The February 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria showed once again that there is really “nothing natural in natural disasters”. This earthquake shook 11 provinces in Turkey. According to official figures, at least 50,000 people were killed, more than 107,000 were injured, at least 15 million people were affected and 4 million buildings were destroyed. As a case in point, a city called Hatay (Antakya) practically does not exist anymore. In Syria, the February 6 earthquake resulted in the death of more than 7,000 people and the injury of 14,500 people, and nearly 5.3 million people were left homeless. The reaction of the Turkish government since the first hours of the deadly earthquake, despite the government officials’ claim that “we mobilized in the earthquake-affected areas with all our strength from the very first hours”, has been nothing but the inability to provide and coordinate rescue groups. Perhaps this is why, in this period, along with the inadequate activity of government organizations, a large number of non-governmental organizations and volunteer groups consisting of different political parties, including socialists and leftists, the Kurds, and the Alevis were able to take the lead with “bottom-up” solidarity and organizing methods. According to Ali Akbar Doğan, the main culprit of the catastrophe is nothing but “the court regime of fierce neoliberals … It should not be overlooked that the fierce neoliberal dictatorship led by Erdogan decided to leave tens of thousands of people to die in the first hours of the earthquake to avoid the financial and social costs of caring for the diseases and disabilities of those who will be rescued, to the state budget”.
We are republishing the following ‘earthquake observation report’ written by our comrades from UMUT-SEN who have been on the field for solidarity and rescue support. UMUT-SEN is a collective from Turkey founded in 2008 that aims to strengthen the trade union struggles of the working class. The report gives us a clear understanding of how the earthquake and its aftermath paved the way for the Turkish state to implement a new regime of disaster accumulation.
This article was first published here.
On February 6th, 2023, an earthquake at a magnitude of 7,7 took place in Pazarcik in early hours of the morning, 04: 17 AM, followed by a second earthquake at a magnitude of 7,6 in Elbistan in the afternoon, 01:24 PM. These earthquakes caused many aftershocks of varying magnitudes in the region. We have set out quickly to reach these areas for solidarity and rescue support.
To observe these quakes’ impact, diagnose evolving needs and coordinate for their mitigation, we have visited 8 different cities, 25 different districts, and some towns in the countryside. From these visits and relief efforts, we have arrived at one significant conclusion: the working people of our country have suffered death and destruction of indescribable proportions, but the state approaches the crisis at hand as a novel opportunity to enact a new regime of disaster accumulation. In so doing, it positions itself and all ongoing relief efforts in the service of that accumulation regime.
We know that AFAD was swift in communicating to the different arms of the state apparatus the scale of the devastation in the wake of these quakes; damage could be pinpointed within the first hour after impact. To that end, the cabinet met and resolved on a number of emergency matters merely two hours after the initial earthquake. It was announced to the public, via social media, that all governmental authorities, local governments, and public institutions were being redirected for disaster relief in the first three hours.
Approximately 1.5 hours after the quake, Turkey declared a 4th level alarm in accordance with its national disaster plan. This alarm is reserved for those disasters where all national capacity for rescue and relief must be called to action, and international help must be sought wherever appropriate.
The state response, while organized and systematic until this point, began to falter, growing inadequate and disorganized in certain parts of the disaster areas, if not entirely absent.
It was clear to the eye that the state failed to deliver rescue teams for those under the debris, or support for survivors in the form of shelter, food, and other essential needs.
It was equally obvious that much of the help that did reach the survivors, such as food, tents, water, blankets, etc., was solely a product of civil society’s efforts and volunteers.
The state trapped inside a prison of bureaucracy and actively debilitated many rescue teams from around the country and the world, aid convoys, and willing volunteers—wasting away the crucial first 72 hours after impact to preserve life. Beyond the state’s failure to coordinate its own resources, even the volunteered aid and help were left on their own to utter disarray by the arms of the state.
We have observed that outside certain central districts the vast stretches of land affected by the quakes were untouched by the state’s rescue and relief coordination, leaving thousands, if not millions, to their solitary fates.
