In an article titled "Syria and the Ongoing Disaster" in the London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, French-Lebanese academic and journalist Gilbert Achcar notes that the number of Syrian victims in the recent earthquake is especially large, and this is because Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad destroyed the country in the civil war that has been ongoing since 2012, leaving it unable to cope with a disaster like an earthquake. The Syrian civil war, he adds, was a greater disaster than the Palestinian Nakba, because the number of people who were killed in it and in the oppression that accompanied it is ten times greater. He notes further that the Syrian refugees living in parts of Turkey affected by the quake were packed into buildings constructed hastily and in violation of earthquake regulations, which contributed to the high death toll.
Gilbert Achcar (image: Rommanmag.com)
The following are translated excerpts from Achcar's article.
"If what happened in Palestine before the founding of the state of Israel can be described as a nakba [catastrophe], then what happened in Syria, especially since the start of the civil war there in 2012, can [certainly] be called a calamity. It is one of the two largest calamities in contemporary Arab history, and it is much greater than the Palestinian Nakba, if you count the number of victims. The number of people killed by the war and the oppression in Syria in the last 11 years is about ten times greater than the number of Palestinians killed by Zionism since it first invaded Palestine. And the number of Syrians who have fled from the country and those who are displaced within its borders is equal to the number of Palestinians [now] living in their homeland and in the diaspora [combined]. The only calamity in our region similar in its magnitude to the Syrian one is the calamity that has been unfolding in Iraq since Saddam Hussein seized power there and embroiled [the country] in his stupid wars. This was followed by the American occupation, the arrival of ISIS and everything that happened later.
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"We do not present these figures to downplay the Palestinian tragedy, which involves a homeland that was usurped, but in order to highlight the horrific magnitude of the Syrian tragedy. What makes this tragedy worse is that [Syria] is now subjected to five different occupations: the Zionist occupation of the Golan, which has been ongoing since 1967, and the Iranian, Turkish, Russian and American occupations, which began in the recent decade and still continue. And now disaster has once again befallen the Syrian people, since the epicenter of the biggest earthquake to strike Turkey since 1939 was in the city of Gaziantep, which is more or less the capital of the Syrian refugees in Turkey. Moreover, the first quake that struck the region in the small hours of Monday morning [February 6, 2023] also affected a large part of northwest Syria, with Aleppo at its center and Idlib to the west of it.
"Obviously is was Turkey itself, and the Turks and Kurds who live in the area where the quake occurred, that were most affected by it. But the Syrian areas are much weaker in the face of the disaster than the Turkish ones, since some of them are [under the control] of a state that is much better at killing and destroying than at helping to clear the rubble, while others are not [controlled by] any state at all and are even outside the operation zone of most international aid organizations. Furthermore, the Syrian refugees living in southwest Turkey were crowded into many ramshackle buildings which collapsed in a horrific manner, since –due to greed [of contractors] wishing to increase their profits – they were built in violation of the regulations [for construction] in earthquake-prone areas. This means that the number of Syrians earthquake victims, which will surely reach tens of thousands, will be disproportionately high, compared to their share of the population.
"The Syrian people are truly wretched. What a curse has afflicted them since the rise to power of Bashar Al-Assad and of the republic-kingdom he inherited from his father, Hafez Al-Assad. [Hafez] imposed his dictatorship on the Syrians for 30 years, and now his son [Bashar] has been holding the same position for over 23 years. So in seven years he will be ruling as long as his father did! But the fact is that the years of the son's presidency are far worse than his father's. Over half of them were the years in which Syria was destroyed, and the end is not yet in sight, as the saying goes.
"The truth is that Syria's greatest disaster is this regime, in which a young man not yet 35, with minimal experience in governance, inherited the rule over one of [the world's] most ancient and complex societies, became drunk with power and lost his way. When the social and political situation in Syria reached a boiling point, as happened in the other countries of the region in 2011, he did not seek a solution for the crisis that would keep the country and people safe. The only thing that interested him and his gang of a family, which joins him in enjoying the privileges of absolute power over Syria… was cleaving to power, even at the cost of burning down the country, as stated in their hated slogan, 'Assad or we burn down the state.'
"The great earthquake that struck Syria and its people only added fuel to this fire. The destruction of Syria under Bashar Al-Assad left it in a terrible condition, [unable] to cope with this natural disaster following the blows of the man-made earthquake and tragedies it has suffered."
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 8, 2023.