Where has Turkey gone wrong? Alternatively, what is not going well in Turkey because, as an administrative area on our planet, the country has remained the same. What changes is who is at the helm of power at any given time. Definitely, Erdogan is not Ataturk. Despite that, in the event of a tragedy – natural for that matter in particular — the issue of humanitarian aid delivery comes to the fore. African indigenous knowledge has it that “abalumuna barwana nibolekangana obwina’ – meaning, brothers and sisters fight while warning each other of potholes. Common dangers, that is, so that they don’t end up with broken limbs. With or without their antagonism, they still need to move along comfortably after settling their differences.
Why has this not happened with aid delivery following the Turkey-Syria earthquake? Instead, the world has been greeted with on-the-ground reports pointing in the direction of political obstacles to humanitarian aid. Why should one block humanitarian aid to one’s own kind – even in a natural tragedy? And could this be the reason behind across-the-board demands for government officials’ resignations? Why have these demands turned out to be like a drop of water in the ocean? No official shows to have been really touched. They all went on the defensive? Why?
Without having to cross African continent borders, right here in my country, Tanzania, an interior minister once stepped down after remanded suspects died in police custody. Tanzania was a single party rule. So, there could be no cases of opposition party demands. The minister had never even been to the area of the incident. But he was ready to bear the responsibility of his office. Could this be the missing link in Turkey? That ex-minister lived to become our country’s now retired Second Phase government president.
I will never forget two Egyptian incidents. First, a transport minister resigning after a school bus crash that killed 50 people, mostly children, leaving 15 others injured. Bereaved parents even went to the extent of demanding his trial and that of the prime minister. Second, transport minister and head of the Railways resigning after a train rammed into a school bus. Before tendering his resignation, the minister accepted that of the Railways head.
What has gone missing in Turkey leadership? More than 40,000 people have died in an earthquake. Later we learn the government has a hand, not in the quake, but in instituting a smokescreen system coded “construction amnesty”, collecting money from illegal developers and allowing contractors to circumvent construction codes of earthquake-resistant structures. Then, of all things, after people demand resignations of responsible ‘irresponsible’ officials, nobody in the system cares. And life seems set to go on as usual. Why? What is so conducive for this in Erdogan’s Turkey? That is the question.
Turkish opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Executive Council member put forward a question of trustees, which he called a “big issue”, adding, “I think the death toll would have been less because we would have enforced the building regulations. We would be able to serve cooked meals to everyone in the region after the earthquake.”
Despite winning the 2019 local elections in Diyarbakir and 65 other city, town and district councils across the southeast, HDP no longer controls the municipalities and their resources. The elected mayor by 63% of the votes was suspended by the government and two months later sent to prison, where he remains convicted of membership to outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party. Dozens of other mayors and council members have been removed from office or jailed since then. Mayors have been replaced by government appointed trustees.
Post-earthquake HDP coordinating centre efforts ran into problems including instances when trucks organized by the Party and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) not linked to official aid agencies were held up by government officials. “They are stopping us in many places and we’re trying to prevent them from seizing aid … We have mobilized all our means since the first day but as you can see our co-mayors are in prison and trustees have been appointed in their place… Our municipalities were usurped. If this had not happened, these wounds would have healed much faster.” One local man was quoted as saying: “We have been under attack by the government for years”.
Despite Erdogan’s acknowledgement of the government sluggish response, ruling AKP officials have defended government performance. “We are going to people and asking what they need and providing them with what we can. We place them in mosques and other places they can stay. Sometimes people take extra and throw it in the rubbish; then they complain that the state is not doing enough.” Filling in the gaps, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu says 564 illegal construction suspects have been identified, 160 of whom have been arrested, 18 are in police custody and 175 have been released on bail… We have banned all of those under investigation from travelling. Nothing is more precious than human life… We are being thorough.”
Environment Minister Murat Kurum announces a total of 1,250,000 buildings having been examined in 11 provinces and 164,321 buildings comprising 520,000 independent units having been destroyed, severely damaged or urgently (in) need (of being) demolished.” Erdogan announces plans to rebuild 270,000 homes in the devastated provinces within one year. Kurum adds: “We are making plans taking into account the cultural landscape, our children’s future and guaranteeing our towns are on safe ground. We will build the new housing with this in mind.”
What could all these pronouncements be taken for? A declaration of intent or pretense? But what turns out to be the general reaction to all these government pronouncements? Opposition party leaders and experts call on the AKP ruling party and Erdogan to resign because of the way they have handled the most devastating earthquakes in 100 years in terms of coordinating search and rescue efforts. This is the subject matter of the second installment.