“God help us… We will pray… We will never lose hope from Allah…”
The Turkey-Syria earthquake is an all-round tragedy. At around 80, it makes me feel like an unwilling conscript victim of Bill Gates Microsoft. I recall a late friend who decried my links with the youths of the computer age when we were men of the letter press – born before computers (BBC). I fail to configure any median between providence and the actual through which I can find the right words to express my inner feelings about the Turkey-Syria unlike twin earthquakes that have left the world gazing. Allow me to diverge a little from the diplomatic cliché condolences for the deaths and best set-and-hold early recovery wishes for survivors. In Africa we say, “omukaikuru w’enshoni bakamuzika nalora – meaning the shy old lady was buried alive. Has this any bearing on what has happened in Turkey in particular?
It’s a whole-body chilling unfolding story about 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes, one after another, hitting Turkey and Syria – countries that have been and are in essence still at war. Symbolically, it reads like an African indigenous knowledge very paining experience of jumping from the Bashaar al- Assad-Recep-Tayyip-Erdogan war frying pan to the quake fire. Facts behind the files on the ground, leave one wondering whether the earthquakes have not actually turned into a ‘Tur-quake’ tragedy because man has lived with quakes since the creation of the earth crust. What is special this time round?
Just as a bible knowledge student cannot dare claim to belong to the theologians’ category, I cannot pretend to possess any measure of seismological body of knowledge beyond what I was taught during “O” Level Geography subject lessons more than 60 years ago. We learned that globally, Japan was a leading country when it came to earthquake exposure threats and, hence, the subsequent stringent construction codes put in place, strict adherence to them and very close ethical certification and supervision we still see and experience today. In last year’s earthquake of 7.4 magnitude, no building collapsed while four people died including one from a heart attack and another by jumping out of the window.
Subsequent to the previous devastating earthquake that took place in Turkey in 1999, the government started to collect money from citizens to make good for damages. Current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was then prime minister. Come this one, more than two decades later, there is nothing seemingly positive that has taken place yet. It looks like corruption, rather than the earthquake, is the killer.
Death or injury figures apart, stories emanating from disaster areas have a sad story to tell. One 60-year-old survivor was quoted as saying: “A …sofa, a blanket and some pots betray the lives of those buried under the debris of one 11-storey apartment complex in Diyarbakir. It is nothing but dust and ruins now. Almost inexplicably, several buildings stand tall beside it with little to no damage at all. Turkish police took samples from the collapsed building’s columns for further investigation. Allegations of flagrant building code violations are rampant across Turkey. Two of our relatives died and three were trapped… God help us.”
If there are structures like municipality buildings, airport and hospital facilities among the first to collapse in an earthquake, this cannot be left to nature. Erdogan calls this the biggest disaster the country has faced since 1939. The runway of the 15-year-old Hatay Airport has become unserviceable, the newly built Academy Hospital, City Hospital and State Hospital and AFAD building were destroyed. The road was badly damaged. The earthquake made visible how Erdogan has demolished the country in 20 years.
The tragedy rang people’s memories of the post-1999 earthquake “Isn’t There Anybody” charity which was banned and its organizers and donors jailed on a political agenda. Could anybody take the risk now? Time To Help decided to take this risk, strategically by calling for aid to be delivered somehow to the victims through other organizations. Even with this magnitude of disaster the Erdogan police still keep the anti-Hizmet Movement practices live on screen. People are afraid of coming forward lest the Erdogan regime accuses them of aiding terrorists. One Tanzanian sociology expert told me that he had been through Istanbul Airport in transit twice to-and-from Norway and he established that “the people are really afraid of Erdogan. They don’t want to talk of anything about the government. They are scared stiff when you ask them for a comment, “he told me. “They fear for their lives.”
In all, Diyarbakir reports talk of 20 buildings being damaged by the quake “in a mostly Kurdish city (area) that has suffered from waves of deadly violence between militants and Turkish government forces. Rescuers are said to be sleepless, physically exhausted and morally spent. What a poor mix for a rescue operation.
Reports reveal of ten provinces having been hit. Hiding behind the charity-begins-at-home curtain, President Erdogan erred and called AKP-led municipalities first. To him, those under the CHP opposition could wait, so to say. The earthquake definitely did not distinguish between AKP and CHP. This is wrong for a head of state in the event of such a disaster, in fact any, to find oneself discriminating against citizen victims along the political line. This is not the time for taking advantage of the disaster to brighten one’s chances of winning an election.
Consider the following words of one twitter account holder: “In a country whose economy is based on theft, stubbornness, ignorance and self-interest, the constructions are made according to theft, ignorance and self-interest and it takes our lives away…” That is Erdogan’s Turkey, where what kills people is corruption rather than earthquakes. In Turkey, earthquakes have turned into ‘Tur-quakes’. They are more than what we learn from seismic experts. The come naked in terms of rule of law, governance and adherence to professional ethics. Corruption is their killing vestment.
The world should not act the African indigenous shy old lady who was buried alive. It must make Erdogan aware that what is killing his people is not the earthquake but his version of ‘Tur-quake’ – three-bar corruption to quote from logarithm. This is what allows construction of substandard buildings, schools, hospitals and roads that cannot withstand an earthquake. The earthquake does not kill. Corruption does.