Edited by Max Kaplan
Life for millions living in Turkey and Syria was irrevocably changed on February 6, 2023. Two earthquakes, just nine hours apart with magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.5, rocked the Turkish towns of Gaziantep and Ekinözü. Numerous aftershocks followed the quakes. In Turkey, it affected 10 provinces home to around 13.5 million people. It affected 10.9 million people in Syria, causing 5.3 million to lose their homes. At the time of writing, the death toll is more than 40,000, and many more are critically injured or still missing.
Within the SAIS community, there are five students from Turkey. We invited one of them, Mehmet Emirhan Kinatas, for an interview and to share his view of the real situation in Turkey with readers of the Observer.
Although the Turkish government is trying its best to provide resources in response to the disaster, harsh weather, severe road conditions, and damaged infrastructure are hampering relief efforts. Additionally, as Emirhan points out, the disaster comes at a sensitive time for Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who will attempt to secure re-election on May 14th. Before the crisis, Turkey was already facing an economic downturn and high inflation. Regarding the earthquakes, government authorities carry some blame for what should have been a situation entirely out of their control.
Selfish actions taken before and after the quakes have worsened what is already a terrible situation. In an effort to avoid criticism, the government blocked Twitter for around 10 hours on February 6th. This was an egregious act of self-interest, considering the website’s usefulness in coordinating relief efforts and the rapidly closing window of opportunity to save lives. Further, new regulations requiring buildings to be built for earthquake resistance should have been imposed following the disastrous 1999 earthquake in İzmit. Emirhan notes that the collapse of multistory apartment buildings is all too reminiscent of the destruction witnessed 24 years ago. The Erdogan administration is responsible for these failures and deserves the blowback it faces.
The situation is even worse in Syria. Ravaged by twelve years of war and terrorism, the country is utterly unprepared to deal with a natural disaster. There is a textbook “storm of humanitarian assistance” due to scarce infrastructure, access challenges, economic crisis, and ongoing war. Both Turkey and Syria will need to roll out massive public spending to support life-saving responses and rebuild the areas affected by the quakes.
No single county can handle such a disaster on its own. The international community has mobilized to send rescue workers, equipment, and aid to Turkey and Syria. The US National Security Council is deploying two rescue teams. The Pentagon and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) are coordinating with their Turkish counterparts on additional assistance. 19 European countries have offered help through their humanitarian assistance programs. Search-and-rescue teams and other relief supplies have been sent from Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, and others.
At SAIS’s MENA Club, Europe & Eurasia Club, SGA, and The Observer, our thoughts are with those affected by this tragedy. We want to support the relief effort broadly and encourage the SAIS community to support those affected in Turkey and Syria. If you would like to contribute to the aid efforts, here is a list of suggested website links for donation: https://linktr.ee/sais.mena.club