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“A Human-Made Disaster”: Kurdish MP in Southern Turkey Slams Government As Death Toll Hits 42,000

Written by on 17/02/2023

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Othman Moqbel, we want to thank you so much for being with us, CEO of Action for Humanity, speaking to us from Gaziantep, which is also known as Antep, in southern Turkey. We go now to Diyarbakir in Turkey, where we are joined by Hişyar Özsoy, Deputy Chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, a member of Turkish Parliament representing Diyarbakir in southern Turkey, the largest Kurdish-majority city in Turkey, where he has been helping with disaster relief since the earthquakes. Hişyar Özsoy, can you describe what is happening where you are, how similar is it to where Othman is, and what you think needs to happen right now?

HIŞYAR ÖZSOY: Thank you for the opportunity. I am now in Diyarbakir. In Diyarbakir, we have only six buildings that were collapsed and we have close to 500 people who have lost their lives, but a lot of people of course, they left the city. Many buildings are damaged. So when you compare with other places, of course, I would say it is even not comparable because the kind of destruction and devastation in places like Adiyaman, and Marash, and Hatay, and certain districts of Gaziantep, I mean, is really, really big.

We are having a complete disaster here. It is a nightmare situation. Not only so many people died, probably around 40,000, now these are the official records, but we know that there are still tens of thousands of people who are still under the rubble and most of the rescue operations are already suspended. Millions of people are affected. Complete districts, complete towns are destroyed. So it’s going to take a lot of time to recover, actually.

In that sense, I totally agree with Othman that it is not really possible for the Turkish I would say government to respond to this crisis. In fact, in the first three days, state and governmental institutions, they even didn’t exist, they weren’t anywhere. It was just ordinary people, civil society organizations, political parties, who mobilized to have people in need of urgent help like food and shelter and those kinds of things. So, the situation is bad. It’s going to take a lot of time. And definitely there is a need for international support and solidarity.

The government, unfortunately, declared emergency rule. So that was the first thing that they did. Rather than rescuing people from the rubble, they actually are now using emergency rule powers to somehow take control over even the humanitarian aid. It is a very bizarre situation. The government is obstructing, actually, civil society, as well as political parties, to mobilize people for help. So, I hear very deeply what Othman was saying about the need for international community to support Turkey and Syria.

When you compare the amount of resources and money poured into, for example, the context of Ukraine, where we have a war actually over the last year because of the Russian invasion of—unlawful invasion, of course—of Ukraine, there is a war there, many people are dying, probably not this many people that we have lost in the earthquake. But when you see the kinds—probably like hundreds of billions of dollars that were poured into that context, which is somehow militarizing the conflict further, militarizing the conflict. But when it is security and defense and those kinds of issues, there are always resources available, money is always available. But when it comes to a humanitarian situation like this—but really, I mean, the numbers, the kind of funding that we’re having from the international institutions, it is very, very limited. So, more needs to be done.

This is not a natural disaster in Turkey. It is a human-made disaster. Yes, earthquakes do happen. This is an earthquake zone. And since 1999 when we had the big earthquake close to Istanbul, when we lost actually tens of thousands of people, since then a lot of scientists, experts, geologists, they have been warning our governments to prepare the country, particularly these towns and the people there, for the earthquake. But nothing was done. Because we don’t have safe buildings. We have a lot of corruption and bribery, unfortunately. There is no good governmental inspection of the construction sector, which is the backbone of the Turkish economy. So there is a whole corrupt economy behind this whole disaster.

That is why we think of this disaster not as kind of a natural disaster. I mean, people don’t die naturally. This is a massacre. And from the local governments to the central government to many other institutions who are responsible to actually build safe houses for our people. The average citizen should have a right to a safe place to live. But we have seen buildings only that were constructed like last year, two years ago, three years ago, despite the fact that we have on the papers strict regulations, but nobody is following the rules. And then an earthquake with the magnitude of 7.7 happens and we have tens of thousands of people dead.

In Japan, for example, an earthquake of 9.1 even couldn’t be this kind of deadly. That is why I think—I hope that people in Turkey, our governments will take this as a very serious warning, because Turkey is an earthquake country. These earthquakes are going to happen. But we never take the lesson, and we never prepare our towns and our people. And in that sense, we all actually have a lot of responsibility.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you elaborate on that? Why you believe that Turkey, despite this devastating earthquake of 1999, did not take steps? Some have suggested that in the last 20 years in which Erdoğan has been the leader, first as prime minister and then as president, there was an increasing centralization of power around the presidency and that this somehow has contributed to Turkey’s lack of preparedness. Could you respond to that, whether you think that is true and if so, how?

HIŞYAR ÖZSOY: In Turkey, there is something that we call imar affı [sp] in Turkish, which I think it can be translated as zoning permission or zoning amnesty. Which means that people construct buildings, not following the rules, and all kinds of buildings which are not properly built, which do not have the permission from the government or the local authorities. These are just totally illegal settlements. Okay. And then before almost every election, there is an amnesty for these people. So all these unlawfully constructed, unsafe buildings, they are actually—the government pardons them and all of them, they become legal. This is a very, very major problem. It’s not about the AKP government. Historically over the last 50, 60 years, we have this practice. Every single government, to get some votes they declare these amnesties and they make legal unlawfully built, unsafe houses, apartments. That is one thing.

The second thing is, of course, the housing and these buildings, they are totally left to the mercy of a totally unregulated housing and construction market, so even the inspection of these buildings is being done by private companies. That is the most ridiculous thing. This is about the safety of your citizens, so you cannot really leave the inspection of those buildings to private companies. In that sense, there should be some kind of public regulation of these buildings. For example, a construction company, actually they can also have a building inspection company and they can pay that company to inspect the buildings that they themselves are constructing. It is such a ridiculous situation. So the local governments and the central government, they need to take responsibility and make sure that the houses that are being built are built properly based on the rules, and punish those who do not follow the rules. Honestly, we think this is a massacre and they are perpetrators.

Now the government is arresting a couple of contractors, some business people, but that is scapegoating, actually. They are also attacking some poor Syrian refugees, accusing them of like stealing stuff from the rubble. So now we have the immigrants to attack, the Syrian poor refugees, immigrants to attack. And then we have a couple of constructors, some business people who built those buildings. Yes, they do have some responsibility but the majority of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of the government, and the local governments, who are authorized, who are responsible to make sure that these buildings are built properly, as safe ones. That is not happening. And there is corruption, there is bribery.

I was in Marash district—actually I was visiting this family and they told me actually that in this earthquake zone in Pazarcık district of Marash, you can only build a five-story building. But their building was 10-story, and I asked them, I said, “How did this happen?” They said, “We just saw the mayor, and we could get permission.” Can you imagine that? I mean, it’s incredible. And everybody knows this, actually. The society knows this, the government, local government. Everybody is a part of this. So that is why I think this is a collectively carried-out massacre. Mass murder, really. And there are perpetrators of this. These are not just some contractors. The government should be kept responsible.

AMY GOODMAN: Hişyar Özsoy, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Deputy Chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, member of the Turkish Parliament representing Diyarbakir in southern Turkey, the largest Kurdish-majority city in Turkey, where he has been helping with disaster relief, just came from a funeral. Next up, we look at the spiraling global economic crisis from Pakistan to Sri Lanka to Lebanon where protesters today attacked six banks, setting some of them on fire. Back in 30 seconds.

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