The apocalyptic scenes of death and destruction that now dot the landscape straddling Turkey and Syria, an area many historians believe to be one of the earliest cradles of human civilisation, if not the earliest, have made for harrowing viewing all week, ever since twin tremors epicentred in southern Turkey struck the two countries at the crack of dawn last Monday. With a death count that seemed unable to sit still for two consecutive hours, already the 21,000 victims confirmed by officials of both countries (as of Thursday night, Feb. 9) make it the deadliest natural disaster to have hit the planet since the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.
We must give credit to the brave aid workers fighting frigid temperatures while at the same time having to deal with a series of aftershocks - running into three figures in just the first couple of days - to carry much-needed aid packages to those in need of it most. Naturally the two countries' recent manoeuvres on the geopolitical chessboard have faced renewed scrutiny in the face of the tragedy. And it is no secret of course that the Syrian state is one of Russia's closest, most steadfast allies on the international stage.
Adding further complexity and thus lending greater uncertainty to the issue of aid delivery is the fact that the part of Syria that got the worst of it (where the Arab country's north-west juts into a part of Turkey's sprawling south-east) is actually not in Assad's control.
Although in the last few years of the war, the Syrian government, to be sure, has clawed back control over most of the country, the north-west Idlib province has remained a stubborn holdout throughout. It has witnessed much of the carpet-bombing that the Assad regime, along with its Russian allies, has been accused of carrying out against its own population. It is the theatre of one of the Western alliance's most serious allegations against the Assad regime, where he is accused of having used chemical weapons against the civilian population during an attack in 2017. The Syrian government's war tactics have involved the destruction of civilian infrastructure in opposition-held regions - leaving these areas in a state of extreme vulnerability. People here are faced with a governance void, making them more dependent on cross-border aid from Turkey.
The earthquake, which devastated poorly constructed dwellings, can only exacerbate the challenges ahead for the war-torn country. If anything, Assad will be even more anxious about allowing in foreign aid workers into that part of his country. Incidentally Bangladesh is one of the countries that has expressed its willingness to pitch in for the rescue and recovery effort, with a team of the Fire Service and Civil Defence remaining on standby.
In the end, while you can foresee the Turkish government's capacity and the influx of international aid will bolster recovery operations in Turkey, this scenario is unlikely to be replicated in north western Syria in the near future.
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