In the first two days, many people were evacuated from the rubble thanks to the efforts of the general public. Most professional rescue teams could not reach devastation sites due to heightened traffic on the ground. The logistical crisis was further amplified by collapsed roads, bridges, and airports. The past experiences of the army to rally all its resources, equipment, helicopters, human power, and the like, and work in collaboration with volunteer rescue missions, as seen during the 17 August 1999 earthquake, was discarded—to keep the army out of “politics”, a deep-seated concern on part of the government—only to be backpedaled on the fifth day due growing public unrest.
We have observed first-hand the sheer lack of coordinated effort that drove most survivors to establish their own help coordination centers. These centers became the decisive actors in the region. Similarly with rescue missions, miners, civil rescue teams, and survivors were the most effective at saving lives.
AFAD was absent from rescue missions and disaster relief in most of the disaster-struck areas. In some disaster areas, AFAD was a lot more effective at setting up tents and soup kitchens, working alongside the army and the law enforcement. However, we could say that wherever AFAD did reach it reached far too late.
Power, water, fuel, shelter, and heating were scarce if not impossible to find until February 13th in areas of impact. These outages and supply crises continue in some places to this day.
The collapse of the water infrastructure engendered a larger public health crisis; soap, napkins, and the like were difficult to find. We have seen during our visits that these key needs were absent from disaster relief. Public bathrooms were closed or out of commission, making way for communicable diseases to spread quickly. Earthquake survivors couldn’t access water, toilets, or showers for days, making the impact areas breeding grounds for new outbreaks.
No measures were in place to protect public health at this moment. As the structural lack of public hygiene lingers, greater problems threatening human health are on the horizon.
Impact areas have become the set and setting for many right violations, including torture, beatings, and lynchings, of which public officials are either perpetrators or reluctant witnesses. Many members of state law enforcement have exercised arbitrary discretion at will. These events have subsequently found a public audience and been subject to public speculation.
We have observed frequently that immigrant communities have suffered discriminatory treatment and racist hate-crimes.
Rescue teams did not reach towns in the countryside, leaving many trapped under the rubble without professional help and resulting in the loss of life on many occasions where people could’ve been easily saved. The residents of these towns have evacuated from under debris their loved ones and buried them without official involvement; this fact alone should throw into question the official death toll kept by AFAD. Whereas survivors in the countryside were left to their own devices, with some towns having gone four to five days without any help darkening their doorstep.
We have witnessed the damage and destruction of many barns and barn animals in the impact areas. A clear lack of oversight in disaster-planning was brought to light with regard to the preservation of animal life. Much livestock that survived the initial impact has perished due to negligence and inclement weather; animal feed has become exceedingly scarce. Whatever animals remain in these areas have little support, neither shelter nor feed.
With the collapse of the food supply chains, many earthquake survivors were left out in the cold without basic nourishment, and those who resorted to consuming whatever food remained in local grocery stores were accused of “looting.” These accusations were baseless smear campaigns launched against survivors in the most vulnerable moment of their lives.
The property logic that valorizes the deified commodity value of a loaf of bread or a bag of rice against human life has exhausted all legitimacy the moment people were abandoned to death in the ruins of their own homes.
The official rescue missions were conducted in a recklessly speedy fashion, as in a construction or urban renewal mission, and the fact that people might be alive under debris was entirely overlooked. The dead were not given a chance for proper burial. The preservation of items of sentimental value and memory was strictly out of the question.
The bodily integrity of the deceased was suspended in a rush, and dredgers and bulldozers operated mindlessly in rescue/removal missions. The news of the dismemberment of dead bodies have been relayed to us.
People were not given the right to respectful burials in accordance with their faith and tradition, and many of the deceased were buried without cerements, with no notification reaching their loved ones.
Collapsed buildings, also sites of criminal neglect, have not been evaluated according to due process, and no autopsies were performed to determine the time and cause of death. This has made virtually impossible to hold authorities responsible for their delayed response in impact areas, and there is no way to confirm if people remained alive under the rubble and for how long.
Volunteered aid has been distributed in ways that wound human dignity, causing unrest and stampede among survivors. Some distribution practices have been particularly offensive in representing their help as “benevolence.”
It’s been clear that the state doesn’t plan to preserve any damaged properties but would rather hand money on a silver platter to construction companies to build them anew. We have growing concerns that the state will follow this course using force and scare-tactics.
