Could (now very possibly frustrated and puzzled) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have dug his own grave and that of the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party over the two decades or so that he has been in power? Has he been diagnosing his country’s ills right but prescribing wrong medication for selfish goals? Has he all along managed to exploit every crisis (real and/or concocted) and use the government-controlled media cover- up to divert public attention? To borrow from African indigenous knowledge and the African Writers Series, could he be “the too talkative suitor who doesn’t know the time he actually annoys the mother-in-law” until the symbolic devastating Turkey-Syria earthquake proves that “the centre can no longer hold”, with affairs that are “no longer at ease” and when practically all “things fall apart?” And more so at this time when the country is heading to the polls?
These considerations in the wake and aftermath of the Turkey-Syria quake took me back to my secondary school old days in the mid-1950s when I was a member of a small informal group calling itself Mesopotamia. We simply found the name rhythmic, romantic and the inhabitants’ activities, in particular, very fascinating. We only wished we were ‘Mesopotamians’ because we would then possess a wide range of knowledge in religion and philosophy, agriculture, technology, medicine, mathematics, literature, language and writing, laws, warfare and power. Mesopotamia today means parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Kuwait — places whose mention even now still arouses a diversity of living experience when the countries are critically looked at singularly or as representing a particular area.
In the Old Testament’s Judges 3:8 we read that “the Jews were sold out into the hands of the King of Mesopotamia.” Letters identify this king as Chusanrishathaim and express his particulars as “the wicked king of Syria, a very turbulent, never quiet and easy man.” In Genesis 24:10 weread:“Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master’s mind and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor.” We appreciated the fact that even the wife, worth the son of Abraham, Isaac, had to come from Mesopotamia. From the perspective of the recent Turkey-Syria quake, chronicles locate this Nahor city “about halfway along the fertile Crescent between Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean in what is now south-eastern Turkey”.
By comparison, this is roughly (if not) the location that has been hit by the Turkey-Syria earthquake, which has been expressed as the devastating tragedy of the century. By the time I was writing this analysis, more than 40,000 deaths and 80,000 injuries had been announced with the United Nations already suggesting a total of 50,000 lives being lost. About 25,000 buildings in Turkey’s 10 provinces had been floored with a further estimate of another 150,000 people believed to be still trapped under the rubble.
The sad aspect of it all is that, in the minds of many, those in power had lost all sense of shame with regard to their responsibility for the high death toll and that the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party had not learnt from the 1999 quake. President Erdogan comes under a blanket blame “for incompetence with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, economic collapse, forest fires and now the earthquakes…” complicated by “the 2018 law on construction amnesty, legalizing informal construction and allowing contractors to add floors to buildings…”
This analysis restricts its activity to quakes and buildings issues. The question is, therefore, what have Erdogan and ruling AKP party done to warrant the related charges against them? Could Can Dundar, Turkish journalist living in German exile, opinion help? In a post-quake Video recording, he observes that when Erdogan came to power after the 1999 earthquake, the then coalition government lost support and he is now himself displaced by the recent earthquake which has proven too devastating for the AKP to contain.
Erdogan and his AKP made the right diagnosis of the people’s need for housing. But it was essential for the houses built in quake-prone areas to adhere to a set of resistance standards. Ahead the 2019 elections, how could he get the votes from substandard structure owners and developers? The formula was to put in place a construction amnesty. “We have solved the problem of 144,156 citizens of Maras with a construction amnesty. In the Turkish province of Hatay, which was leveled by the earthquake, he said “we have solved the problems of 205,000 citizens of Hatay with the construction amnesty.” Records show that AKP has issued a total of 3,152,000 building permits under the controversial construction amnesty. Poll results were more important than voters’ housing safety. Come the earthquake, figures are speaking for themselves.
As the Africa indigenous knowledge observes that “sikio la kufa halisikii dawa” — literally meaning the ear that will die does not respond to medication – or “akagunju kalafa tikaulra nzamba — meaning the beast that will die does not hear hunters’ communication – Erdogan and his AKP remained steadfast on the corruption path. Even the billions of Turkish liras collected by the government through a special earthquake tax were not necessarily used to strengthen the affected region’s infrastructure or the capabilities of the country’s emergency response system. In fact, the budget of the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) was reduced by 33% in the 2033 national budget.
The Turkey-Syria quake was a real slap in face of Erdogan and AKP. Turkey was least prepared. On top of that records show that out of the four provinces hit by the quake, Erdogan and AKP got the majority votes in the 2018 elections. He definitely has a storm of discontent in the area. This is why there are opinions that he might push the polls a month later for June instead of May. But he cannot just go beyond the June deadline. The constitution states that only in a state of war can the polls be deferred for up to a year. Of course this is not a big deal for him in the circumstances of having the judiciary in his pockets and the fact that he is the judge.
But, even then, how comfortable would he be? Literally, he arrived on the Turkish politics scene on Flight Earthquake Number 1999. Ever since, he has been busy fulfilling personal ambitions along the properties of the Old Testament’s King of Mesopotamia who was a “wicked, very turbulent and never quiet man.” About 20 years down his rule, an equally unscheduled Flight Earthquake Turkey-Syria Number 2023 has crash-landed devastating almost everything he had worked for. He has been caught napping, so to say. The timing is critical. It’s polls time and this is constitutionally somehow inelastic. What does he do? Will he, like his predecessor government, have to leave? How, and in what condition? That is the dilemma facing him and AKP. It is crystal clear that the ‘King of Mesopotamia’ must go because “he has lost all sense of shame with regard to his responsibility.” Holding on the power reins could even be more disastrous in the current atmosphere. But on which rescheduled flight? And which destination? God bless Turkey.