THE COURSE OF BIRD FLU IN KURDISTAN

“Poverty is the openmouthed relentless hell which yawns beneath civilized society. And it is hell enough.” ~ Henry George.

There is an editorial in today’s TDN about the two different mindsets in Turkey and the practical results of these on the bird flu situation. The first mentality is described this way:

Turkey acted very sensibly when it first encountered bird flu. It was in western Turkey. It hit areas very close to a poultry region. There was no hesitation in making a public announcement about the serious development. Thousands of birds were culled. Farmers were compensated by the state. A quarantine was applied effectively. Like any other people, Turks panicked a little bit, stayed away from chicken and turkey for some time but soon life returned to somewhere close to normal, excluding some skeptical housewives who preferred not to trust any official disclosure and opted to wait a few more months before starting serving fowl once again to their loved ones.

[ . . . . ]

However, the first bird flu outbreak in Turkey was handled by the Agriculture Ministry, as it was found at a farm close to Lake Manyas, a bird sanctuary. Nothing was concealed and the first statements were made based on the behavioral patterns of dying birds. It was stressed that there was a suspicion of bird flu and that tests were ordered. Birds were culled immediately and the area was placed under quarantine. By the time tests confirmed the presence of bird flu in the region, the officials’ job was almost complete and the possible spread was effectively prevented.

The second mentality is quite different:

In this second and, unfortunately, deadly outbreak, however, the [health] ministry concealed the facts, tried to fool the public with a statement that the boy died of pneumonia and not from bird flu. It was claimed there was no threat. Birds continued to die. The number of people hospitalized increased. Then, in a midnight statement from the health minister, no longer able to hide the truth, it was acknowledged that two children died of bird flu and that several others had been affected and hospitalized with the killer virus — but that everything was under control.

Then it became clear antiviral drugs would not be available in the region for 10 days; proper treatment could not be, therefore, provided for the children who lost their lives.

The number of people hospitalized has exceeded 20 and, still, the region could not be placed under full quarantine; birds in the region were not culled. Kids were playing with geese and other birds.

I have already documented the fact that there were serious problems with the handling of this outbreak in North Kurdistan: the lie that the first death was due to pneumonia, even before testing was complete; the lies about the availability of antiviral drugs; the fact that the first bird deaths in the area were reported in December, but no efforts to cull, quarantine or educate were undertaken. I expressed my suspicion that we should see if the Turkish government handled this situation as aggressively and effectively as it did during the October outbreak in the West, and that the government was going to have to engage in transparency throughout. I suggested that the Ankara regime’s feckless efforts and deliberate lies to the public were consistent with the founding ideology, Kemalism, and that what the TSK has failed to do in eight decades of repression, the government now permits a virus to do.

It does not matter to them that this virus is a threat to the entire world; blind racism rarely takes into consideration any other outcome except that which fuels its own racist fantasies. Did the Nazis and their allies consider the massive destruction to the world that their racist policies brought? No, and neither do the Kemalists think in a rational way. Reason and fascism are mutually exclusive modes of thinking.

The news over the weekend continues to indicate a half-hearted effort. From ABC News:

Turks across the country hunted for the influenza medicine in pharmacies, while in the eastern part of Turkey, even simple gloves and masks were in high demand. Hospitals and clinics in eastern and southeastern parts of the country, where some H5N1 bird flu cases have been confirmed in fowl, were overwhelmed with people suffering from ordinary human flu.

The Health Ministry said more than 5,000 boxes of the antiviral drug Tamiflu were sent to eastern Turkey and five artificial respiration machines were also sent to the hospital in Van.

According to a Washington Post report on Friday, the government had 15,000 boxes of Tamiflu on hand when the outbreak occured. If we believe anything anymore, this means that a third of the supply was due to be sent to Wan, weeks after the first reports of bird deaths in the area. Roche was supposed to be rushing to fill a 100,000-box order, to arrive in Turkey on Friday night. What happened to that order? Have more boxes been sent to Wan and Dogubayazit? Or will the corrupt officials of the Turkish government sell those boxes at inflated prices to ethnic Turks in the West? Good luck to all those in Dogubayazit who, without the luxury of being wealthy enough to pay for Tamiflu even if it were available to them, are searching for “simple gloves and masks.”