Let us be clear that rescue missions were fatally delayed or fatally absent (especially in the countryside) when they were not abandoned early under the reckless impression that there were no lives to save. This faulty approached has cost us many lives. Many people were murdered in plain sight waiting and crying for help to reach them.
Public officials who wielded significant power and resources in the field were decidedly incompetent at directing those to people in need. This catastrophe is a direct result of nepotistic appointments and top-down power realignments that plague many branches of the state bureaucracy.
Many instances of official rescue teams ignoring “risky” rubbles and redirecting their efforts to safer sites have been reported. This negligent short-cutting practice has been described to us by many members of the Independent Miners’ Union and Turkish Coalminers Institution who worked actively with rescue missions in impact areas.
Volunteer rescue missions were afforded either no equipment support or support that reached them far too late.
AFAD has misled public perception of rescue missions on multiple occasions, claiming ownership over successful missions and rescued survivors when the responding teams were unrelated to their arms. This has caused survivors and volunteer missions to become increasingly agitated with AFAD. The Turkish Red Crescent and Civil Protection Organization—formerly responsible for first-aid, emergency response, rescue, and shelter— have been so hollowed out by the unruly political terrain of the last decades that AFAD has become an acephalous organization of disaster management, running in circles around catastrophe like a headless chicken. At the same time, we have seen time and again that AFAD, instead of rising for the task of coordinating volunteered help and solidarity, has chosen to polarize these efforts, siding with the regime, their allies, and organizations connected to Islamic congregations. In certain exceptional cases, local AFAD officials have broken with these detrimental practices.
No logistical help was provided for the evacuation of survivors to safe cities, and most of these evacuations were accomplished by the grace of organized volunteer effort.
It’s been brought to attention that those impact areas populated by the Kurdish, the Alevi, and other non-Muslim minorities have received the short end of the stick; that help coordination prioritized other majority areas. With regards to these claims, we can say that some minority areas saw significantly more complaints of discrimination as opposed to others.
Political groups, democratic movements, and civil society have taken over in providing rescue, shelter, and food with great effort wherever the state falls short of doing so. There is strong public praxis taking shape around the needs of the survivors thanks to the networks created by social media. In the face of unimaginable devastation, people have proven themselves to be more than capable of rebuilding society, delivering rescue, shelter, hygiene, and food wherever they are needed. Whether it is miners rescuing people from under the rubble, or associations and unions organizing around civil initiatives, the youth taking charge in rebuilding efforts, this moment shows with glaring clarity that these people will be the bearers of whatever follows this catastrophe.
From around the country and the world, people have come together to preserve life. The left/leftist movement, the Kurdish movement, and Alevi organizations have been increasingly present and organized in every city, with efforts that cannot go unnoticed.
While solidarity across political lines might seemingly triumph over people’s willingness to organize for their “own,” supporting their demographic of political concern, such groupings can still be observed in aid flows. While most left circles have focused their attention on those towns with Kurdish and Alevi survivors and position themselves alongside their local institutions, most nationalist, conservative circles have coalesced around Turkish and Sunni survivors. Central districts have thrown a wrench to these ongoing trends in political polarization. Earthquakes provide moments for workers across the spectrum to lend an ear to one another, listen to each other’s concerns and grief, and break down ideological and cultural barriers in so doing. We believe this to be the way forward.
Observations from the Field
İskenderun, Arsuz, Samandağ, Antakya
The seaport fire that originated in Iskenderun on February 8th burned for days. We have observed that many of buildings were highly damaged around the city’s main arterial road; that rescue efforts were not yet begun in central districts; power, water, and energy shortages were acutely prevalent; relief aid was being handed out randomly to survivors; there were no tents in sight.
Many of essential needs were nowhere to be found in Arsuz and its surroundings areas where damage had been comparatively felt less. Importantly, there was a landslide blocking the coastal road between Arsuz and Samandag.
