Observations of an Expat – Quake Problems

The death toll of Turkey’s earthquake has passed the 20,000 mark. It will soar further as freezing weather and disease sweep through the refugee camps and devastated towns and villages to replace falling rubble as the primary cause of death.

But the earthquake has also created and exacerbated political problems and opportunities whose rippling aftershocks have the potential effect of toppling political as well as physical structures.

The first possible victim is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is coming under attack for his failure to build sounder structures in the middle of the one of the world’s most dangerous earthquake zones. It should be noted that Erdogan rose to power on the back of Bulent Ecevit’s failures after a 1999 earthquake.

The destruction in southern Turkey came at both the best and worst of times for President Erdogan. His popularity is plummeting amidst economic problems and increasing dissatisfaction with his autocratic rule. There is a real possibility that he could lose the parliamentary and presidential ballot set for 14 May.

But at the same time, the natural disaster has created opportunities for Erdogan. He has declared a three-month state of emergency which will take him right up to Election Day. This will enable him to deploy troops and tighten his stranglehold on the media. Already social media users have been arrested for criticising the government’s earthquake policies.

The earthquake has also disrupted Erdogan’s military occupation of northern Syria. The Northern part of war-torn Syria is controlled by a myriad of overlapping and competing military factions and dotted with civilian refugee camps. The Turks are fighting the Kurds who are supported by a small contingent of US troops are opposing an Al Qaeeda affiliate Hayat Tahir al-Sham (HTS). Syria and their Russian allies are opposed to everyone and all factions will be seeking military and political advantage.

The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad who already accused Washington of politicising the earthquake by its refusal to channel aid for Syrian victims through Damascus. The Americans are the biggest aid donors ($15 billion) to the region, but insist that all support must go through US-recognised aid agencies.

Meanwhile Assad’s supporters are jumping on the Syrian bandwagon. Russia, Iran, Dubai, Iraq and Algeria are all coming to his aid with relief workers, supplies and cash. This, of course, only serves to strengthen the anti-American forces in the region. Even the European Union is providing support to Syria as well as to Turkey. Brussels has allocated $7 million in emergency aid to both countries through its Civil Protection Mechanism. It is one of the EU’s largest emergency assistance donations to a foreign country.

However, aid to the affected regions in Syria is being hampered by damaged or blocked communications. For years foreign aid agencies have brought supplies into Syria’s Northwest Idlib province via southern Turkey. This road is now closed due to earthquake damage and military road blocks. The region’s Hatay Airport is also out of action.

On top of that, the warring factions have moved to exploit the situation by shifting military positions and attempting to expropriate relief supplies. Totally dependent on these supplies are 4 million Syrians, many of them refugees living in tents.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International.

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