It turns out that the first night of the Kahramanmaraş double earthquake in Türkiye on February 6 was very difficult for the earthquake victims who received no or insufficient aid and this situation. It is an uphill struggle against time and freezing cold. By lunchtime February 7, more than 3482 people died (7108 as of Feb 8 morning) and 21 thousand (similarly updated as 41 thousand) people were wounded in the major tremors hitting the first Pazarcık township of the Southern city with a 7.7 magnitude on the Richter scale and then Elbistan township with 7.6 in 9 hours on February 6, 2023. There is a 7-day long national mourning. There are 2660 rescue workers from 65 countries who responded to the Turkish government’s call for international assistance, plus tens of thousands of rescue workers under the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Directorate (AFAD) and some 9 thousand troopers. But it is not enough; the scale of the earthquakes is too big, affecting some 15 million people in 10 Turkish provinces and there are serious problems in reaching out to the earthquake victims.
President Tayyip Erdoğan declared a state of emergency for the affected 10 provinces for three months.
Reactions to government figures
One reason for that is the criticism against his government by the people of being inadequate and incompetent in the search and rescue efforts. On Feb 7, the lifeless body of a Member of Parliament, Yakup Taş from Erdoğan’s “Justice and Development Party” (AKP) is found under the debris of his house in the Southeast City of Adıyaman. In Adıyaman and other affected provinces, thousands of people in need are looking for immediate help and get upset when they cannot find it.
Reactions are echoed by earthquake victims and their relatives, many of whom had to spend the night outside in the winter cold, in media outlets outside the government’s direction. Opposition parties have failed to voice their reactions, partly because they fear being accused by AKP of playing politics over the disaster and the suffering of citizens.
However, AKP Spokesperson Ömer Çelik can say “We have come to your side as the People’s Alliance, AKP, and MHP” (AKP’s ally Nationalist Movement Party) as if it is a deed and a feat to the citizens whose relatives are waiting to be pulled out from under the rubble. Minister of Treasury and Finance Nureddin Nebati’s speech, “Everything is under control, those who died, died while fleeing, the problem is in fake news,” infuriates people in grief and mourning.
Aid cannot reach most parts of Hatay province bordering Syria, where the number of deaths due to the tremors reportedly nears one thousand. Hatay airport is destroyed by the earthquake. It was built in 2007 by YDA Group, one of the AKP’s favorite contracting companies, despite criticism that it should not have been built on swampy ground. İskenderun the industrial township of Hatay, the public state hospital has also been demolished. In Antakya, the capital city of the province the AFAD building itself has collapsed. In Adıyaman, the municipality building and Telecom building collapsed.
AFAD with proven success in many disaster areas of the world is obviously not enough to get the job done alone in such a big-scale disaster. Despite this fact, it took a citizen revolt on social media for President Erdoğan to call military units to duty.
For a while, opposition trolls on social media attributed this to the fact that Hatay was ignored by Erdoğan because its Metropolitan Municipality is run by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). That became clear to the opposition trolls on social media, who for a while attributed this to the fact that Hatay’s municipality was being penalized because it was under the control of the CHP. But Fatma Şahin the AKP Mayor of Gaziantep, also bordering Syria said that half of the 60,000-population district of İslâhiye had been destroyed, 1 million people can’t enter their homes, and there was a shortage of bread and blankets.
Some villages in Kahramanmaraş are reported to have been leveled, especially after the second earthquake centered in its Elbistan district. It is also claimed that the military unit dispatched to Elbistan after the distress calls was given the wrong coordinates and was able to intervene late.
It is the government
These criticisms should not offend AFAD employees or other rescue workers who are working hard to save lives in winter conditions. The problem lies with the management. AFAD, which rushes to the aid of every disaster area in the world, was insufficient in the face of the disaster in Türkiye. The fact that Vice President Fuat Oktay took over the earthquake coordination did not help either.
It is a fact that the magnitude of the earthquake was huge. On the other hand, it is also a fact that the AK Party, which came to power in 2002 after it became clear how unprepared and inadequate the state was under the DSP-MHP-ANAP coalition during the 1999 İzmit earthquake, took back the steps it had taken in the first years of its rule to combat the earthquake. Giving construction licenses to earthquake assembly areas is the most obvious example.
Miners who are masters of excavation want to voluntarily participate in debris removal. Selahattin Demirtaş the imprisoned ex-co-chair of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) suggested yesterday that prisoners could volunteer for debris removal. But Erdoğan’s cabinet, which is hesitant at the beginning even to use the military, the most disciplined and organized force at its disposal, seems to be incapable of making decisions.
Turkish people’s attention is now on getting out of this catastrophe with the least number of casualties. But it is already clear that this disorganization of the government will have aftershocks.