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Writers in exile
8 min read

Defending Life Against Government's Inaction in the Days of the Great Disaster in Turkey

Ceren Aslan writes news and articles on political developments in Turkey and around the world, especially on women's and LGBTI+ journalism. For seven years, she worked in various positions as a reporter, editor-in-chief and editor at 'Yeni Demokrat Kadın' magazine and the'Özgür Gelecek' newspaper. She also contributed to the 'KAOS-GL' magazine

She was accepted to the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) program for journalists, writers and artists under political threat. Since July 2022, she has been writer and journalist-in-residence in the city Växjö in Sweden.

With the support of the Cultural Unit of the Växjö Municipality she is also giving workshops on freedom of the press in Turkey, gender inequality and the reflections of heteronormativity.

Credits Text: Ceren Aslan February 08 2023

It has only been a short time since two separate earthquakes struck several areas in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria. Thousands of people are waiting to be rescued from the rubble, thousands of dead and wounded are reported in the news, and those who survived the earthquake unharmed are struggling to survive in cold weather conditions.

On February 6, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck in Pazarcık district of Maraş at 04:17 and a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck in Elbistan district at 13:24. In addition to Maraş, the earthquake was felt in 17 other provinces, causing destruction and deaths in Hatay, Osmaniye, Adıyaman, Diyarbakır, Diyarbakır, Urfa, Antep, Adana, Malatya and Elazığ. On the other hand, there are reports of deaths and injuries in Aleppo, Latakia and Hama due to the earthquake that also affected northern Syria.

According to official figures in Turkey, the death toll on the second day of the earthquake is 3,432 and the number of injured is 21,103, but this number is expected to rise as thousands of people are still under the rubble. In the northern regions of Syria, the death toll is reported to be at least 1356 people.

Following the February 6 earthquake, the second largest earthquake of the last century in Turkey, campaigns have been launched in many regions to meet the needs of the earthquake zone. In particular, municipalities, professional organizations and various non-governmental organizations are trying to deliver basic supplies to the earthquake zone and to form search and rescue teams.

Immediately after the earthquake, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said, "We have issued a level four alert. This is an alert that includes international aid." Countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Greece, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Malta, Malta, Czechia, Italy, Spain and Slovakia responded to this alert by sending search and rescue teams.

Aid is not reaching the earthquake zone
While the magnitude of the devastation caused by the earthquake continues to reveal itself with the number of dead and wounded increasing by the hour, the failure of the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) of the Turkish Ministry of Interior, the state agency dealing with emergencies and disasters, to transfer its forces to the region is the biggest topic of discussion. As of the writing of this article, 36 hours have passed since the earthquake at 04.17 on February 6, but the news coming from the earthquake zone is that search and rescue teams have not been sent for those under the rubble, and that people who survived the earthquake are trying to rescue their relatives from under the rubble with their own efforts. Due to the harsh weather conditions in winter, every minute is important for those under the rubble, while those who managed to survive the earthquake face the danger of "hypothermia", i.e. freezing, due to the lack of shelter.

The earthquake survivors I managed to contact from Hatay, one of the cities where the earthquake caused great destruction, stated that their houses were destroyed, they had to spend the night outside and that the deaths of children and the elderly may increase due to the weather conditions, "No aid has arrived here even hours after the earthquake. There are many people under the rubble, we are trying to rescue them with our own means. Our children and elderly people are in danger of freezing outside and we do not know how we can meet our shelter and food needs."

Turkish Workers' Party Hatay MP Barış Atay said, "I ask the question, is Hatay not a province of Turkey? There is not even an official here to say whether the efforts of those who are trying to rescue those under the rubble with their own means are correct or not. There is no institution, no power, no AFAD here, there are people helplessly looking at the collapsed buildings. This place is abandoned," he said, explaining the state's lack of intervention in the region.

In Adıyaman, one of the cities affected by the earthquake, earthquake victims organized a protest in front of Adıyaman Governor's Office due to the lack of search and rescue teams to the region. With the slogan "Where is the aid?" the earthquake victims protested against the lack of aid to the region and reacted to the fact that Adıyaman was left alone in the face of the devastation.

Similar news about search and rescue teams not reaching the region and not meeting the needs for shelter and supplies continue to come from every city where the earthquake caused devastation. On the other hand, hospitals and schools belonging to state institutions have also been destroyed after the earthquake, while transportation routes have been closed due to cracks. The runway of Hatay Airport is one of the places rendered unusable due to cracks in the runway after the earthquake.

The political meaning of the earthquake in Turkey
After two major earthquakes in Turkey, which is located on an earthquake zone, many issues such as the lack of necessary and sufficient measures against earthquakes, the inadequacy of the state's allocation to AFAD, the unanswered questions about where the "Earthquake Tax", which was made permanent after the Marmara Earthquake in 1999, was used, and the prioritization of rent in the construction sector over measures against earthquakes have been opened to discussion again.

Here, I would like to draw attention to the phrase "reopened for discussion" because, as I mentioned earlier, Turkey is a country located on an earthquake zone, which is why many medium and large-scale earthquakes have been experienced. Therefore, earthquake is a reality that is constantly on Turkey's agenda, where the consequences of the measures not taken after the devastation and deaths are discussed. The important point here is that the measures not taken and the lack of intervention in the aftermath of earthquakes do not go beyond repetitive discussions and the necessary steps are not taken.

The lack of answers on where the earthquake taxes are spent, the construction left to precariousness for the sake of rent, the lack of adequate equipment and teams to fight against natural disasters take the earthquake reality in Turkey out of the definition of "natural disaster" and make it political. The government, which increases the number of losses in the next possible earthquake by ignoring the suggestions made by many professional organizations and non-governmental organizations on how to minimize damage and loss against the earthquake reality, reveals again and again that it prefers capital and profit greed to human life.

In this way, the precautions not taken before the two separate earthquakes centered in Maraş and affecting many provinces and the lack of intervention against the losses and destruction afterwards show that the government does not value human life. Undoubtedly, the impact of the second largest earthquake in Turkey's last hundred years will be seen politically as Turkish society struggles to recover from the devastation and the accompanying deaths. It is possible to say that the social reaction has been and will be affected by the government's lack of measures and lack of intervention. On the other hand, in the heat of these difficult days, we see the society coming together to defend life against the state's lack of intervention.

The importance of defending life against government non-intervention

In this picture, despite the lack of measures and interventions taken by the authorities and their failure to manage the crisis, the solidarity campaigns carried out by non-governmental organizations and professional organizations stand in an important place in terms of reducing the effects of the devastation and reducing the number of deaths. Those who traveled to the earthquake zone from many regions in Turkey to participate in search and rescue operations and those who started campaigns for the needs of the region have an important place in alleviating this difficult process for earthquake victims.

This is why the solidarity campaigns launched in Turkey and Syria for the earthquake-stricken areas are important. Solidarity with these campaigns is the key to defending life against the government's lack of intervention.

For those who want to show solidarity from abroad, you can take a look at the list of reliable solidarity campaigns prepared by, a queer-oriented media organization in Turkey, to meet the needs of basic necessities and supplies:

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