Turkey relents and requests aid from Israel after the earthquake

Turkey earthquake

Turkey earthquake

I felt a sense of relief on behalf of the earthquake-stricken victims in Van on learning that Turkey’s Foreign Ministry had requested aid from Israel (amongst others) in the form of temporary housing. They haven’t asked for help with manpower – search and rescue teams for which Israel is famous – but at least they have climbed down the tree of irrational national pride at a time of catastrophe.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry submitted an official request with Jerusalem for the transfer of mobile housing units. The request was transferred from the Turkish Foreign Ministry to the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, which immediately notified the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Turkey has been showered with offers of outside help since the quake, but at first only accepted help from neighbouring Iran, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan. However, a foreign ministry official said on Tuesday that it had now requested prefabricated housing and tents from more than 30 countries.

“Given the sensitive situation, this is a good step forward,” an Israeli official involved in the affair told Ynet. “In these situations you put all the problems and politics aside. We hope everything is carried out as planned,” he said.

Some residents of the earthquake-stricken region are furious at their government for not requesting aid quickly enough, yet were first on the spot to send unneeded aid to Gaza in the provocative flotilla.

“The prime minister runs for help when it’s Palestine or Somalia, sends ships to Palestine, almost goes into war with Israel for the sake of Palestinians, but he doesn’t move a muscle when it comes to his own people,” said Emrullah, an 18-year-old from Van.

“He rejects aid offers from around the world, but we need tents here,” Emrullah said before the announcement of the international request for help.

Chaotic distribution of Red Crescent tents

Chaotic distribution of Red Crescent tents

The critical shortage of housing has led to chaotic scenes and nasty fighting in Van and Erçis, as reported by Today’s Zaman:

Fighting broke out among Turkish earthquake survivors on Tuesday as homeless families scrambled for tents after enduring two nights of biting cold under whatever shelter they can find.

Complaints about poor tent distribution have been rife  since Sunday’s quake destroyed thousands of homes and made many others uninhabitable, and anger among the destitute is being directed at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Desperation boiled over in a crowd of around 200 people in the eastern city of Van on Tuesday. Fists flew and people shoved and pulled each other, trying to grab one of the tents which relief workers handed out from the back of a truck.

Survivors, many of whom have been forced to huddle round small fires in the open, accused Erdoğan of putting  international diplomacy before his own citizens.

“There is absolutely no coordination, you have to step on people to get a tent. The Prime Minister should take care of his own people before going to Somalia and Libya,” said jobless 18-year-old Süleyman Akbulut.

Women in the crowd were hit and kicked as people tried to force their way through to get to the tents, while police tried in vain to establish order.

At first, Ankara accepted the offers only from neighbouring Iran, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan. However, a foreign ministry official said on Tuesday that it had now requested prefabricated housing and tents from more than 30 countries.

These included Israel, with which relations have been tense since Israel’s killing of nine Turks aboard a flotilla bound for the Palestinian enclave of Gaza last year.

A young man in his twenties complained that the tents were being sold at a nearby government shop for 200 lira, or around $110. He said the shop assistant was selling them to friends for a cheaper price and he decided against buying.

“Everything is so corrupt here, and the government claims people here have got everything. It’s a lie,” said the man, who declined to give his name.

Some buildings in Van are totally leveled while others remain standing after a huge quake, proof that construction firms cut costs

Some buildings in Van are totally leveled while others remain standing after a huge quake, proof that construction firms cut costs

In a similar vein, Mehmet Ali Birand, writing in Hurriyet Daily, talks about the looting, the “tent wars”, and the corruption that has led to bad building practice and lack of adherence to earthquake-proof building codes nationwide.  This is a problem that leads to huge numbers of casualties in every earthquake – and those are plentiful in Turkey.

I could not believe what I saw. It wasn’t the first time it had happened but again I could not believe it. I saw hundreds of people looting a truck.

The truck driver was trying to run away, they didn’t let him. They were flying at him; they were snatching the tents from inside the truck. When they could not take the tents out, they started tearing down the canvas of the truck. Some acted alone; some made this advance as a family.

Neither the police nor the army could handle it.

When a tent was taken down from the truck, yet another fight started. The person dragging his tent was now under a different kind of attack. This time, others wanted to snatch the tent. Then, a total fight started. Actors were male, female, old and young – it made no difference.

A different kind of pillaging is going on in those buildings that have been evacuated due to damage or semi-demolished ones. Some people risk death and go inside to come out with valuables. I have seen women keeping guard at the door of their homes just to prevent this. They do not know what else to do. They are trying not to lose whatever is left.

Worse was that some civilians who were helping the rescue teams in rubble were also stealing. Some were caught; some ran away.

Societies show their real faces in times like this. I have watched it here. And I remembered the disciplined, dignified pose of the Japanese in disaster-hit Japan; all of them obeying every rule and giving the opportunity for other citizens also to receive aid. I was sad.

Whenever there was a quake up until now, we always encountered the same picture.

Bad buildings, buildings that are not resilient to earthquakes, apartment buildings erected without inspections, buildings built in high-risk zones, knowing that an earthquake will definitely hit, buildings built on river beds.

