Iran was the country where the coronavirus hit the worst. After their first case on February 20, the virus spread rapidly. More than 80 thousand people have caught the virus and they now have nearly 20,000 active cases. Nevertheless, since the first case was announced in Turkey on March 11, Turkey has now exceeded Iran on April 17 in number of total cases. With more than 82,000 cases, and 70,000 active cases, Turkey has outscored its neighbor.
The coronavirus came from the city of Wuhan in China, the most populated country in the world with 1.5 billion people. In China, the total number of cases is 82,735, with the number of people currently sick at 1,041. It was exactly 72 days after China’s first confirmed case that Turkey announced its first case. By the time you are reading this piece, Turkey’s total number of cases will have exceeded China’s.
With the measures it took in January, Turkey delayed the pandemic. Yet in February and March it invited the outbreak in, and over the past month Turkey’s name has been written on the list of the worst-hit countries in the world. So much so that right now we are number seven in terms of countries with the highest rate of virus spread, and among the top five countries for the most new cases added each day. With more deaths each day, we are proceeding toward the top of the list.
January and February
The coronavirus measures taken in January were associated with the issue. In February, umrah visitors returning to Turkey, and the policy of record number of passengers for the third airport, were signs of what would come in March. We can call the time after March 11 as the month of corona. In this period the government’s policies were never directly related to corona, but brought three basic characteristics were brought to the fore.
First, each step of the government meant a destruction. Sometimes it meant the destruction of nature, sometimes of society, and most time of both. The second feature was that it only worked for itself and for the capitalists loyal to it. The third was that whatever it did it was never the solution to the problem but rather the abuse of it. This was not something new; it was the habit of the government. It did the same as it did in regards violence against women, workplace accidents, or the pardoning of certain convicts.
The government did not listen to medical doctors in this period, although the doctors’ message was absolutely clear. The government did not include medical associations in either the Corona Science Committee or even into the provincial pandemic councils. Despite doctors’ calls, the government did not reopen nearly 30 hospitals which were closed to make way for city hospitals – in a system where construction companies can earn money through people’s sufferings. Far from reopening the closed hospitals, they were also keen to make sure that the idea of “using existing buildings as pandemic hospitals” did not grow and spread. They closed the new pandemic hospital in Turkey’s southern city of Adana, which was prepared by the municipality. The question of, “why not transform the existing buildings into hospitals or medical centers?” was suppressed, so that nobody would say, “look, a pandemic hospital is a very basic structure anyway, they did it in Adana.”
But the corona opportunism started after this. First, they started building two hospitals in Istanbul. Second, with these constructions, they opened the way to new demolitions. They chopped up a forest in Sancaktepe and in Yeşilköy, they hacked two runways of the Atatürk Airport. But this was not enough, and they gave the construction business to their own contractors, without an official management or contractual specifications.
The first coronavirus month will be recorded in history as the month of opportunism, the month of abusing a pandemic. What has happened in this one month alone explains why people are told to stay at home. In the Salda Lake Nation Park project, where 140,000 square meters of construction is planned, its white sand has been stolen even before the project started. At Niğde Province’s Ulukışla district Tepeköy village, water leaked from the silver mine cyanide pool. In Black Sea’s Fatsa, the gold mine continues to use cyanide. The Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK) planes were not allowed to put out forest fires last summer. Now, after a trustee was appointed to THK, the first thing he did was to put all THK assets on sale. They collected prices last week for the sale of 11 planes, with the trustee saying the reason for the sale was that these planes were not flying. This reasoning of course does not explain why THK’s plots, fields and buildings that are also being put out for sale.
The government loved corona opportunism so much that while it could not provide masks to citizens, it allocated 340 million Turkish Liras for Yozgat Airport. The state is providing five masks and a code by SMS per person.
Such a culture of opportunism has developed that all state institutions immediately harmonized. In Karesi, in Balıkesir Province, the district governor cut down 25 cypress trees to make an entrance gate during this corona era.
The infrastructure of destruction was prepared by parliament, which now has a 45-day recess. But the Environment and Urbanization Ministry is authorized to hold tenders in electronic environment. Don’t say, how nice. Politically, this means tenders for proponents.
The government told people to stay home but also told mine workers to stay at the mine, the cement producing workers and steel workers to stay at the factory, the construction workers to stay at the construction site. Strikes and collective contracts were postponed for three months. Somehow an exemption was introduced for employers. Daily unpaid leave options were opened for employers, and a family’s daily subsistence was lowered to 39 liras. As if that was not enough, revenue stamps were deducted from this amount.
The government loves coronavirus. It kept some of its people at home and others at mines and factories, turning the country into a labor camp. Only the local administrations were left, but there were policies to curb them as well.
On March 23, they appointed eight trustees for pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) municipalities. Thus, the elected mayors of a total of more than 40 municipalities have been replaced by government appointed trustees, disregarding the votes and the choice of the Kurdish people.
For other municipalities, they used political maneuvers for banning and obstructing. For instance, the accounts of the food bank of the Eskişehir municipality were frozen. Aid collected by the Ankara and Istanbul municipalities were stopped. Free distribution of bread by municipalities was obstructed. They even declared those municipalities as “parallel structures.”
One month of corona
All of this happened during the corona month. What has happened in the country since March 11 is more than what happens in the country in a whole year.
We have become a country that has experienced the pandemic worse than China and Iran. But the second reality has nothing to do with the pandemic per se. We have seen a government that is using the pandemic as an excuse to restrict the social opposition to their homes, keep blue collar workers at factories and mines, and elected officials and political administrators in jail. If we combine these two situations there is only one situation, one reality. Obviously, the government loves corona. It does not want to solve it. It is prolonging it so that it may continue its policies without opposition.
There are two points that we need to pay attention to. First, if there are people who still rely on the government, those who have explanations for these practices, they better stop it. Not only stop what we have experienced in the last month, but also what we have been living through for a long time in this country—the abuse of women, children, refugees, lakes and trees.
The second is actually, there is no conscience and mature opposition in this equation. While the government is using the information generated by state mechanisms to guide the society, they are obviously hiding pandemic data from people so their policies will not be questioned. And it is is debatable how much information the opposition is generating for nature and society.
This is a gap, but at the same time an opportunity. Even a trace of opposition that goes beyond merely criticizing the government and that can suggest alternative paths forward can change a lot of things.
Even just telling the truth may be oppositional. Or a trace of opposition. We have so many examples, they are there waiting to be announced.
The parliament is in a 45-day recess so that coronavirus abuse laws can be applied. When the opposition has its break and comes back, maybe we have a chance.