ESR 6 Blog January/February 2023: Bilge Hasdemir

Not earthquakes, but decisions so far made create disasters

Since the devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria on February 6th with the magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.5 just eight hours apart from each other, thousands have died, thousands more have been injured, millions have been left homeless or displaced and without shelter, water, food, electricity, heating, medical care and sanitation facilities, and many people have still been missing. Thousands of animals and livestock have been injured, left homeless or have died as well.  In southern Turkey alone 45,968 deaths have been recorded so far.  The death tolls continue to increase with each new information mainly from remote areas.  At least around 7,000 have been killed in northern Syria, where many people have already been living in highly difficult and painful conditions after years of civil war that have brought nothing but misery, death, and destruction to the region.

I was in Turkey when the earthquakes happened. We, my family, friends and I, like everyone else, tried to reach out to friends and acquaintances living in the earthquake zone first and, at the same time, to comprehend the scale of the disaster. But fully grasping the scale and its impacts requires a much longer time. The government announced a level 4 alarm calling for international assistance and declared a three month  state of emergency within ten provinces as a disaster zone. I’ve never heard of the alarm 4 before.  As reported, millions of people, about 26 million as estimated, have been directly impacted across southern Turkey and northern Syria. The size of the earthquake destruction zone is almost the size of Germany, to give some idea about the destruction zone. And the disaster is called one of the biggest worldwide in recent history. The description the ‘biggest’ being the result of years of negligence,  mismanagement and corruption. The earthquakes left those who survived with feelings of shock, sorrow, helplessness, despair, and anger.

After the earthquakes,in the midst of a catastrophe, when thousands of bodies were still waiting to be pulled from the rubble, systematic failures have become more visible for many. Buildings, roads and many other constructions that were previously seen as development indicators for millions did not bring progress but a huge loss in reality.  Deficiently constructed buildings, improperly designed mass housing projects,  poorly built highways, hospitals and airports – as the by-products of a corrupted construction industry that has been protected by authoritarianism –  have deepened the profound crises communities in this region have been living through.

People in the destruction zone have been shouting the sad truth since February 6th that millions of lives have been lost not because of earthquakes alone, but due to delayed search and rescue efforts and lack of coordination in the aftermath of the earthquakes. Without waiting,, or losing time by hoping for official help to arrive quickly, earthquake survivors in the destruction zones tried to rescue people from the  rubble by their own means.  Those who managed to get to the earthquake zone from different regions in Turkey and elsewhere participated in search and rescue operations and, also, communicated the up-to-date needs of people in the destruction zones, and launched solidarity campaigns which are still ongoing. Volunteers and artists have been organizing  various activities for children and kids in the shelter areas like film screenings, play groups, reading and drawing clubs. Meanwhile, grassroot organisations, activists and left parties being alarmed by discrimination, systematic exlusion and  various kinds of violence imposed on LGBTQ+ communities, refugees, ethnic and religious minorities organised themselves to meet the needs and concerns of those communities, as well as to ensure that aid and assistance also reached the Kurdish-majority provinces and Syria.

Despite everyone and everything, people tried to help each other as much as they could. It seems to be the feeling of being left alone in trouble and despair that made people united. And those who are responsible for the the disaster have not  apologized in any way or have not accepted their inadequacies and failures in any respect. The humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake becomes a  tragic reminder of the importance of collective efforts and solidarity. No single person could have been able to respond to this alone. But it should not be forgotten that today many generations are haunted by the traces of this disaster, like the previous deadly earthquakes that happened  in Izmit, Izmir, Van, Elazig, and elsewhere. And healing  individual and collective traumas is a much longer process for many.



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