already high in Turkish society before the earthquake. Capitalist politicians use refugees as scapegoats for the lack of resources and homes provided by mainstream pro-capitalist opposition parties.

The spread of the rumours, however, can lead to a dangerous escalation of tensions between different communities. The workers’ movement in Turkey must combat this ‘divide-and-rule’ tactic by fighting for a united movement for jobs and homes for all.

Turkey is one of the richest countries in the world. It does have enough resources to provide decent living standards for all. But the money that exists in society goes into the pockets of the rich, not working-class people.

Rather than using the more than one million empty homes and hotels in the nearby area, the government is building tent camps or kicking students out of university halls.

There must be an emergency housing programme, developed in consultation with local people, to rebuild the area and house people. But there cannot be any trust in this government or construction companies to carry this out.

Nationalisation of the housing sector, under the democratic control of the working class, is necessary to build genuinely affordable earthquake-resilient houses.

There cannot be any trust in Erdogan or the pro-capitalist opposition parties. Not only are these pro-capitalist politicians responsible for the devastation caused, but they will want working-class people to pay for the economic cost of this disaster.

There is an urgent need in the workers’ movement in Turkey to begin the discussions on forming a new mass workers’ party armed with a socialist programme. Such a programme would include fighting for jobs, homes, and decent living standards for all, including those who are abandoned and neglected after the earthquake.

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February 2023