On February 6th, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Southern and Central Turkey, as well as Northern Syria. This disaster has severely devastated the regions, with more than 40,000 people have killed and tens of thousands more have injured and sicplaced. On February 20, a second earthquake hit the border region, this time with its epicenter in the Turkish city if Antakya.
To understand the context and the impact this disaster will have in the complex geopolitical reality of the region, we talked with Ruben Wagensber, activist and member of the Catalan Parliament for Esquerra Republicana since 2017.
To begin with, how can we interpret the difference between the aid that the West sends to Syria and that which reaches Turkey?
This difference reminds us that, even in this disaster, for most Western states, the lives of some people are worth more than other. Turkey is a state that is part of NATO and has a key role in the war in Ukraine. For this reason, despite the numerous convictions that the Turkish state has in the European Court of Human Rights for violating fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, association or for discriminating against groups such as homosexuals, Turkey has very good relations with Western bloc partners as they have many interests there. Therefore, from this point of view, it is normal that the entire Western bloc has thrown itself into helping Turkey and has forgotten Syria, a country that has been at war for 10 years and is suffering sanctions from the entire international community.
It is particularly serious, the lack of humanitarian aid that the international community is giving to the area governed by the Kurds and other minorities through the Administration of the North and East of Syria and to the Kurdish territories, that Turkey occupied a few years ago. In this area, apart from the restrictions imposed by the international community, they suffer from the blockade of the Syrian regime and the attacks and threats of invasion by Turkey. These days, it has been normal to see convoys of trucks with international aid stopped at the border of the Kurdish territory of Afrin, illegally occupied by Turkey since 2018, because the Turkish authorities did not let them enter to distribute the material. The same state that claims international aid makes it impossible for them to enter the Kurdish areas that it itself occupies. They are practices of crimes against humanity.
As you can see, unfortunately, once again, the West is leaving aside those who need it most to focus on their economic and geopolitical interests.
How will this disaster affect the geopolitical context of the Kurdistan region?
Making predictions about how geopolitical events in the Kurdistan region will progress is very complicated due to the large number of actors involved. First, it is necessary to distinguish the effects it may have on Turkish Kurdistan. In this case, it should be noticed that the earthquake has postponed the trial of the HDP, the Kurdish party that is the third most represented in the Turkish Parliament, and it is more than likely that its illegalization is being delayed a few months. Thus, it is most likely that HDP will be able to present in the Turkish elections this May and that they will maintain some of their influence in Turkish politics. However, Erdogan is trying to capitalize the reconstruction. He will use all the tools at his disposal to ensure that the reconstruction encourages the marginalization of Kurds and the establishment of Arabs in traditionally Kurdish areas.
The situation of Syrian Kurdistan is even more complex and complicated for the interests of the Kurds. Since the defeat of the Islamic State, by the Kurdish forces, the region is governed by the Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria. This government is, fundamentally, made up of Kurds but it has the participation of all the minorities and religions of the territory. This administration suffers from a blockade by the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad and Turkey, which threatens to invade it. This December, Turkey launched several strikes there and appeared to be beginning a ground occupation. However, it seems that due to the pressures of the United States the invasion did not occur.
Currently, the main fear of the Administration of North and East Syria is that there is an agreement between the Syrian regime and Turkey to divide this territory and invade it jointly. We might think that the earthquake has calmed the threats of invasion, but this time Turkey’s drone attacks are already taking place. Not even after this disaster does Turkey seem to stop its plans to destroy this democratic and inclusive political project.
What civic and institutional initiatives have been carried out in Catalonia to support those affected by the earthquake?
Since the news of the earthquake were known, there have been multiple Catalan cooperation initiatives that have been activated to help those affected by the earthquake. First, the rescue teams made up of firefighters and medical units were activated and deployed on the ground.
After a few days, the president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonés, announced a batch of humanitarian aid of 2 million euros. This amount of money will be sent directly to the region or will arrive via the Catalan cooperation entities that will deploy humanitarian and reconstruction projects on the ground.
It should be noted that despite the will of the Generalitat and the Catalan entities to help the territories of the Administration of the North and East of Syria, the blockade of its airspace is making it difficult to send humanitarian material quickly. Right now, there are several initiatives exploring how to send financial and material aid to help this territory that has strong ties to Catalonia.