Since Monday morning, Turkey has been struggling with the biggest disaster in its recent history. On February 6, we were hit by two major earthquakes, one of 7.7 and the other of 7.6 magnitudes. The number of provinces devastated by the earthquake centered in Kahramanmaraş is 10, and the number of people affected is 13.5 million. As of today, the number of houses destroyed is 5,775. There is no way to keep track of the number of casualties and injured, which is increasing by the hour. I am afraid , The death toll, which was announced as 7108 as of this morning, will reach 5-digit figures.
Hatay has been razed to the ground. Islâhiye district of Gaziantep has almost been wiped off the map. The beautiful castle of Antep, which the French could not enter with their guns and artillery for 9 months, also succumbed to the earthquake this time. Charlie Hebdo magazine must have been the happiest about the destruction of the castle since it published an insulting cartoon with the caption “no need to send tanks” about the earthquake in Turkey. It is heartbreaking to watch the images on television. February 6, 2023, has already gone down in Turkish history as a black day.
The biggest earthquake in Turkey
The devastation caused by the recent earthquake centered in Kahramanmaraş is incomparable to the Varto, Marmara, and Izmir earthquakes that our generation witnessed. The adverse weather conditions coupled with difficulties in transportation make search and rescue efforts and the delivery of aid to those in need even more difficult.
It is impossible not to understand the outrage of the father in Hatay, who came all the way from Germany to rescue his three sons under the rubble, that 37 hours after the earthquake the rubble has still not been touched. It is also a fact that some of the aid teams from abroad had to wait for hours at airports.
Disaster is big, and AFAD could not catch up
But we should not forget the magnitude of the disaster. It is not easy to clear the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings in a race against time and to coordinate the aid flown in from 65 different countries. In Japan, which has a great experience in earthquakes, it is said that despite all the skills, organizational abilities, and technical facilities, aid could not be sent to the people in the north of the country where the 2011 earthquake and the subsequent tsunami took 16 thousand lives, and mobile phones did not work for two days.
Since 2009, the “Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency” (AFAD), established by the Law No. 5902, has been in charge of coordination in the fight against disasters. Before AFAD, there was the “General Directorate of Emergency Management of Turkey” (TAY). TAY, the Red Crescent, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs used to work in close cooperation. Now, the Red Crescent is no more in the picture. AFAD has become a giant organization. It works both as an executive authority and coordinator. The British say “small is beautiful”. Being bigger does not always mean being more efficient. It looks like if AFAD has been entrusted with a burden too heavy for it to handle.
A diplomat under the rubble
The Turkish foreign ministry is also working hard. A crisis desk has been set up in the ministry, headed by a senior ambassador operating on a 24-hour basis. AFAD‘s crisis center is staffed by 4 members of the Foreign Ministry. In addition, three ambassadors have been sent to the three affected cities to support the coordination of foreign aid.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Devrim Öztürk, the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hatay, is also under the rubble. At the time of this article was written, he has still not been rescued. I hope he can be pulled out safely.
Aid is pouring into Turkey from all over the world for the disaster. Among them are Western countries, which three days ago closed their consulates because of rumors of a terrorist attack. Apart from the countries that immediately come to mind such as Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, rescue teams from the Netherlands, Romania, and Germany in coordination with the European Union were among the first to arrive. Among the countries that immediately offered or sent aid are the USA, Israel, India, India, Switzerland, Austria, and Armenia, countries with which the Turkish government does not have great affection.
It is particularly noteworthy that Ukraine, itself under war and attack, sent a 90-person aid team.
A separate chapter for Greece
A separate parenthesis must be opened for Greece. Both Greek President Katerina Sakelaropoulou and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis separately called President Tayyip Erdoğan to express their condolences. This is Mitsotakis’ first contact with Erdoğan in almost a year. Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, who sent 1024 anti-Turkish tweets last year, shared Turkey’s pain in two consecutive tweets. Six Greek ministers also made phone calls to their Turkish counterparts. Most important of all,are the flowers left by Greeks in front of the Turkish embassy in Athens. The embassy’s tweet about this received 6000 likes.
I will never forget that when I was serving as ambassador in Vienna, the front of the French embassy was turned into a flower garden after the Charlie Hebdo raid, while during the same period, following the DAESH attack at the Ankara train station on October 10, 2015, not a single bouquet was left at our embassy, which was 100 meters away.
Out of every calamity comes a good. I hope that this earthquake will lead to a new rapprochement between the two countries, just as we saw in the case of Foreign Ministers İsmail Cem and Yorgo Papandreou after the 1999 Marmara earthquake.