You can see it while wandering around the ruined buildings.

Whichever was leveled, when you ask the technical team that is conducting the search and rescue, the first answer is “Proper iron and cement that has to be used in such a building was not used.” They point out that municipalities have issued residence licenses at places where no residence must have been permitted.

Because we do not value human life, we do not care.

I find Mr. Birand’s words terribly sad and moving. Yet if Turkey can produce such brave journalists who are not afraid to highlight the shortcomings of their country’s leadership, there is yet hope that with enough pressure from the press and local citizens, the government might finally deal with the incompetence and corruption that seems so rife in Turkey.

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3 Responses to Turkey relents and requests aid from Israel after the earthquake

  1. Jared Israel says:

    A couple of thoughts about your praise for Birand’s remarks. Perhaps you should take them with a grain of salt.

    First of all, the extremely orderly Japanese response has a negative side — the extreme conformity that afflicts Japanese society and perhaps made it possible for greedy businessmen to build nuclear plants on the water in a prime earthquake zone in the first place.

    Second, the earthquake area is Kurdish; the Turkish government is at war with Kurdish secessionists; and people in the earthquake zone (i.e., Kurdish Turks) are outrage that a) the government appears to be giving aid-priority to Turkish military camps in the area (!) and b) journalists are using the opportunity to bait the Kurdish victims.

    Here’s one report:
    ” Some journalists were hurt after being pelted by stones and police used pepper gas to disperse the angry crowd in the main city on Tuesday after a well-known television presenter criticisized Kurds’ appeals for help.

    ” ‘(They) hurl stones when they want and hunt (soldiers) in the mountains like birds.

    “And after something happens they ask for the help of police and soldiers… Everyone should know their limits,’ media reports quoted presenter Muge Anli as saying.

    “Another broadcaster, anchorwomanwww.ekurd.net, Duygu Canbas said on one of the main news channels that Turkey was sorry for the victims of the tremor “even though” it happened in Van. [I.i.e, to Kurds. – J.I.]

    “Some reactions have also appeared on social media sites including Twitter and Facebook hailing the tremor as the price of the attacks carried out by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels.”

    So the remarks by the journalist you quoted may be indicative of not the inhumanity of the afflicted, but the anti-Kurdish racism of the Turkish media. (For example, perhaps the people reportedly fighting over aid were driven to frantic desperation because they believed, with cause, that the aid in question was bypassing them in favor of the military). As with media coverage of Israel, just because a reporter says it don’t make it true.

    Jared Israel

    • anneinpt says:

      Thank you for your very interesting comments Jared. I read somewhere else (it might have been Israel Matzav) a similar theory that the aid was not being brought in quickly enough because the victims were “only” Kurds. That would certainly go a long way in explaining the angry reactions of the victims.

      However the journalist was correct about the corrupt building practices that reign in Turkey in general. After all, we have seen similar scenes after earthquakes all over Turkey, not just in the Kurdish areas. He is right to highlight government corruption.

  2. Jared Israel says:

    “However the journalist was correct about the corrupt building practices that reign in Turkey in general. After all, we have seen similar scenes after earthquakes all over Turkey, not just in the Kurdish areas.” What you say is very true, and I didn’t mean to disagree with that part of Birand’s report. However, I do disagree with his contrast between rational Japan and Turkey where “we do not value human life.” Yes, Turkey is stunningly corrupt — but is it so exceptional?

    First, in Japan the utility company constructed its nuclear power pIants on land where three tectonic plates meet. The horror in Turkey is bad enough, but what will now become of Japan? And what about all that radioactive water that was pumped into the ocean?

    Second, in the U.S., we have such plants on the Pacific coast, near the San Andreas fault.

    Third, in Germany, when people started dying, daily (this year), from some unknown food-caused poisoning, the government took *weeks* to begin an investigation, which was then dragged on more weeks, was ludicrously inadequate and never found the cause, indicating either remarkable incompetence or equally remarkable bribery — or both. (In the process, the German government falsely accused the Spanish cucumber growers of being responsible for the deaths, wrecking that industry before admitting the charge was false.)

    Fourth, in the U.S., according to a report I read, there are now 18,000 structurally deficient bridges (i.e., bridges that could collapse at any moment), which are traversed 210 MILLION times a day. You can enter your favorite zip code at http://t4america.org/resources/bridges/ and they will show you the good bridges (in green) and the bad ones (in red.) In my town, Newton, there’s one that I cross every day. Shades of the Minneapolis disaster of 2007, where 13 died. (And many more would have died — MANY more, since this happened during rush hour on the busiest bridge — except that the bridge collapsed in daylight on a hot August day, so the victims could be seen in the water and saved, not in the dark during the Minneapolis winter, where they would have died of exposure.)

    Anyway, it is encouraging to read these comments from people in Turkey seeing the connection between Erdogan (who, by the way, Bush energetically promoted to run Turkey) sending that flotilla to Gaza and then dallying over the desperate situation in the earthquake area. Encouraging in the sense that human beings can think, despite being subjected to vicious propaganda.

    Jared Israel

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