Izmir earthquake lowered tension with France, Greece

The casualties in the Izmir earthquake are due to the collapse of about 20 buildings. The absence of damage to adjacent buildings of some of the destroyed buildings suggests construction and inspection flaws. Meanwhile, post-earthquake diplomacy points to easing tensions. (Photo: Ömer Evren Atalay – Anadolu Agency)

On the afternoon of October 30, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 Richter in the Aegean Sea, off the Seferihisar district of Izmir, caused 25 deaths and 804 injuries. It also caused the deaths of two people on the Greek island of Samos, 2 km off the Turkish coast.  

According to the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) data, almost all the casualties in Turkey were in Izmir. And they were the result of a total of 20 buildings collapsing. This, once again, brings to mind bad workmanship and incomplete controls. For example, nothing happened to the adjacent building of one of the buildings that collapsed in Izmir’s Bayraklı district. Search and rescue efforts continue for the victims.

Meanwhile, the post-earthquake goodwill messages sent first from France and Greece, and then from Israel, have a different meaning than the messages sent from Azerbaijan, England, or Japan. The former messages may allow the tension in the Eastern Mediterranean to decrease. Which would bring diplomacy to the fore, as it should be. 

The softening that disaster brought 

Before the earthquake, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had announced that “at war with Islamic ideology inside and outside”. After the event, he immediately tweeted that they were ready to support Greece and Turkey. This message is important. It looks like the latest attitude of holding Turkey and Erdoğan responsible for the extremist terror attacks in France is alleviating. At least on the governmental level. Robert Le Gall, the Archbishop of Toulouse, where the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons were reflected on the city walls, appeared on TV: “We are adding fuel to the fire”, he said. “These cartoons don’t just harm Muslims, but Christians too”.

Following the earthquake, NATO and EU officials also issued messages of solidarity, mentioning Turkey and Greece in the same sentence.

Likewise, the message from Israel was that Tel Aviv is ready to help its sister city Izmir. Izmir has two other sister cities: Thessaloniki and Baku.

Could the easing in tensions continue?

These developments bring to mind the aftermath of the 1999 Marmara Earthquake. Of course, the damage is not comparable. On August 17, 1999, the Gölcük-centered earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 Richter had caused the deaths of 18 373 people, injuring 48 901. 

Greece was among the countries sending help to Turkey, though the tension between the two countries was at an all-time high. Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), had been removed from Syria after much pressure from Turkey. Following a chase lasting several months, he had been caught at the exit of the Kenyan Embassy in Greece through a joint operation by the CIA and the Turkish Intelligence Services (MIT) on 15 February 1999. It was a real caught-red-handed situation. 

Turkey had responded to Greece’s earthquake relief also by sending help when a 6.0 Richter earthquake hit the area near Athens on September 7 a few weeks later. It had caused the deaths of 143 people and injured 1600.

The eased tension on both sides had resulted in Greece lifting its veto on Turkey’s EU candidacy during the Helsinki Summit on December 10.

Will the goodwill messages given after the earthquake in Izmir lead to the dialogue of the Eastern Mediterranean problems? It’s still early to say. But let’s hope so. 

Of course, there is an important question to be asked here. Why must there be tragic disasters for leaders to go back to solving problems through dialogue and diplomacy?


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