‘The tent cities have become a showplace for the government’

While there is still a lack of everything in the earthquake region, the Turkish government is busy trying to find new profits. Lawyer Nuray Özdoğan, one of the HDP's crisis coordinators, assesses the current situation.

After the severe series of earthquakes with epicentre in Maraş on 6 February, people in the region still have not found permanent solutions. While shelter is the biggest problem, access to clean drinking water in the earthquake zones is becoming more difficult by the day. In addition, there are legal gaps, people still unable to find their relatives, missing children, asbestos hazards and much more. Meanwhile, the AKP/MHP government in Turkey has declared forests as construction areas and started building houses under the regulations issued under the state of emergency. The warnings of experts that the fault lines are changing are being ignored.

Lawyer Nuray Özdoğan, one of the crisis coordinators of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), spoke to ANF about their work since 6 February and the urgent needs and problems in the earthquake region.

It has been more than a month since the earthquake. What work have you done as HDP crisis coordinator despite the obstacles that have arisen?

6 February was a milestone for all of us. The earthquake we experienced is a great disaster. But the severe humanitarian problems and destruction cannot be called a disaster. It is a massacre for which the current government mechanisms, the state and the government are responsible. The HDP has mobilised all the mechanisms of the party from the first hours to fight the consequences of the disaster. The committees we formed for the elections were transformed into earthquake coordinations. A mobilisation was called with all the MPs, our youth and women councils, volunteers and all our members. In the first few days, when none of the state institutions took action, our priority was to reach the area and save lives within our means.

We organised ourselves through our central crisis coordination centres in Ankara and Diyarbakır, the coordination offices in the provinces and districts and more than 3,000 volunteers. Four separate commissions were established within the Central Crisis Coordination Centre: Technical, Transport and Accommodation, AFAD and Provincial Communication. To date, approximately 60,000 requests have been made to the Crisis Coordination Centre and 300,000 separate communications have been made. Contact has been made with 12,322 earthquake victims who have been treated and released from hospitals. So far, 617 vehicles, including trucks and vans, have been sent to earthquake-affected provinces, districts and villages. In the initial phase, it was not so much an obstacle as the failure of the relevant government institutions to provide the necessary coordination that would have enabled us to reach the people struggling to survive under the rubble or in the open in harsh winter conditions.

What was the issue?

Roads were not cleared for humanitarian needs and the deployment of construction equipment, and air, land and, in some cases, sea transport were not deployed to the disaster area. This added to the losses. Although the people could have been supplied with urgently needed aid even by air and sea in the first phase, this was not done. This state, which is a member of NATO and has had all kinds of tools and equipment with large budgets to continue its war policy for decades, and the government in office have abandoned their people under the rubble.

The current government does not touch anything it cannot turn into a profit. It acts like a company for commercial purposes. Many people have lost their lives because they were not saved. This fact can neither be forgiven nor forgotten. It is a fact that members of the Alliance for Freedom and Labour, in which we are also represented, as well as the democratic public, non-governmental organisations, the Alevi community and associations have carried out relief actions within their means despite the policy of repression and intimidation that has been going on for years. This solidarity was great and meaningful. Our party has been deprived of public funds, but we, together with our members, friends and volunteers, have resisted the policy of oppression and obstruction and made great efforts to reach every village and district indiscriminately. It was only through the unrest that arose with the government due to the people's self-organisation that forces were mobilised that had not taken action before.

Attempts were made to spread fear and terror by blockading our aid trucks and confiscating our aid centres and putting them under trustee management. Torture and ill-treatment were practised. These practices have still not stopped. Imagine, all the coordinating agencies, including us, have had to spend some of their time and energy on how to get relief goods and rescue vehicles into the area against the unlawful and unfair intervention of the disaster management agency AFAD or the governors, and the same situation still exists. This is because those who did not provide relief themselves due to lack of merit and preference adopted an attitude that prevented relief work. Unfortunately, this earthquake has made us realise even more clearly how important it is to strengthen local governments and the self-government of the people living in this region and to allow them to make their own decisions. The assistance that the few remaining communities after the trustee coup and other opposition communities have provided within their means has been crucial for the earthquake victims.

According to your assessment, what are the most urgent needs in the earthquake area?

First of all, search and rescue operations still need to be carried out in the region. People had to leave the bodies of their relatives under the rubble. Everyone has the right to access and bury the bodies of their loved ones. As part of the clearance work, people's bodies are being treated as rubble along with the debris. This situation is inhumane. The asbestos problem and environmental degradation are totally ignored. The Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation should check the asbestos hazard in all demolition works and take appropriate precautions, but we see that none of this is being done. In some places, the debris is dumped on agricultural land.

If agricultural production in the region comes to a standstill, there will be a food problem. People are threatened with famine. Moreover, no real damage assessment is being done. It is a mystery how people will claim their unidentified damages. Drinking water, shelter and nutrition remain a major problem. No accurate information is received from any public institution and no proper explanations are given. The problem of water supply needs to be solved urgently. There is an urgent and essential need for weather-proof containers. In cold and rainy weather, living in inadequate tents is very difficult, and when it gets warmer, the risk of epidemics increases. The camps set up in a few places with tents sold by the Kizilay [Red Crescent] cannot solve the growing and increasing problems. The tent cities have become a staging ground for the government. Above all, women and children are suffering the consequences of the earthquake.

The continuity of the need is obvious. As HDP, what kind of formula do you propose for a lasting solidarity and solution?

Without leaving the initiative to the local governments in the region, it seems difficult to solve the problems related to infrastructure. The preference and policy of the central government are already clear. This disaster, with its painful consequences, has shown us once again how important social self-organisation is. The HDP will continue its solidarity and support activities until all the wounds of the earthquake are healed. We are only directing our solidarity activities according to need. Together with other legal institutions, we have also started legal information work. For about two weeks now, we have been going from place to place visiting the earthquake victims to provide legal information.

We will continue to act together with the solidarity networks of all organisations, structures, associations and citizens' initiatives in the region. We will do our best to enable reconstruction through processes in which all people in the region can participate. It is important to maintain solidarity not only in the region but also in other provinces. Separate work is being done in the provinces that have received earthquake victims, focusing on shelter and settlement. The issue of missing children is also one of our important concerns. We must not hand over any of our children to the homes of religious orders. This process must be sustained through the partnership and struggle of the entire democratic public.

As HDP, we have filed criminal charges against all the injustices that have taken place since 6 February: against all the institutions and people involved in the construction, licensing and legal regulation procedures for earthquake-resistant buildings. Against officials and authorities who did not carry out search and rescue operations, against the Information and Communication Technology Authority (BTK) who prevented communication, against those who confiscated relief goods and tortured and abused people. We will hold those who caused this great massacre legally and politically accountable.

You also mentioned the debris removal work. How will the clean-up be done legally, especially in terms of evidence, and what should actually be done?

Before eviction work begins, prosecutors must conduct an evidence and due diligence inspection at the demolition site. This has criminal and legal consequences. This examination is important for establishing criminal and legal responsibilities. However, like state institutions, judicial authorities do not act without the authorisation of the central government. Normally, all prosecutors' offices should act on their own initiative. If there are obstacles in the investigation procedures, they should take criminal action against those who have created these obstacles or who do not fulfil the conditions of the investigation procedures. This is their duty. Since these procedures are not carried out by the state, the earthquake victims are trying to carry out the evidence by their own means and with the help of professional associations such as the Bar Association and the Federation of Chambers of Architects and Engineers (TMMOB). The obstructionism of those who caused and are responsible for this devastation makes it impossible to carry out these findings officially. However, this attitude does not absolve the state of its responsibility.