Although Turks have shown an incredible level of unity in the wake of Sunday's devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake in the east's Lake Van region, it was probably inevitable that politics would soon start working their way into the story, especially since the the quake's epicenter was also right in the heart of a predominantly Kurdish area.
Many of the municipalities in the area, for example, are run by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which in the last few years has been engaged in a bitter fight with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to win votes in Turkey's mostly-Kurdish southeast. The fight appears to be continuing. Speaking in parliament yesterday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while admitting that the government failed to properly deliver aid and relief in the first 24 hours after the earthquake, also took a dig at the BDP. From a report in Today's Zaman:
[Erdogan] also criticized the lack of coordination in aid distribution in spite of large amounts of supplies being sent to the disaster area. “The İstanbul Municipality can reach out to Van, the municipalities of Bursa, Ankara and Erzurum can reach out to Van, but the municipalities in that region fail to reach out to an area that is right next to them,” in apparent criticism of Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) municipalities. “Those who are able to organize people to throw stones at police and soldiers, vandalizing the streets, throwing Molotov cocktails, you see, are nowhere to be seen in the hour of disaster.”
The pro-Kurdish Firat News Agency, meanwhile, issued its response to Erdogan, posting an article online listing the activities on BDP-run municipalities (or "Kurdish Cities," as the story's headline says) on behalf of the quake's victims. From the article:
Diyarbakir Metropolitan Mayor Osman Baydemir stated that 55 municipalities member to the GABB (Southeastern Anatolia Region Union of Municipalities) sent 43 trucks, 258 lorries, pickups, construction equipment, water tankers, transit vehicles, public transportation vehicles, rescue vehicles, a rescue team and nurses to the area to give service for earthquake victims. Baydemir added a health care team and ambulance to the list as well as a rolling kitchen to provide cooked food for nine thousand people.
While the people in Bismil district of Diyarbakır, including primary school students, house women and bakers, mobilized to contribute to the aids for earthquake victims, lots of trucks with disaster relief materials and medical equipment were sent to the quake area.
The same mobilization of the people was seen in Bağlar district where people sent six trucks so far loaded with blankets, carpets, heaters, milk, diapers, clothes and food. It drew attention that even children were included in the campaign by buying food with their pocket money or giving the shoes they wear.
The day before Erdogan made his statement, the BDP's national co-chair, Selahattin Demirtas, actually called the AKP-appointed governor of Van region to resign, accusing him of refusing to work with the city's BDP mayor. From Hurriyet:
The BDP decried the relief effort as “inept” and criticized the government for turning down foreign assistance offers, claiming that some villages were still not reached. However, he expressed gratitude to a nationwide outpour of solidarity with Van’s Kurdish-majority population.
“The government deserves as much criticism as the people deserve gratitude. Nobody can explain why tents haven’t been erected,” BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş said in a speech at his party’s parliamentary group meeting.
He lashed out at Van Gov. Münir Karaloğlu on grounds that he was not returning calls by the city’s BDP mayor to coordinate relief efforts and was taking hold of supplies sent to the province.
“We do not accept such discriminative mentality. If you are governor of only half of Van, then you must resign,” Demirtaş said.
While the AKP-BDP bickering is, sadly, politics as usual, Washington-based Turkey analyst Soner Cagaptay has just released a short piece that looks at how the earthquake might influence the internal Kurdish political dynamic and challenge the dominant role the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has played in southeast Turkey. From Cagaptay's piece:
For a long time now, there has been competition for leadership among the Kurds of southeast Turkey. In this regard, there have been two main camps. First is the PKK. A well-oiled propaganda and fighting machine with a leftist and socialist appeal, the PKK has made inroads among the population, especially in the far-away, southeastern parts of Turkey.
Lately though, faith-based NGOs, as well as religious orders, have challenged the PKK's relatively strong appeal with politically attractive messages alluring to the area's conservative Kurds. They have also provided the services to the poor that are missing from the PKK's violence-prone tool box.
This is why the PKK might now end up with the short end of the stick. Even though the PKK has its own network, it lags well behind that which the faith-based NGOs and tariqats have built in recent years. The latter know how to deliver services, and the PKK does not. This suggests that not the PKK but the faith-based NGOs and tariqats will emerge as the first groups to reach the quake's victims.
What is more, given that it is an illegal organization, the PKK will be prevented from working out in the open to deliver aid to survivors.
In the eyes of common Kurds in eastern Turkey, the PKK now faces the risk of falling behind the faith-based NGOs and the religious orders, for it will likely be outperformed by them in delivering assistance to the local, earthquake-stricken population.