We recognized that Samandag had suffered extreme damage from the quake wherein most buildings had collapsed or were on the brink of collapse; rescue missions did not reach these towns until very late. By February 8th, the rescue missions set out to work yet too slowly. There was no service nor power. Roads leading to the city were damaged, delaying the arrival of rescue and relief. The extreme scale of collapse had also blocked roads in certain parts, making rescue logistics all the more difficult. The volunteered aid arrived here with no one to distribute it systematically; it ended up creating scenes of food and clothes piled up in the streets. We couldn’t identify any coordination centers. People have voiced concerns that all forms of relief and aid reached Samandag too late and too little. The ethnic and religious makeup of the city surely contributed to the lack of efforts to help Samandag.
The road between Samandag and Antakya had partially collapsed. When we arrived at Antakya on the 8th of February, we observed that there wasn’t a single building standing up. All had collapsed or were about to collapse. Rescue missions were running around without any coordination, and, similarly with relief aid, no programming had been put in place to reach survivors. The coordination base set up in the Democracy Square (Demokrasi Meydanı) was somewhat functional but not in keeping with the scale of the crisis and the number of survivors to reach. We’d had trouble contacting survivors; we also had a hard time reaching the public hospital on the way outside the city. As the day went on and darkness descended on the city, things became even more chaotic. What was once a city suddenly became a ghost town submerged in utter darkness. The scene was that of a war-torn district. The towns in the countryside close to Harbiye did not have any power or running water either. We observed that 30 people had taken shelter in one single cottage still standing. We have tried to exit the city to pay a visit to Kırıkhan, but due to disruptions from collapsed buildings, we couldn’t. We headed south to find an alternative route. It took us 3.5 hours to go 50 km. Later, locals informed us that some spent 6 to 9 hours trying the same alternative route.
Kırıkhan, Hassa, Altınüzüm, Islahiye, Nurdağı
We arrived at Kırıkhan in early hours of the morning. We observed that there was a lot of destruction in central districts; that rescue couldn’t cover the ground; that there was no power nor any water. We came upon some completely undamaged buildings in Hassa right next to hefty piles of rubble. This sight resembled that of the Marmara Earthquake. Destruction was contained to some areas, and there were residential streets where life resumed. We ran into a group of soldiers setting up tents for AFAD. Most commercial shops had closed, and some small buildings appeared unfazed.
Altunüzüm was in similar shape.
İslahiye is one of the regions where the impact and damage were severe. The presence of the state was more visibly felt. AFAD tents were set up, and rescue efforts were ongoing. However, rescue missions for some taller buildings had started 72 hours after the initial quake. Basic needs like foodstuffs, ATMs, water, shelter were addressed, so the main issue seemed to be the pace of rescue operations. The prisons and residential buildings in the surrounding area were safe.
Nurdag’s situation was similar to that of İslahiye. State response was relatively organized. Groups of soldiers, the police force, AFAD tents, and containers had arrived. The facilities and tools of the municipality were in place. A very interesting scene was transpiring right beside all this, however. There were lots of trucks waiting in an empty field in Nurdag, a telling symbol and an omen for the future of the impact zones. Big construction companies like Kalyon Construction, Yapı&Yapı, JCC had their trucks on standby, on the cusp of penetrating the cities to be built. (This was a glaring picture of how they would manage disaster response: the ripples of Erdogan’s promise that all will be rebuilt in a year-long timeframe and the city department’s insistence on clearing all rubble in a month’s time had all consolidated into this one frame. The state had focused its coordination on destruction and construction, not else.)
Maraş, Göksun, Elbistan
We arrived at Maras in the afternoon. There was heavy traffic leading to the centre of the city. Buildings around the city’s industrial park had mostly collapsed. Key areas in the city’s center had collapsed into hefty rubbles, and most tall buildings had flattened. Rescue efforts were highly inadequate. AFAD was ineffective. Despite the number of volunteers arriving from around the country, a coordination base had not yet been identified. Power was still out; there was no water, no public toilets, nor any cigarettes. We have observed that religious organizations covered a lot more ground in rescue and relief efforts in this area as opposed to others.
We passed through Göksun on our way from Maraş to Elbistan. Transit had become significantly slow due to traffic. You could find fruits, vegetables, and other necessities on the road; cigarettes had gone out of stock. Commercial shops remained closed in Goksun; there was power, but residential buildings sat empty. We did not observe any significant damage to most buildings here.
