The following article was written by RT reporter and CPGB-ML member Steve Sweeney.
The earthquake that recently hit Turkey and Syria was a natural disaster, but the resulting deaths and devastation were far worse than they needed to have been.
It is estimated that the earthquake in Turkey inflicted around $104bn in damage, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealing for international funds to help tackle the crisis and rebuild nearly 320,000 homes over the next year.
The European Union pledged $1.07bn to help Turkish relief efforts, but at the same event EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen promised just $115m to aid Syria, where some 6,000 people died in the same earthquake.
Syria and Turkey – a tale of two earthquakes
The global response toward Damascus was in stark contrast to that seen in Turkey. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, relief efforts to war-torn Syria were blocked by US sanctions, with donation pages shut down and those who wanted to send financial aid threatened with legal action.
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad accused Washington of pressuring western countries not to help. The punitive Caesar Act sanctions have effectively cut the country off from the world, and it has been saved only by its alliance with friendly anti-imperialist states such as Russia, Iran and China.
The continued occupation of whole swathes of Syria’s oil-rich north by western and Turkish-backed jihadist groups and other armed militia saw government aid blocked from reaching the people there. Former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham stopped trucks at the border saying it would not allow them to enter Idlib province.
Cynics would be forgiven for thinking that the earthquake was being weaponised by western powers, which have failed to oust President Assad despite 12 years of bombing, military interventions and flooding the country with armed jihadi proxies in their dirty war against Syria.
And it is telling that while the country was struggling, and as people still lay under the rubble, Aleppo international airport – the main hub for humanitarian aid to Syria – was bombed by Israel, putting it out of action. Tel Aviv struck the airport again on 22 March, and this crime was met with an abject and deafening silence from the self-identifying ‘international community’ and its media ‘defenders of free speech’.
Israel also struck the Syrian capital Damascus, targeting a densely populated residential area and killing at least five people soon after the devastating earthquake struck.
Just last week, US forces also attacked the country, killing at least 19 people in a ‘revenge’ missile strike against what it described as “Iranian forces” in Syria’s northern Hasakah province, where it has military bases at the ‘invitation’ of the proxy Kurdish administration. These bases are clearly a legitimate target for resistance groups, since they house an occupying force that is plundering the country’s natural resources, in particular wheat and oil.
The US attack once again dangerously escalated the situation in Syria, but it is unlikely to turn back the tide of events in the country or the region. It came at a time when Iran and Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement – mediated by China – has led to talks over the reopening of embassies in the former foes’ respective capitals.
Damascus and Riyadh have also restored diplomatic relations as, much to the chagrin of the west, Syria is being welcomed back onto the world stage. With more and more countries finally recognising that President Assad is going nowhere, Syria is also poised to be readmitted to the Arab League, from which is was suspended (at the behest of US imperialism) in 2011.
The USA will undoubtedly be concerned over its regional ally (Saudi Arabia) making peace with its regional enemies Iran and Syria). This blow will be doubly felt with the rising prospect of peace and the normalisation of relations between Syria and Turkey, in a road map laid out by Russia that could see the two countries’ respective presidents meet face-to-face for the first time since Turkey joined the imperialist war against Syria in 2011.
The imperialists will also be alarmed at the news, breaking at time of writing, that Saudi Arabia’s council of ministers has officially approved a proposal to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a China-led bloc that includes some 40 percent of the world’s population and accounts for around 30 percent of global GDP.
Latakia resident Moussa told our reporter that the west should abandon its strategy of regime change in Syria, accusing the imperialists of trying to starve the country’s people into submission.
“People are dying under buildings, they are dying because we can’t get medicine for them, because we can’t get equipment,” he told Proletarian. “Look at what happens. Even when we are suffering, the US and its proxies, the zionists, drop bombs on us.
“But the Syrian people are strong. We will never accept American interference. We will never forget this. And we will never forget who helped us.”
Poor quality building practices exacerbated the Turkish disaster
While the consequences of the earthquake have been amplified in Syria by the effects of war and sanctions, the cost to the Turkish people has been exacerbated by other factors.
Back in 1997, the country passed a code that required buildings to be constructed using ductile concrete, a material that is more flexible in the event of an earthquake, but it is estimated that 25 years later only one in ten buildings in the country meets the standard.
“Earthquakes don’t kill you. Buildings can kill you. That’s our slogan,” Turkey’s former deputy prime minister boldly declared on the foundation of the earthquake disaster body AFAD in 2009.
“The most important thing is to prevent disasters before they happen,” he said, in words that will now have come back to haunt him.
A post-1999 study found that 6m out of 22m buildings nationwide either needed retrofitting or demolishing and rebuilding to meet seismic standards.
But in 2018 a controversial zoning law was introduced, effectively creating an amnesty for illegal construction work. This cash boosted government coffers, but there is little evidence that it was spent on strengthening buildings or infrastructure.
One of the initiatives that should have helped prepare for such an event was the introduction of an earthquake tax in order to reinforce buildings and infrastructure and help cities to cope better with earthquakes. But after disaster struck once more in Izmir in 2020, many were left wondering where the money had gone.
In 2022, following a 5.9 magnitude earthquake, Turkey’s Union of Engineers and Architects released a statement saying that Turkey “has failed in terms of what needs to be done before the earthquake”.
Another factor is the huge economic disparity between western Turkey and the east of the country. According to a 2020 OECD report, Turkey has the highest regional disparities among 29 OECD countries, while a CEPR study showed huge income inequality between the two regions.
Profit before people
Construction quality in the eastern areas affected by the earthquake is of a much lower standard as a result, according to experts. Combined with the fact that the buildings sit on a major faultline, it was a perfect storm.
When asked, one construction engineer told Proletarian that the answer to how this has happened can be summed up very simply. He said it was because of “the capitalist system and its implementers”, for whom “human life is of no importance”.
“What matters to them is the absoluteness of exploitation and the system. This system is the creator of the biggest disaster in our country,” he explained.
“The fact that no measures were taken to prevent such a disaster, even though it was obvious that it would happen, while the current laws and regulations were ignored and not enforced, is to a large extent related to the mentality of the system,” the engineer told Proletarian.
“Capitalism feeds on exploitation,” he added. “It brings with it the devaluation of people. Of course the major factor [in the disaster] is capitalism.
“If the experts had not been ignored many times, this natural event could have been prevented from turning into a disaster, and people’s lives could have been saved.”
Speaking to Proletarian, one woman accused the government of covering up the real death toll. Whole towns and cities have been flattened as a result of the quake and thousands of people are still missing.
Some of those who protested against government negligence in Turkey’s major cities, including Istanbul, were detained in a crackdown. But President Erdogan couldn’t escape the chants of “Government, resign” that reverberated in the stadiums of Turkish football giants Besiktas and Fenerbahçe, a team long-associated with the country’s leader.
In both Syria and Turkey, however, change is coming. All the signs are that both countries are rebuilding relations with regional neighbours while strengthening ties with Moscow and Beijing. From the rubble of the earthquake, a new world order could be emerging.