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Natural Disasters as Economic and Political Weapons

Natural Disasters as Economic and Political Weapons The Turkish earthquake against the Kurdish community

Kurdistan, or the impossibility of its existence, represents a millennial problem in the heart of the Middle East, being moreover one of the most controversial and at the same time current dilemmas of modern history. The most recent materialization of this conflict is represented by the aftermath of the earthquakes in Turkey at the start of February, when the tragic natural catastrophe underscored the maintenance of the neglect of the Kurdish community by the Turkish state. The weaponization of the earthquake against the Kurds leads the ostracized community into leaving the Turkish territory, a goal that the Turkish state has had for hundreds of years. More so, this natural disaster is not the first one that the Erdogan-led Turkey has used against the Kurds, blaming the Kurdish party for the start of the 2021 wildfires. However, President Erdogan is not the first one to neglect the Kurdish provinces when they were hit by natural disasters, the earthquakes from 2003 and 1975 being prime examples of the matter. 

Natural disaster, as political and economic opportunity 

The reality of the natural disaster is evident, with entire cities turning into rubble that host human remains, but also trapping ideas, memories and experiences below them. The earthquake brutally took away the life of cities and of their inhabitants, leaving the subject to the “mercy” of the Turkish State and the humanitarian missions across the region and the entire world. Each and every press outlet across the world screened the aftermath of the disaster, from the tragic side of the story to the coldest social, cultural, political and economic problems that the incident raised. But as far as the “hype” generated from the event faded away, the international community seems blind to the fact that this disaster is another obstacle in the way of the Kurds in terms of obtaining independence or at least equal rights between them and the other ethnic groups in the areas occupied by them.

The Kurdish regions from South-Turkey saw probably the least aid from the Turkish State after the February earthquake, the Kurds being neglected when it comes to the monetary and humanitarian aid offered by the Turkish state to the victims, this being possible by minimalizing the number of wounded and dead in the areas occupied by them so that the aid is not justified. Moreover, Turkish authorities “arrived” late in the Kurdish affected zones, this leading to the increasing number of deaths of citizens from those cities, Urfa being an example of such a city. Furthermore, economically speaking, the public spending needed to basically rebuild the destroyed cities, a lot of them being Kurdish provinces, has raised the question of how fair this redistribution of wealth will be considering the low level of funds invested in the Kurdish regions in the last century. This is why the East and South-East of the country are known as the less educated and more affected by poverty regions of Turkey. Even though President Erdogan promised to compensate each family with 10.000 Turkish liras after the earthquake, the aforementioned fact that sees Kurds being removed from the “list” of victims outlines even more the discrimination of their community. More so, the authorities also promised the victims to rebuild their homes or to pay the rents of the people left without homes, basically leaving the Kurds either dead or homeless, wounded and economically unsalvageable. The already exploited and discriminated Kurdish community and political parties are obligated to “restart” their lives with almost no resources, not even financial ones. This is especially galling as the victims of the tragic event have no ethnicity or belief, everybody needs to be helped in any way possible, of course excluding the Kurds. 

Costs and benefits of nature- or man-made destructions 

Even the costs of the destruction caused by the earthquake remain unclear, and not only because of the short time that passed after the event, but because of the uncertainty that the economic calculations will ever include the loss felt by the Kurds. Also, as the Turkish economy was expected to grow by about 3.25% in 2023, the earthquake will surely lessen the amount, considering the inflation that hits the country at the current time. International aid will try to minimize the discrepancies between life before and after the earthquake, but it remains to be seen how the Kurdish population will access these aids, if they will ever have the opportunity.

Considering the fact that the state closes its eyes to the loss of lives and homes of the Kurdish community, international organizations might find it difficult to aid the Kurds since reports do not include them. Also a lot of the Kurdish provinces have been literal warzones, especially territories that border Syria. 80% of the political violence reported in Turkey in 2022 and 2021 involved Kurdish militants, especially in the zone hit by the February earthquake. This fact sees the natural disaster and the Turkish state both to blame for the terror felt by the Kurds, as the war and the neglect imposed by the state against the ethnic group lead to the catastrophe. Entire cities were ground into little pieces, one of the most affected being Adiyaman, a Kurdish city. The Erdogan regime is to blame for the poor construction standards of the buildings, since government permits for housing construction tripled in the years immediately after his election as President. The Construction Amnesty of 2018 that gave occupancy permits to more than 3 million building that disregarded building codes was used as a short term economic and political tool to gain more votes, considering the fact that this law was imposed 5 weeks before the presidential elections in Turkey. This Amnesty is a major factor in the destruction of entire cities in Turkey, video footage showing the abnormal way some of the buildings behaved during the earthquake. Even though architects and engineers protested against the law, Turkish lawmakers ignored the manifestations and proceeded to apply the rule solely for political gain. 

Some final thoughts (as well as what remains to be done) 

Such a tragedy needs to have a conclusion or to impose a learning mechanism not only for the Turkish state and for the Kurdish community, but for the entire world. Each group that shares the problems and struggles of the Kurds can and in my opinion should look at this event and find the similarities between themselves and this ethnic group. From the other standpoint, Turkey stands as a negative example in the international community as a strong “how not to”. Economists and political analysts should also look at the earthquake in Turkey and how it was handled in order to learn what the repercussions are for imposing a Construction Amnesty and for neglecting an entire portion of the country in order to subdue a community.

Geopolitically speaking, this disaster and the aftermath that is yet to be unfolded will teach the international community how a natural disaster that you feel prey to as a victim can also be used for your own benefit. If we look at the Kurds or at the Turkish state, either of them can reborn from this experience, the benefit of one needing the shortcoming or drawback of the other. This disaster sees the conflict regarding Kurdistan in a new stage of development, and it remains to be seen in whose favor the future will unfold. 


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