We entered Elbistan at night on February the 9th. At this point miners were actively working on rescue missions in the area. A civil initiative had formed to respond to food and shelter needs; AFAD had set up congregate tents. We’ve observed that state actors were in cooperation with volunteers. Miners, AFAD and foreign rescue teams were effective. We happened upon people being rescued alive. Volunteers from the Independent Miners’ Union had rescued a family of four from an elevator shaft and another child from under the debris. A foreign rescue team evacuated a child safely from the rubble before our eyes. However, the distribution of the arriving relief aid was chaotic. Clothes were thrown at the cities; many excess aid materials were lost in the process. We accompanied miners on another rescue mission on February 10th. The city center was mostly collapsed, with many buildings having incurred severe damage. It was almost as if there was not a single building standing. At night, temperatures dropped below 19 degrees Celsius. We spent the night at a two-story mosque with miners and volunteers, about fifty people together and afraid. Because the miners had only slept in cars up until that point, they were willing to risk entering a two-story building to sleep laying on their backs. We have spent most our nights sleeping inside the car, the three of us. In the morning, our shoes had been frozen due to frostbite, and we could only put them on after putting them to the fire.
We have observed that buildings and neighborhoods were severely damaged around the city center in Malatya. We visited the coordination base of “Afet Gönüllüleri” (Disaster Volunteers). Their operations were highly effective. There wasn’t much destruction in the adjacent countryside; people felt comfortable living in their townhouses, leading many to flee urban life to congregate in big numbers in the safe houses in the countryside. Eğribük’s water tower had broken due to impact, but the residential houses remained strong. Fethiye had suffered little destruction; power was strong; the urban diaspora had returned to their homes in the countryside here.
There was no power nor any water in Doğanşehir. Buildings in this area were either entirely flat or severely damaged. We did not come upon any rescue missions here. AFAD was setting tents for congregate housing in the entrance to the city. The emergency room of a local hospital had been moved back into the building from the field tents it had first been replaced to after impact. Only one floor had been restored to function. Much of the coordination efforts had been relocated to this hospital since it was safer than most other locations in the city. Temperatures dropped below -20 degrees Celsius at night.
Erkenek, Besni, Adıyaman
We arrived at Erkenek on February 11th around 9 AM. On the way to Doğanşehir, AFAD tents had been set up. Even short buildings had collapsed. Most buildings around the hillside were healthy. The roads leading to Gölbaşı from here had suffered damage in the form of cracks and fissures. The riverbank had turned dark, running muddy.
The destruction was rare to come by in Besni. Commercial shops were seldom open, like a bank branch and a communications operator shop. We were informed that nearby villages were in bad shape.
Most buildings had collapsed in Adıyaman, among them some very new houses. The seldom untouched buildings were short ones made by their inhabitants. AFAD had just started putting up tents in the area. Rescue missions had begun only two days earlier, on February 9th. No effort had been made to reach those in the countryside; the roads were still blocked. Finding shelter was exceedingly difficult. Relief efforts here were in disarray, especially with regards to the relocation of survivors, the assorting and storage of aid materials. We heard that two people had been rescued alive that morning. We have met with groups of volunteers and miners from Zonguldak. The local Cemevi was organizing a soup kitchen, health counseling, and food aid.
Bozova, Urfa, Birecik, Gaziantep, Pazarcık, Osmaniye
When we started heading toward Urfa from Adıyaman, we came across hundreds of vehicles and caterpillars belonging to the Kavin Group—a big construction company. This sight complemented so clearly the scene we had witnessed previously in Nurdağ. The capitalist class had rushed to construction projects long before rescue missions could be concluded. The state that had gone missing during the first week of the disaster was returning to the fields to manage market expansion.
In Bozova the buildings had incurred some damage, but there wasn’t any destruction. Things proceeded business as usual. There were losses in the villages, however. Civil initiatives were coordinating rescue missions.
We arrived at Urfa around 6 PM. The restaurants had remained open. The buildings had been mostly deserted; however, power was on, and you could spot the lights of few inhabitants who stayed back. Destruction had been localized to some areas. Despite that, most people had chosen to leave their homes out of fear.
