Turkish-Syrian earthquake: minorities worst hit by humanitarian disaster

08 February 2023

By Dilara Lorin

4,440 PEOPLE were killed in the earthquake in Turkey and Syria by the morning of 7 February. And the numbers continue to rise steadily. In addition, there are well over ten thousand people injured, some seriously.

The humanitarian catastrophe affects the mass of the population in both countries, which are already suffering from war, brutal repression by the regimes of Assad and Erdogan, inflation, economic crisis and corruption. The humanitarian crisis and the high number of deaths are therefore not only the result of a natural disaster, but exacerbated by conditions of brutal exploitation and oppression—a fact that appears far too little or not at all in official reporting.

Oppressed minorities

The main victims of the humanitarian disaster are often members of oppressed minorities such as Kurds, Alevis, Arabs and refugees.

Since the morning hours of 6 February, more than 100 earthquakes have shaken the Kurdish-majority regions of Maras through Antep, northeastern Syria/Rojava to Mersin. Earthquakes with a magnitude of 7.9 were measured, making this the worst earthquake in Turkey since 1939. The situation is catastrophic. The current death toll rose to 3,600 for Turkey alone and more than 15,000 people are injured, with thousands and thousands more missing. The number of missing, injured and dead is increasing by the hour and will reveal the extent of this disaster within the next few days.

Most affected are the oppressed minorities in Turkey and refugees on the ground. The fact that the majority of people living in this region are Kurds and Alevis is one of the reasons why the Turkish regime left this region underdeveloped for decades and invested little or nothing in infrastructure, education or health care.

The fact that so many houses collapsed like playing cards in this earthquake could have been avoided in many respects. But it was and is in the interest of state institutions to keep investment costs low, and it was and is in the interest of construction companies to keep profits as high as possible.

To this day, there are many Alevi and Kurdish villages without running water, in which electricity networks are only sparsely developed or in which no tarmac road is built, but in the neighboring Turkish village it could be made possible. This deliberate non-development is a political instrument of power to push unwanted minorities out of the Turkish population, but at the same time to exploit them as cheap labour.

Kurdish regions

Also, according to several scientists, it was known days in advance that an earthquake of this magnitude would shake the region, but precautions, such as evacuations, were not even remotely initiated, the population was simply not informed.

The scientist Naci Görür pointed out on live TV on Fox that it was not only known for years that sooner or later there will be earthquakes in the region. She also addressed mayors and governors several times as a scientist and even presented some kind of rescue and action programs in case of disaster. However, those in charge just waved it off.

In the Turkish media one hears nothing of this. Images are streamed only from a few areas. Regions such as Pazarcık, Elibstan, Gölbaşı or Hatay, which were shaken by the earthquakes and are 90% Kurdish, are not shown. Yet it is these areas in which many buildings were razed to the ground. This also reflects the real and current situation of the people on the ground. Support and help hardly reached anyone in the mentioned regions. People are trying to remove the concrete slabs of the houses with their own hands, because they still hear cries for help and screams of the survivors under the rubble, but in most cases they cannot do anything. The social media channels are full of cries for help, full of addresses of collapsed houses in which people are struggling for their lives. These are posted precisely because there are few other ways to give them a voice, and out of desperate hope that perhaps one of the few rescue teams already on the scene will read this after all.

There is no quick improvement in the situation in sight. Most people are living outside to protect themselves properly from further earthquakes. But with temperatures between 3 and -7 degrees at night, many people are in danger of freezing to death. Despite these dangers, the rescue forces of the Turkish government—according to witness reports from the areas—are hardly to be found or not visible, and if they are, there are far too few at the disaster sites.

In the border regions, the situation is also getting worse for the many refugees who, even so far, have only been able to find shelter in run-down buildings. It is also the racism against refugees that scares many people, because this will not subside in the coming days. The catastrophic failure to prepare for the earthquake, which has compounded the disaster and shortages, will fuel resentment and calls to help ‘Turkish’ people before refugees or minorities.  


Even if we have dealt mainly with Turkey in the article, the catastrophe in Syria must not be overlooked. In the country, about 1,500 people have fallen victim to the earthquake so far. The northeastern regions and parts of Rojava have been massively affected by the earthquake. These are areas that have been battered and bled dry by years of civil war. They have little to no infrastructure to carry out recovery operations. Assad’s comments, on the other hand, are sheer cynicism. Hardly any government support has been sent to this region, because some of it is territory that is no longer under Assad’s control. Turkey, on the other hand, continued to attack Rojava even during the earthquake!

Who is helping?

In the current situation, donations in kind and money are urgently needed, which will directly reach the people on the ground. For all who want to transfer money, we refer to the website and the account of Kurdish Red Crescent Thereby it is quite sure that the donations will reach where they are needed.

After all, not every appeal for donations is one that reaches the parts of the population hardest hit by the disaster. Donations that go to the Turkish or Syrian state are often those that end up in the pockets of the regime or their middlemen and do not reach the people on the ground. In many cities in Germany, donations in kind are currently also being collected, with which people then often travel by car to the areas and then pass them on to the places where most people are currently staying. There is a lack of almost everything, because most people had to leave their homes within seconds.

It is clear, however, that humanitarian aid of any kind can only alleviate the effects of the catastrophe. But what are the political demands that revolutionaries should raise in these moments?

The question must be asked how it can be that the regions where the Kurdish, Arab, Alevi minorities live are the ones that are the worst prepared for natural disasters, although it is known that in this region the Anatolian plate meets the Arab one. Racism and oppression lead directly to poverty, to a situation that is deliberately exploited by speculators and landlords. So the main question to be asked here is also the question of linking the liberation struggle of the Kurds and all oppressed minorities in Turkey and Syria with that of the working class. We demand:

Originally published in German on the website of our sister section Gruppe ArbeiterInnenmacht

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