Efforts to collect poultry in Dogubayazit are totally insufficient, as Reuters reported Saturday:

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan asked Turks not to hide poultry to escape bird flu culls but residents of eastern Turkey said efforts to control the outbreak were disorganized.

We apply to the officials but they don’t come to take our chickens. I cannot bring them myself. I have no money,” a middle-aged man said in Dogubayazit, the town where the dead children lived, near the Armenian and Iranian borders.

A Reuters reporter saw chickens still walking on the streets and some escaping just before they were carried in large bags to be buried alive in pits.

The same report says that some people in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan doubt the disease even exists. The reason the people believe this is clear; Eight decades of lies and propaganda from Ankara has totally eroded any confidence in the government or in any belief that the government exists for any reason other than to bring destruction to Kurds. The reluctance of the Kurdish population to surrender thier poultry stocks to the government, when they bother to come around to collect the birds, can be seen by the population as another means of government-enforced poverty on a people that already suffers 70% unemployment.

In another report from Reuters on Saturday, we get the idea that compensation for lost birds will be far less than full compensation, and we see the skepticism of the people about the reason given for surrendering their birds:

A Reuters stringer in southeastern Diyarbakir said people still slaughter chickens on the streets in front of children.

“We don’t have bird flu in this city,” a man who bought a turkey from a street seller said, showing the bird to cameramen.

A poultry seller complained the government pays 7-9 lira ($5.25-$6.75) compensation for a turkey, which is normally sold for 30 lira in the market, and that is why they do not want to give their poultry to officials for culling.

“These bird flu rumours are produced intentionally to raise lamb sales. There is no problem with our poultry,” a street seller said.

The skepticism of the people makes them believe that the call for the destruction of poultry is a move on the part of the government to drive up the price of lamb. Just in time for Kurban Bayrami, no doubt. This skepticism is the result of decades of lies and denials on the part of the government. They have taught the people well.

Another interesting comment is found a few paragraphs before:

Turkish television reported that a prosecutor in the eastern town of Kars had begun an investigation into culling poultry by burning in holes because causing pain to animals is illegal.

Ah, yes! Causing pain to animals is illegal, but permitting humans to contract the disease and die is not an issue. At least we know that this particular prosecutor does not consider Kurds to be animals, otherwise he would begin an investigation into the racism and lack of concern on the part of the government for allowing this problem to grow to the point of causing death.

The BBC also reports on the sluggishness of reaction by the Turkish government:

The WHO has attempted to play down fears of the disease, as Turkish officials sought to defend themselves from accusations they were slow to act.

The cull of all winged animals was only half complete almost a week after the first fatality, our correspondent said on Saturday.

Officials say they have had difficulty persuading people in the impoverished rural region to deliver all of their poultry up for slaughter, whether the birds appear healthy or not.

A Reuters report from Sunday addresses the issue of poverty and its connection to the outbreak of bird flu in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan:

“When Mehmet Ali first fell sick, we did not even have the two lira ($1.30) to take him to hospital,” his mother, Marifet, sobbed in her native Kurdish. Many women in this mainly ethnic Kurdish region speak little or no Turkish.

She thought initially the boy had caught cold because he lacked suitable shoes and clothes for the severe wintry weather.

After finally scraping together a few coins to get Mehmet Ali to hospital, doctors gave him syrup and sent him home again, not suspecting he had contracted the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu which has killed 74 people in east Asia since 2003.

His condition worsened, and his siblings also fell sick.

The parents began to suspect that the sick chickens the children had killed and eaten might be to blame. Doctors say the children had also played with the heads of the dead poultry.