In Birecik, a building had collapsed because of a severed column, causing 26 people to perish. We were informed that this had been the only site of casualties. Some aid had reached the city but not the needy. This was a relatively well standing area.
The earthquake’s impact on Gaziantep had been localized to certain areas, namely the wealthy district of Ibrahimli; the central districts had been safe from the quake. Rescue missions were ongoing; they had started terribly late, however. There were still people being rescued alive. On the other hand, life continued as normal in some parts of the city. The areas where rescue missions were active had been cordoned off.
The state had become visible in Pazarcik starting on February 12th. In certain areas, power and water access had been restored. Destruction was widespread, including the industrial parks. The town life here was spread over a big stretch of land; each and every town had suffered massive destruction. Since the quake originated here, the entire city was under the spell of the disaster. There were some untouched buildings right next to piles of rubble in the central areas.
In Osmaniye the earthquake had impacted one singular district. As of February 12th, the roads leading to that area had been closed off, entrance and exits were disallowed, and the zone had been entirely isolated. There were collapsed and severely damaged buildings. The entire city is severely impacted.
The Pazarcik and Elbistan earthquakes that shook our country on the February 6th are easily the biggest massacres to ever take place in Turkey. Our people have suffered debilitating scales of mass death and destruction that far exceed the painful experience of the 1999 Golcuk earthquake and others in close public memory, and in so doing, our people have effectively confronted the neoliberal state in its true form, managing disaster relief in a profit-driven mindset. Regardless, the solidarity networks that have come alive in the face of this mass destruction remind us ever so strongly that neoliberal plunder has not entirely suffocated the hope, resistance, and comradery that define our geographies.
Earthquakes are a given and an inescapable reality in our landscape; however, the destruction and death that ensue them have identifiable perpetrators. Let us be clear that the catastrophe we face today is a human-made massacre; when the buildings constructed under the revised guidelines following the 99 earthquake have collapsed; when bylaws, regulations, city governance, construction contractors, and ministries have been in cahoots to put profit over public safety; the loss of tens of thousands of people and dozens of cities have been nothing but the result of a catastrophe we have known to be in the making. The real culprit here is the state that has knowingly waged a class war alongside the capitalist class; the consequent destruction is naturally the product of their decade-long property theft, accumulation, and mass-precarization; the trifecta of unfettered capitalism.
The capitalist state has decided to organize earthquake relief in the service of a disaster accumulation regime. Solidarity has become capacious enough to take over stately responsibilities in providing aid and relief, while this evolving situation has also allowed the state to withdraw from disaster management almost entirely, leaving underfunded volunteers in its place. Perhaps a fitting summary of this state-civil society deadlock is the fact that earthquake funds, amassed from taxes and donations of non-state actors, have been plundered by the capitalist state for further profit.
Confronted with this cul-de-sac, we must not shy away from solidarity work in the slightest, while keeping our eyes peeled for the political ramifications of the state’s ongoing withdrawal. The glaring difference between our solidarity praxis and bourgeois philanthropy is simply that in an elementary sense, we organize to support our people’s ability to conjure themselves as subject and class and to cultivate an outlook that pits “proletariat against the capitalist class, fair city against profit city, rebuilding against construction.” While lending an ear to the cries asking repetitively “where is the state?”—cries that expose the effective erosion of the welfare state out of existence—and replying with arrogant and philanthropic enthusiasm that “we are here” might help mend our ailing people and cities, it might, at the same time, create points of entry for the state to penetrate solidarity networks and repurpose and recruit them for disaster accumulation. Needless to say, this threat is increasingly visible in the hurried unlawful appointments to power in disaster areas where the state had previously been palpably absent.
