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The following article appeared in Evrensel on 10 February 2023. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

Original article:

Suddenly one night!
By Yusuf Karataş

It’s President Erdoğan’s favourite motto: We can come suddenly one night!

Wherever the staging of a cross-border military operation is undertaken or wished for, the message is delivered with this motto. Erdoğan most recently even threatened Greece with these words. It proclaims that Turkey has the strength to conduct an operation at any time and anywhere.

An earthquake of a magnitude of 7.7 took place at four in the morning of 6 February centred on Maraş but causing great destruction in ten of the country’s provinces. However, the Erdoğan administration, proud of its ability to stage cross-border operations with thousands of soldiers, was incapable of getting “suddenly” to this country’s demolished cities. Then another earthquake of a magnitude of 7.6 struck in the middle of the same day. But, again, the state was nowhere to be seen! Forget villages and small towns, not even 24 hours after the earthquake had the necessary aid to facilitate rubble clearing and rescue reached the provincial capital of Hatay, where tens of thousands of people were trapped under the rubble. Samandağ Mayor Refik Eryılmaz said aid equipment had not got through to Samandağ, where thousands of apartment buildings had been toppled, 48 hours after the earthquake.

The administration, proud of its ability to send thousands of soldiers mid-winter to Judi, Gabar and Tendurek, could not even make it to the villages of Malatya and Maraş on the third day of the earthquake.

Erdoğan vilifies those who criticize the government’s incompetence and indifference in the face of this huge popular disaster, saying, “Some despicable and devious people are waging a campaign around this and casting concocted aspersions such as, ‘We have been unable see soldiers, gendarmerie or police’” and bandies threats saying, “When the time comes we’ll open the ledger we’re keeping just now”.

With rescue efforts having vital importance in the first hours following an earthquake, Minister of National Defence Akar issued the following statement on the evening of 6 February, “Just now, 3,500 staff including our commando squadrons are taking part in rescue efforts in areas affected by the earthquake”. The number of soldiers mobilized roughly one day after an earthquake that had affected a total of 13.5 million people in ten of the country’s provinces and left hundreds of thousands of people under the rubble was a mere 3,500.

Could it be that his own minister of defence, who misses no opportunity to praise the Turkish army for being NATO’s second largest army, was casting aspersions on Erdoğan?

In fact, CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu, travelling to Hatay, scene of the greatest destruction, on the second day of the earthquake, was struck with horror by the sight that met him. Rubble clearing and rescue efforts were being conducted in only a small section of the city even 42 hours after the earthquake and tens of thousands of people were being effectively abandoned to their deaths. Kılıçdaroğlu’s comments that he did not consider this issue to be above politics and Erdoğan was responsible caused great disquiet on the ruling front.

Somehow incapable of furnishing the people with aid, the administration replied instantly to the opposition’s criticisms: Vice President Fuat Oktay, rather than addressing criticism about aid and rescue, accused Kılıçdaroğlu of deriving political benefit from the earthquake.

Just think. Ruling party spokesperson Ömer Çelik, with absolutely no aid having yet got through to the bulk of the demolished cities, announced, “We, the People’s Alliance, are all out on the ground. We, both the AK Party Headquarters and MHP Headquarters, have sent our members of parliament and central decision board members into the regions”. As if the sole expectation of tens of thousands of people perishing under the rubble was for People’s Alliance administrators and parliamentarians to take a trip to their regions!

For some reason, those who accused the opposition of lacking honour and political morality failed to turn and take a look at themselves!

Having said on his trip to Maraş and Hatay with reference to the earthquake, “These are things within the plan of fate”, President Erdoğan stated, “We are a government with a track record in such matters. God willing, we’ll also do this in our Hatay. God permitting, we’ll also do this in our Kahramanmaraş” as if the issue was putting up new buildings while tens of thousands of souls were submerged in the rubble.

Where I wonder do the earthquake taxes that the Erdoğan-AKP administration made permanent in 2003 and have now amounted to 36.5 billion dollars fit into this plan of fate?

Had these funds been used to redevelop cities under serious risk, Istanbul included, and to relocate areas under risk, would the “plan of fate” still have unfolded in this way?

The sole reply obtained so far to parliamentary questions as to what end earthquake taxes have been put to until now takes the form, “They were used in the necessary places”. This means that for the administration there are “more necessary” places than the lives of millions of citizens who eke out their existences under serious risk!

But let’s give credit where it’s due. The Erdoğan administration was no laggard when it came to citing a pretext, not for rescuing those under the rubble, but for proclaiming a state of emergency on the third day of the earthquake! Muharrem Sarıkaya of Habertürk says ruling party officials informed him that “the state of emergency was introduced to prevent potential looting”.

Can any looters outdo those who use collected taxes for their own ruling structure’s needs and leave their people under the rubble?

It was not hard to guess that an administration that, at the time of the Van earthquake in November 2011, sprayed water and gas in mid-winter on the populace who were protesting the failure for aid to be delivered to them and that sent police truncheons by way of service would declare a state of emergency following such a destructive earthquake! Viewed in conjunction with Erdoğan’s proclamation that the elections will be held on 14 May, it is clear that the chief goal behind ordering this state of emergency is to put a lid on any potential popular reactions and once more turn this crisis into an opportunity.

With even large earthquakes measuring in the sevens exacting no death toll in Japan (there were only four lost lives in the earthquake of a magnitude of 7.3 in 2022), the demolition of vast cities and the loss of tens of thousands of lives in Turkey cannot be accounted for as the “plan of fate”. Ultimate responsibility for this devastation is borne by none other than this administration that has become one of the greatest political disasters in the history of this country. And only the people itself can hold it to account for this devastation and remove it by struggling for a secure future conducive to a human existence.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton