Turkey’s ethnic tension boils over in quake city
Crowds of Kurds pelted journalists and police with stones in the quake-hit city of Van as their anger at the Turkish media’s coverage of the disaster boiled over.
The quake came only days after one of the deadliest attacks on the army in the three-decade-long Kurdish conflict and some journalists and bloggers have tried to portray the tragedy as payback time.
Survivors have been particularly upset by comments by Muge Anli, a presenter on the ATV commercial network, who said Kurds now wanted the help of police and soldiers whom they had been hunting down “in the mountains like birds”.
And Duygu Canbas, an anchorwoman on the Haberturk 24-hour news channel, was forced to apologise after saying on air that she felt sorry for the victims of the quake “even though” it happened in the mainly Kurdish Van province.
While both broadcasters have faced calls to resign, they have also received plenty of support on Twitter and Facebook.
One tweet for example hailed the quake as “God’s wrath on Van… God does what the Turkish Republic could not do”.
Tuesday’s stoning of the reporters in the eponymous provincial capital, which left several people injured, was brought to a halt only after police used pepper-spray.
At the very moment that the earthquake struck on Sunday afternoon, thousands of Turks were taking part in demonstrations in cities such as Ankara, Istanbul and Iszmir to denounce the attacks by the PKK rebel movement.
It also came only days after the launch of massive offensive involving 10,000 troops against Kurdish rebels bases.
Since then the army has again mobilised itself but this time for a major relief effort involving 3,000 soldiers.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the man who ordered last week’s onslaught against PKK rebels, rushed to the scene after disaster struck.
Despite those efforts however there have been grumblings on the ground that priority has been given to looking after soldiers whose barracks were wrecked by the quake.
“Nobody takes care of us because we are Kurds,” one resident of Erces, the worst-hit town, told AFP in a makeshift tent camp.
“In the other camp, where all the families of the militaries and the public officers have been settled, the one where all the ministers pay visits and where all the journalist are gathering, there are warm meals and heaters.”
Some Kurdish leaders however have been impressed by the response not only of the authorities but also from the public.
Donations have been flooding in from all around the country, including blankets and clothing, giving a huge boost to the efforts of groups such as the Turkish Red Crescent who have set up 4,000 tents as shelter for quake victims in the worst hit city of Ercis.
“This support is a sign of fraternity,” said Selahattin Demirtas, the head of the main Kurdish party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
Lawmakers had been due to hold a debate on Wednesday on domestic terrorism in the wake of simultaneous PKK attacks last week which killed 24 soldiers but that has now been shelved until next month.
Kurdish lawmakers in turn have withdrawn a censure motion against the interior minister who is at the centre of the rescue effort.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, better known as the PKK, has been fighting for a Kurdish homeland in eastern Turkey since 1984.
Last week’s ambushes on the army and subsequent offensive against PKK bases both in the east and across the border in Iraq again underlined the government’s failure to tackle the Kurdish issue.
“Could the earthquake have been a warning to us if we cannot silence the weapons and make peace?” wrote Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for the Milliyet newspaper.
“The time has come for our country to think about healing the wounds and stop the cycle of death. Then at least the tragedy of Van can have served a purpose,” she added.
Television footage of the quake, which killed at least 432 people, has been beamed into living rooms across the country, helping to galvanise the response of the authorities as well as evoking public sympathy.
Nermin Boru, who runs a nursery school in Ankara where she has organised a collection of clothing from parents, said there was a real desire to help.
“We want to help our compatriots who are suffering and demonstrate our solidarity with them,” she said.