“Where is the state?!” is an important question to pose, and we must develop clear responses to these cries. The neoliberal gods organize state power so that people are left even more powerless than they were before while they consolidate their material, urban/spatial hegemony. The state arms are rushing to prove themselves to bear the power to rebuild what was lost while actively debilitating our people and taking away their power to take charge and do so instead. We see this most clearly in the impact areas; for example, the newly built buildings under the helm of the state are standing strong when the houses that our people have been abandoned to inhabit have turned to piles of rubble. The state approaches these destruction sites as if an opportunity to enact a novel disaster accumulation regime. This is a political choice made freely by their cadres. Rather than take responsibility for the destruction, the state is eager to allow civil society to bear this overwhelming burden. Willingly creating zones of abandonment, they will let civil initiative to take root and only opt to intervene when those privately managed efforts have grown too unruly to be governed. The state may move to expropriate land and property, confiscate aid funds and convoys, unlawfully appoint people to positions of power; it may do so with complete impunity. Wherever there’s funds and monies without settled ownership, for instance, the state doesn’t wait to step in and arbitrarily decides the fate of those resources. The underlying motivation here—that of allowing the wealthy to accumulate more wealth, the poor to drown into more poverty, property theft to run rampant, and for people to be unevenly forced into market economy—is nurtured by those potentialities we recognize to be engendered by disaster and prolonged shock. Antakya, Samandağ, Kırıkhan, Maraş, Pazarcık, Elbistan, Gölbaşı, Islahiye, Nurdağı, and Adıyaman will become the breeding grounds for a new regime of proletarianization and orchestrated property theft. The hundreds of construction trucks and caterpillars we have seen in and around Kırıkhan, İslahiye, Nurdağı, and Adıyaman sit brewing in the excitement of newfound market opportunities rather than use their collective physical capacity in service of saving life. The rubbles will be swiftly evacuated from these cities so that construction projects can quickly make progress, earning some mega profits. The state will rush to raid public and private property to fashion for itself propertyless masses, that is to say, armies of surplus labor. This is what Erdogan means when he asks our people for “a year.” The state has already set out to remove these piles of rubble with the state-of-the-art construction technology and a World Bank loan valued at 1.78 million $ by their side, in cooperation and symbiosis with major capital groups. Whatever civil society organizations find themselves in the peripheries of these urban reconfiguration projects will be siloed into “public rehabilitation” zones, unable to effectively intervene into the grand picture.
This is precisely the nature of neoliberal state power. The wailing cries “Where is the state?!” or more sophisticated musings like “the state has collapsed; it is no more,” are in fact trailing after a state apparatus that is capacious and palpably present from issuing construction permits and evaluating the safety of residentials to failing to coordinate rescue missions yet shrewdly managing reconstruction project biddings at the same time. Likewise, we strongly believe that the state’s move to enact a state of emergency had less to do with safety concerns appearing in the wake of mass destruction and more with their eagerness to chaperone these newborn market opportunities in disaster areas alone. What is more, the state of emergency will effectively override any legal due process that should follow collapse and allow reconstruction to begin; the emergency will, in effect, naturalize the expropriation of public and private land and property. The state will reappear again in disaster areas, no doubt in all its glory, to provide the necessary protection for the burgeoning construction industry. In Antep and Maras which are tentatively set to become logistical nodes in the region; in Adiyaman where poverty is pervasive and penetrates deep; in Amed and Urfa where market economy absorbs surplus populations with greed and gluttony; in Samandağ, Antakya, İslahiye, Nurdağı, Kırıkhan which will need to rebuilt anew; the state will return to ensure the successful raid on public and private property and the attendant proletarianization of our people. This is, indeed, the state as we know it; it assumes the role of ultimate authority to deploy law enforcement in the field and ensure the safety of the accumulation regime, the role of sole bearer of legitimate violence to restrict and control “dangerous groups,” the role of law-making to continue to fashioning techno-bureaucratic veils, and the role of a manager-supervisor for big capital groups. This is the contemporary state, and it functions where it belongs and exactly how it must, exploiting most efficiently a large-scale crisis. As the capitalist class is drooling over these emerging market opportunities in the wake of disaster, the state is tasked to guarantee their corporations a well-oiled system to extract all the value and profit physically possible.
Times after disaster and mass shock are also pregnant with new planes of political possibility and reason. This is when we get to establish politically meaningful contact with communities previously out of touch with our ranks, meeting them wherever the state has evacuated all its presence and impact. So far as our revolutionary politics is concerned, we find potential to deepen and politicize a carefully maintained and dormant rift between the state and civil society. To establish contact wherever it has gone extinct and to throw roots wherever we find tenable ground. Here lies a chance to expose the demands and needs of different classes and organize their distinct political struggles around a singular class war. The working class must join arms against impending property theft and market expansion. This is what concerns us and not else.
