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Erdogan’s Ultimatum to Hatay: Political Allegiance or Neglect in the Wake of Disaster

M. Ahmet Karabay

Today is February 6, the day 11 of our cities, including those where my close relatives live, were destroyed. I got up early in the morning and started reading my book at home. Every morning, after waking up and cleaning up, I usually skimmed through the news to see what was happening.

For some reason, I didn’t want to look at the news that day. After a while, my son came to me and said, “Did you know there was an earthquake in Kahramanmaraş!” When I checked the news on my mobile phone, the first thing I saw was the magnitude of the earthquake.

I knew well what a 7.7 magnitude earthquake would cause in that geography, where even an earthquake of magnitude 5 could be deadly. I called my parents, my sister, and my brother. I couldn’t reach any of them. Even the GSM lines were not working.

As the news came in, the extent of the disaster began to emerge. Hours later, we were able to make indirect contact. People were left hungry, exposed, or under the rubble for days. Some from the government only went to the area after the third or fourth day of the disaster.

The state had actually been buried under the rubble from the first day. Early in the morning, three ministers were scolded by the Presidential Palace for calling for international help without waiting to wake up. Commanders who moved their units from the garrisons in the region to the city for help without orders from Ankara were punished.

What happened next tore the hearts of those who saw and heard it. Those standing above the ground, when they managed to contact their relatives under the rubble via cell phones, listened to their cries for help for days. We heard that those trapped under the rubble were reading their own funeral prayers.

The absence of the Red Crescent for help, and its later sale of tents for money to Haluk Levent’s Ahbap Association, was noted in history. The community became more trusting of activist musician Haluk Levent than the 155-year-old Red Crescent.

In Turkey, where these pains were experienced, President Tayyip Erdogan’s claim, on the first anniversary of the earthquake, that “the state immediately sprang into action with all its resources,” must be an attempt to deny the pain people went through.

Thousands with no one, silently bid farewell to life due to disasters caused by poorly constructed buildings. There were also those who wanted to make their outcry heard until the end. Actor and writer Orhan Aydın was one of them.

Orhan Aydın, whose daughter was trapped under the rubble, had told at that time how he repeatedly hugged a cat that went in and out of the rubble, asking for help: “Go tell them we are here, let them hold on!”

Orhan Aydın shared his screams and feelings of abandonment on social media for the first week, and later as a first-year memorial article in Birgün Newspaper titled “We Died…” On the third day, when a miner from Zonguldak said, “Brother, we will get our girl out!” he wrote about looking up into the death-smelling sky from the pitch darkness and crying for hours. On the fifth day, he reminded us how his daughter was given to him in a black bag.

Erdogan, who is primarily responsible for leaving the people affected by the earthquake helpless at crucial moments, when he finally visited the disaster zone days later, he shouted at those crying out “Where is the Red Crescent?” with words like “You are shameless, dishonorable, base!”

Erdogan, who did not question the Red Crescent management that was nowhere to be seen for days and instead engaged in tent trading rather than delivering aid to the people, tried to suppress and insult the grieving people with these words.

ERDOGAN’S ‘NO VOTE, NO LIFE’ STANCE TOWARDS THE PEOPLE OF HATAY

The same Erdogan, after a year from the earthquake, openly threatened the people of Hatay for not voting for his party during the delivery ceremony of approximately 7,000 completed houses.

Erdogan said, “If there is no solidarity between the central and local governments, nothing comes to that city. Look at Hatay, it stayed poor!” With these words, Erdogan admitted that the people of Hatay were deliberately left to die.

Clearly stating, “I didn’t intervene in time or send aid because you didn’t vote for us!” he threatened that if the people do not vote for his party’s candidate in the local elections to be held on March 31, no aid will be given to Hatay afterward. The listeners of these words were people who were in great pain, having lost their spouses, children, and relatives.

Erdogan, from the highest level, says that if they do not vote for the AK Party candidate, they will not spare those who die or survive. Hatay is a city with a dense secular segment and Alevi community. Erdogan knows that these people do not look warmly upon him. Therefore, he reveals that they do not consider these groups as their own and take advantage of earthquakes and other disasters to exclude them.

These ugly words were not uttered accidentally or by mistake. In fact, he says them to hold the public hostage. He is aware that the words he confessed are criminal. However, he knows very well how fear directs people. People think, “This man will not go anyway. If someone other than the AK Party wins, no services will come here. Let’s see some services at least.”

ÖZAL HAD SAID SOMETHING SIMILAR IN HIS TIME

Turgut Özal, as the ANAP General Chairman and Prime Minister going into the March 1989 elections, had embarked on a similar path as Erdogan. During the election campaign, he emphasized the advantages of having local governments and the central government speaking the same language for a city.

In the advertisements given to newspapers, using the image of a helpless executive tied to a chair, he asked, “Would you want a mayor whose hands are tied?”

After ANAP came to power, in the first local elections it entered on March 25, 1984, it received 41.5% of the vote. Erdal İnönü’s SODEP got 23.3%, and Yıldırım Avcı’s DYP, acting as a trustee, gathered 13.2% of the vote.

Five years later, after the election campaign using the tied-up mayor advertisements, ANAP became the second party in the elections, losing most of the big cities. İnönü’s party, now renamed SHP, received 32.8%, ANAP 23.7%, and Süleyman Demirel’s DYP, which took over the trusteeship, got 23.48% of the vote.

In the March 31 elections, it does not seem likely that the ruling party will suffer a similar defeat as ANAP did in 1989. On the contrary, it is after regaining the big cities it lost to the opposition in 2019. Make no mistake, it will be largely successful in this.

Why am I so sure when I speak? Remember, Tayyip Erdogan is still the most important ally for the West. There are two Erdogans. One is inward-looking, the other outward-looking. The first Erdogan says everything against the West to secure the confidence of his base. He shouts, calls out, talks about religion, plays the nationalism card.

Then what happens? Things that were said to be “Absolutely, under no circumstances” happen to turn out just as the West wants when the time comes. The West cares more about the outcome than what is said. Remember, Erdogan acts as the West’s custodian in this country.

THIS COUNTRY IS LIKE AN ORPHANED GIRL

Turkey is like the orphaned girl you see in the photograph, lying in the grave marked “Orphaned girl”. I respect the handful of sincere people who struggle with the motto “We have not forgotten, we will not let it be forgotten” for the earthquake and the pains experienced. But the pains have long been forgotten, made to be forgotten.

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