Turkey stands united in the face of earthquake disaster

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit the predominantly Kurdish province of Van, an area usually in the news for terrorist attacks, has killed more than 430, ruined lives and destroyed building, but there is one thing it has strengthened: the solidarity between the eastern and western provinces, as manifest in the myriad of aid packages sent to Van from other parts of the country.

Busloads of blankets, newly bought winter clothes and boots for children, heaters, diapers for toddlers and many other supplies were dispatched to Van from all across the country to help the earthquake victims, most of whom have to live in tents in freezing temperatures. Huge trucks filled with more supplies were on their way on Tuesday.

The entire country, from ordinary citizens to public agencies, mobilized to ease the fallout from the disaster. About 550 search and rescue teams from 44 provinces rushed to Van on the first day. More than a thousand medical staff, 256 excavators, and dozens of ambulances and ambulance helicopters were dispatched to the area. The Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) sent 18,000 units of blood. Many businessmen lent their private jets to fly in more supplies to Van, including infant formulas and medicine. Kızılay is distributing tents, blankets and warm meals.

İstanbul’s Esenler Intercity Bus Terminal on Monday was filled with aid from ordinary people, with many boxes being placed outside bus companies’ offices as there wasn’t enough room in many of these offices to fit them. Municipalities all across Turkey organized relief drives, with thousands bringing blankets, water bottles, personal hygiene products and other supplies.

Nilüfer Narlı, a sociology professor at Bahçeşehir University, told Today’s Zaman that the disaster, no matter how painful, has shown a positive aspect about society. “The mobilization of people without making any ethnic distinctions is a very positive reflex. It is impossible to talk about growing anti-Kurdish sentiment in society despite the polarization and outrage created by separatist violence and the news of killed soldiers.”

Narlı noted that municipal trucks in İzmir, which saw a violent protest against a Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) convoy in November 2009, were filled with supplies before midnight. Ever since protesters in İzmir attacked the convoy with stones, the city has been accused of ultra-nationalism and being anti-Kurdish. “This was the case in most provinces. When we look at the overall picture, aid trucks were filled with supplies and ready to leave before midnight. Perhaps there were some organizational hang ups in the distribution.”

There were almost no reports of looting or other opportunistic behavior in the Van earthquake, in contrast to the Marmara earthquake, a massive disaster that killed 18,000 people according to official figures. “They sold bottles of water at 10 times the regular price [in 1999],” Narlı recalled, saying the role of social media, and in particular Twitter, has been a great help in both organizing relief drives and perhaps in preventing cases of opportunism.

In spite of the pain and suffering it has caused, the earthquake has had a positive outcome in its aftermath, Yasin Aktay, sociologist and director of the Strategic Thought Institute (SDE), said, adding that “the organization of relief drives shows that we are a strong society with a high degree of solidarity.”

Aktay said the earthquake might redefine how the people and politicians see the discussions on the country’s Kurdish question.

Although a majority of society is blind to ethnic divisions, as the quickly filling aid trucks showed, at least one person, TV show host Müge Anlı, defied the collective sentiment by saying on air: “Police officers who were targets of little children sent out [by adults] to throw stones at every opportunity were the first to rush to the disaster scene. … May those hands that threw stones at them be broken. Those who threw stones, kill them on the mountaintops, whenever you want to. Let’s set things straight. In difficult times, the police are the best [for the people of the area]. … It is not that simple. Everyone should know their place.”

Anlı’s remarks were met with widespread outrage and anger, but she called in on a marriage show broadcast by ATV, her employer, defending her remarks and refusing to apologize. Both Narlı and Aktay pointed out that the immense volume of aid supplies sent to Van from all over Turkey show that people who have feelings like Anlı can at best be a tiny minority.

In addition to journalists, writers, academics and ordinary people, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli also issued an angry statement related to the subject. He said he saw remarks along the lines of “now it’s their turn to cry” as a major show of vileness and moral abjectness. Bahçeli said: “Although our pain and loss is great, we have the ability, strength and determination more than necessary to overcome this.”

Selahattin Demirtaş, head of the BDP, said: “I would like to thank all who have sent the aid packages that they prepared with their own hands from all across Turkey starting in the first moments. Solidarity in such difficult times is more important, more sacred to us than anything else.”

Without naming her directly, Demirtaş referred to Anlı as a “synthetic toy with a bachelor’s degree in racism and a doctorate in fascism.” He said: “They will see that the fascistic racist mentality they try to spread will never take root in any segment of society. The solidarity shown by the people has, in practice, convicted these people and their mentalities.” He said Turkey successfully passed its test with regard to the earthquake.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also released a message of solidarity on Monday afternoon. “Seventy million people are united into a single heart because of Van and Erciş. We are a society that stands together both in proud days and in dark days. We will continue to stay together against all odds, and we are determined to do so.”




25 October 2011, Tuesday / E. BARIŞ ALTINTAŞ, İSTANBUL