TURES COLUMN: Turks and Syrians confront a Post-Earthquake Disaster: their governments

Published 10:30 am Thursday, February 23, 2023

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An estimated 50,000 Turks and Syrians have or will have perished in Southern Turkey and Northern Syria. But Turks and Syrians are facing a powerful aftershock: their own regimes. These governments may well have taken a natural disaster and made it one of human responsibility.

Before the Earth shook, there were already problems. In Syria, the bloody multifront civil war has weakened whatever infrastructure the regime had in place, which also hampered the response. 

A ceasefire is necessary to save lives, not just from the earthquake, but survivors who remain homeless, freezing to death, bereft of food and essentials, who are not rebels, but victims.

Rampant corruption and deregulation of the building and construction industry in Turkey may have helped produce so many buildings which were not built to code, to survive an earthquake. These accounted for the historic death tolls in Turkey. Yes, the current regime arrested some building contractors, but has any real investigation occurred of those in government, and in the legislature who were supposed to have upheld the law? 

As the magazine Foreign Policy concludes “Powerful earthquakes kill people, but they are more deadly in countries like Turkey, where building regulations aren’t enforced, unqualified loyalists fill key positions, independent state institutions do not exist, civil society organizations have been wiped out, and the interests of a corrupt few are prioritized above all else.” 

NPR reports “As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struggles to defend his response to last Monday’s devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake, videos from a few years back have emerged showing him hailing some of the housing projects that crumbled, killing thousands of people. Critics say contractors were allowed to skip crucial safety regulations, increasing their profits but putting residents at risk.”

As Forbes reports, the government has occupied itself with targeting dissenters and journalists who report how bad things are. “The Turkish government’s response to the quake has come under severe criticism from opposition leaders and members of the public. Anger over the response has been strongest in the hard-hit province of Hatay and its capital Antakya, whose residents claim the rescue efforts have been slow. Erdogan finally visited the province on Wednesday after being repeatedly called out by opposition leaders. Despite being in the midst of a tragedy, the Turkish leader has publicly lashed out at his political rivals while his regime has cracked down on dissent. On Wednesday, police took 18 people into custody and arrested five for making “provocative posts” about the disaster on social media. Journalists covering the disaster have also been targeted for spreading ‘disinformation.’” This is what authoritarians do.

And the government’s also going after Turkish celebrities who are fundraising for relief for the earthquake victims, as many Turks naturally trust these charities instead of the regime, according to Stockholm Center for Freedom.

So please donate to help the earthquake victims, but try to make sure it goes to the people affected, and not those who may well have played a role in the disaster.