“It is our custom here to kill and eat sick birds… Nobody warned us (about the risks),” Zeki Kocyigit, the 38-year-old unemployed father, told Reuters in the small concrete mountain shack that is their home.

The house has no running water and they rely on a spring. A partitioned section of the backyard serves as a toilet.

This report is from the AP as carried by Forbes,on Sunday:

Health officials believe the best way to fight the spread of bird flu is the wholesale destruction of poultry in the affected area. But they often run into problems in rural areas like Dogubayazit, where villagers have resisted turning in their animals.

Authorities here have had difficulties explaining the danger of close contact with fowl to local residents and the need to deliver all birds for destruction, whether or not they appear sick.

“This virus spreads rapidly,” workers shouted through loudspeakers in Dogubayazit on Sunday, demanding that villagers turn in their poultry.

A group of Turkish workers, meanwhile, had to climb over a wall in the village when a woman refused to open the door and hand over her chickens, insisting they were not sick. The workers could not persuade her to part with the chickens and left, saying they would return with police.

It was a scene often repeated across the impoverished eastern parts of the country, where sometimes chickens, ducks or turkeys are a family’s most valuable possession.

Throughout all the reports I have read, poverty, the fact of life in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan, is written everywhere between the lines, but only those who know the region can understand how extreme this poverty has become in eighty years. Poverty is linked to the lack of education as well, which is partially explained by the inability of the government to convey information to a population which does not speak the same language as the dominant ethnicity. Vladimir covered this subject well in his recent blog entry. Kurdistan has been devastated by Turkey’s policies of occupation and the outbreak of bird flu is only the most recent devastation to be added to the long list.

The government refuses to permit mother-language education; it refuses to permit the dissemination of information in any language but Turkish; it has done nothing to alleviate economic conditions in Kurdistan so that families could send all their children to school instead of sending them into the fields; it has made very little effort to provide health services. The only thing Turkish rulers have done is ensure decent roads through the region, but only so that their armies have the ability to combat “terrorists.” Through its own negligence, the Ankara regime proves that it has no legitimacy to rule over Kurdistan.

Sunday’s AP report mentions that bird flu victims have been confirmed in Ankara. Let’s watch to see how their treatment differs from that given to Mehmet Ali Kocyigit and his siblings. I bet they weren’t initially sent home after a dose of syrup. I bet they will have access to those 100,000 boxes of Tamiflu. Let’s watch to see how birds are culled in Ankara. Will they be culled with the efficiency of the outbreak near the Lake Manyas area, or with the efficiency of the Dogubayazit outbreak?

Where are the Kurdish organizations and political parties to condemn the deliberate mishandling and denial of this most recent tragedy in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan? Why are they not taking the lead in educating the people about the dangers of this disease and the proper handling of birds? Why are they not demanding of the government proper compensation for the birds in order to encourage the population to turn them in, thereby reducing the probability of more human infections?

Why are Kurdish organizations and political parties not educating the media, which is present on the ground in Wan and Dogubayazit, about this outbreak being the result of many factors that stem from Turkish oppression? Why do they not point out to these journalists the vast discrepancy between the way of life in “The West (Turkey)” as compared to “The East (Kurdistan)?” Why are they not pushing the government? Are they happy with the status quo and, if so, why? Have they become so Westernized that they, too, are afraid to criticize Ankara?

As Yusuf Kanli writes in his TDN editorial:

Our friends at the Health Ministry and elsewhere might not be aware yet, but the world is living in the information age. Anything that happens anywhere, particularly if it concerns issues of general public curiosity such as health, cannot be hidden.

Right, for the exposing of corruption claims against politicians and top bureaucrats there is need for a change of a political party in government, but otherwise nothing, or almost nothing, can remain a secret.

Kurdish organizations and political parties should be aware of this fact too. It is the information age and we are watching you. You are about to lose your legitimacy.

So far, Mukkades Kubilay, the Kurdish mayor of Dogubayazit, is the only Kurdish politician to criticize the government. It seems that she is the lone voice in the wilderness.

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