This is where we organize the proletariat against the capitalist class, the fair city against the profit city, and working-class power against the yoke of bourgeois politics and liberal reason. We must work, therefore, to augment our people’s maimed ability to organize themselves around collective needs and conjure themselves as a unified class with political demands to be articulated and won against the foil of whatever the neoliberal state may wish or impose. Organizing the global shopfloor in Anatolia requires that we nurture contact and solidarity with those workers. The earthquake, likewise, has given us a means for nurturing a common feeling and solidarity with millions with whom we share a fate and a class position. This political and affective opening will need to be developed.
We may see that proletarian politics here amounts to disrupting and inhibiting capital in its many forms. This may translate to, for example, pushing for civil initiatives to cover more ground and with more might, with more leeway in terms of their permission to intervene in moments of crisis; for people to win representation and effective votes in the decision-making process for the post-quake city plans; for our population to stand strong against the holy alliance between capital and the state in exploiting crisis. Especially in the face of a search and rescue mission like AFAD being run as if a profit-minded corporation. At this time when even political parties have shape-sifted into civil society organizations, we have a singular responsibility to seize this moment to propel politics to migrate into the space of class conflict. For instance, in a country with no shortage of fault lines, we must be able to maintain a transparent fund for disaster tents and an institutionalized body to oversee the management of those funds. We must politicize this and organize our people around it right now; without, however, forgetting at this time that the existing funds before this disaster have been plundered; without giving up our fight to devise pragmatic solutions to the ongoing tent crisis, either. We must articulate clearly the working people’s right to live (escape premature death) and recruit state power in service of that worthy end. We could reconceptualize our “fair city against profit city” and “rebuilding against construction” approach from this angle. Gluttonous capital groups have used all their power and might to dispose of rubbles in the fastest fashion possible, without any ethical concern for the religious and traditional values of the deceased and their loved ones, all the while devising sophisticated plans for the new cities to be built before the smoke of massacre has even remotely begun to disperse. The quake survivors, who have lost virtually everything and everyone, will make up the new reserve of surplus labor. The impact zone, stretching across and beyond ten distinct cities, will be the set and the setting for mass property theft and market expansion. We have bore witness to this already. All our work and struggle, we have been called to task to search for a world that we know is possible, vehemently against the death and straitjacket that we have been allocated. We know that millions bear the power, as well as the pain, anger, and solidarity, to come together and reclaim their lives and dignity from the disingenuous hands of the capitalist state. This means that we have also been called to task to struggle to make the voice of survivors reach behind those closed doors where blueprints are being drawn up and shareholders are discussing profit margins, to create a revolutionary politics that furnishes alternatives to the carrot and the stick of capitalist disaster response. This task becomes ever more critical in the countryside, where our people have been entirely cut off from aid flows and participation in future decisions.
We must remind ourselves that although the state has a singular vision for how to rebuild the lost cities, that vision has many articulations, faces, lexicons, and spokespeople. Underneath the pretty wraps of every scheme and proposal, whether it comes from the sovereign state or the so-called opposition, we find the same capitalist urban savoir-faire, developed and popularized by the “Cities Resistant to Climate and Disaster,” an ideological extension of the World Bank. We must disallow any hyperbolic political hope or misplaced attachment growing around the seemingly novel political praxis and platforms that come alive under the ideological hegemony of capitalism. Instead, we must focus our attention on the material reconfigurations of power in social relations, their permanence and sustainability, and only in so doing we may avoid sentimental overgrowth. Our political horizon must remain defined by class conflict; so, we must understand our solidarity work to be guided by strong political guidelines and conversations.
These earthquakes have done away with the godliness of the sanctimonious state, peeling away the holy covers once tightly wrapped around the capitalist order. The neoliberal gods smirk at the prospect of extracting profit and market opportunities out of our people’s excruciating pain, hardly able to contain their insatiable excitement. To reverse this current, to build up from below the working people’s demands and interests as the ultimate goal of politics, to organize their power and shove capitalist greed under the rubble where it belongs; well, that task belongs with us.