Alleviating Turkish Tragedy

Category: Nature & Science Topics: Nature And Environment, Turkiye Views: 849

Another tragedy continues to unfold for the Muslims of Turkey even as the relief and rehabilitation missions are under way in the aftermath of the devastating quake that hit Turkey on August 17. That tragedy is the denial of freedom to express feelings and help fellow citizens even in the wake of a disaster as catastrophic as the quake. For it is not just the loss of lives and properties that is tragic; it is the torment people feel out of failure to alleviate the loss that makes a tragedy.

In the aftermath of the quake, which killed more than 13,000 people and left 600,000 homeless, Turkey's government response to the disaster was woefully inadequate, sluggish, and disjointed. Many ordinary people in the disaster scene told journalists what they thought their authorities. One person aptly said, "Yes, the US is here, Germany too, and I saw the Malaysians as well; but when do you think Turkey is going to come?" reported Turkish journalist Fehmi Koru who was a survivor of the catastrophe.

In Koru's words: "While the rescue workers pour in from the far corners of the globe to Turkey, President Suleyman Demirel has been busy justifying the ineptitude of the state, Prime minister Bulent Ecevit has been like a ghost, some ministers have turned out to be laughing stocks and army units have not been easy to find. Even the Religious Affairs Directorate has failed to provide spiritual support for people in need."

After visiting the quake site, the British journalist Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent that dogs howled but the mighty Turkish army slumbered on, unprepared to respond to the cries of people, even though there were plenty of signs of the looming doom.

The victims under the rubble waited in vain for hours and days before the government troops had come to their rescue or before they had died. Except for a few individual cases, most government officials and troops were miserably late, as much as three days, to come to the scene. In a show of strange bureaucratic apathy to the tragedy, the government even kept some international rescue teams waiting at the airports for as long as ten hours for security clearance.

While the government relief efforts were slow to get a start, well-organized activists from Turkey's Virtue Party, Muslim aid agencies, and other non-governmental groups rushed to the scene in the first hours following the quake. With axes and shovels, they dug underneath the rubbles to rescue victims and provided comfort and assistance to survivors. They have been distributing hot meals, arranging medical care, and trying to secure temporary housing.

The earthquake seemed to have cracked open the hearts of the most impassioned of people, the journalists. As a result, expressions like "Murderers," and "What is this thing called the state?" crept into the headlines of some Turkish newspapers, criticizing the faulty homebuilders and the allegedly incompetent authorities.

Not for long could the journalists express their hearts, however. The arrogant generals, who forced four governments from power by intervention or pressure in the past 40 years, made it clear that they could declare martial law. At their will, Turkey's broadcasting watchdog agency shut down a television station for a week for broadcasting reports critical of the government's response to the disaster. Out of fear, the journalists who felt emboldened by the quake to tell the truth began softening their tone and taking back their criticisms.

Adding salt to the injury, the Turkish authorities barred pro-Islamic human rights groups from continuing to help the victims. They froze the bank accounts of MazlumDer and Human Rights and Freedoms, two organizations that have rushed aid to the thousands of injured and homeless people since early hours after the quake. They quickly filled a vacuum created by the government's obvious inability to organize its own relief efforts immediately after the disaster. They distributed food and clothes and set up mobile phones for people in hard-hit areas to call relatives free of charge.

To the ultra-secular, Kamalist authorities, the obvious faults of these human rights groups are that they are "devoted Muslims who pray five times a day" and that they regard social service to the needy as part of their faith. The Kemalists suspect that they will win the hearts of the Turkish masses because they have provided fast and effective help to quake victims. This is pure paranoia born out ineptitude and arrogance.

Just as humanity worldwide shared in the tragedy immediately after the quake, they must speak out loud against this denial of free speech and humanitarian work by the Turkish authorities. The US government and other governments should use diplomacy to convince Turkey's leaders realize that voluntary aid efforts could only add to the government endeavors in alleviating the suffering of their people. It is more important to alleviate the tragedy than to politic over who is doing the job.

  Category: Nature & Science
  Topics: Nature And Environment, Turkiye
Views: 849

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