Discover more from Turkey recap
We remain in shock following Monday’s earthquakes and extend our condolences to all those affected. As of this afternoon, confirmed deaths in Turkey and Syria stood at about 14,000 and 3,000, respectively. These figures are expected to rise with time.
Like many of you, we are deeply saddened by the losses, overwhelmed by their scale, but also heartened by the relief efforts, which we hope continue well after the global media attention.
Hepimizin başı sağolsun
In Antakya, one of the cities that was most affected by the earthquakes, there were almost no officials on the first day, and the ones that arrived on the second day were far too few in numbers. With bare hands and basic tools, residents tried to remove the fallen debris that had trapped their loved ones. They did so without knowing if those below were alive or not.
"My mom, brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces are still in there," said Vedat Narin while pointing at the massive pile of concrete blocks where his family once lived.
"We rescued my sister with our own effort. There was no one to help or even a stretcher to carry her. We found one after hours of searching and managed to get her to a hospital, but she didn't survive. It was too late."
Narin was not hopeful about reuniting with his missing family members. "We were hearing their voices for a long time," he exhaled. "But there was no help. Then, the sounds were gone."
When the help arrived, rescue workers told the Narin family that they couldn't spare time for dead people if there were no sounds.
"I don't think I will ever hear their voices again," Narin said. He was surprisingly calm with the shock of what was happening, but his aunt was furious against the government and state officials.
"We paid our taxes, but they left us all alone," she shouted angrily. "No help came the first day. I'm an old woman, and I managed to get here. But our 'strong' state couldn't do that for a long time."
While Hatay's streets were full of grief, despair and anger, the number of cries of joy from the rescue teams increased Wednesday as more aid reached the city. With the arrival of much-needed equipment and professional crews, a team was working on top of almost every ruin on the main street of Antakya.
"It was too late for my daughter," Fethi Çankaya said. His 22-year-old daughter's lifeless body was lying on the sidewalk, rolled in a blanket next to rubble where rescuers had just saved a woman.
"I've been living in hell since Monday morning," Çankaya continued. "But she was living in a worse hell before the rescue teams came. Now, she sees the light. I want to believe it shows there’s still hope for us. I need that hope to keep living for my other two children. Our city needs it, and all our country needs it."
– Gonca Tokyol
It feels like ages since Turkey woke up Monday at 4:30 am to see the disaster unfolding on Twitter and many of journalists headed to the affected areas shortly after.
I initially reported from the freezing cold of Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep, where most buildings are still standing, but many people didn’t sleep in their homes out of fear they may collapse. At night, small bonfires on every other street corner were the only way to get warm. Locals slept in makeshift tents, or just under blankets. Even little children continued to spend the night outside.
On Wednesday, I reported from Kahramanmaraş, where the destruction was on a different scale. Entire sections of the city are in ruins and family members desperately waited for news from their loved ones. Covered in blankets, their pain was indescribable.
But there was also frustration. “The state came late”, many residents told Turkey recap. Some started digging for their relatives themselves, like sports teacher Ergün Avci who took his sister and her 5-year old son out of a collapsed building.
“I entered their apartment from the store next door. My sister and my nephew were hugging each other when we rescued them. But the twin of my nephew is in the next room. We still can’t get him out,” Avci said.
Erdoğan also visited the area Wednesday and announced all the families affected by earthquakes would receive 10,000 TL in support. Many in the city’s worst-hit area did not feel the visit changed their immediate situations.
“You know there is an election coming up, this is just reklam” or advertisement, one man told Turkey recap.
He had just retrieved a photo album from a collapsed building. Inside the album were pictures of his relatives, some of them killed in the earthquake. Pointing at the rubble, he got angry at the contractors and questioned the building standards: “These apartments are not well-built. It all fell to dust.”
– Ingrid Woudwijk
CHP chair Kılıçdaroğlu has been visiting the earthquake-hit areas with several opposition-run municipality heads to coordinate help and rescue efforts. His video message Tuesday night went viral on Twitter, where the opposition leader said: "If there is one person responsible for this, it is Erdoğan.”
In many areas, the Turkish army and local governments worked to provide relief and reopen key infrastructure, including the Hatay airport and the Iskenderun port. Retweeting news about CHP’s involvement in response efforts, Kılıçdaroğlu wrote “let them come and arrest us”, a now viral hashtag which was also picked up by Turkey Workers’ Party (TİP). For his part, VP Oktay responded by saying “it’s not time to do politics.”
The move came after videos circulated on social media, including one featuring an AKP governor in Hatay, sharing criticism over the ruling party’s slow response. On Tuesday, in a dystopic/poorly lit video message, Erdoğan threatened those sharing critiques, saying he would “open the notebook when the time comes.”
In another public appeal Wednesday, Erdoğan rejected accusations, but admitted some mistakes were made, saying “It was impossible to be fully prepared for a disaster at this scale.”
While the earthquakes pushed aside many other discussions, elections are indeed looming and many fear a three-month state of emergency in the worst hit areas could impact voting preparations. Though several law experts told Independent Türkçe election dates can’t be changed under these circumstances:
“A state of emergency is not a reason for postponing an election. The wording in the constitution is extremely clear, it only allows postponement in the case of a war,” former Higher Education board member Dr. Necmi Yüzbaşıoğlu said.
Many will be voting based on the ruling party’s performance now, meaning complaints, criticism and negative news reports are more likely to come under pressure, as evidenced by the growing number of journalists getting detained and access restrictions for Twitter and TikTok – which are also used to coordinate rescue efforts.
Erdoğan announced Wednesday 100 billion liras were initially transferred to state institutions and an additional budget of about 1 billion liras was allocated to AFAD for emergency aid efforts. The earthquake damage is extensive, with thousands of buildings damaged or collapsed, which Erdoğan yesterday promised to rebuild within a year.
The total population of the affected 10 cities is more than 13.4 million, or 15 percent of the entire country. According to another TÜİK stat, the affected region accounts for nearly 9.3 percent of the Turkey’s GDP.
Economists quoted by Reuters estimate the earthquakes will cut two percentage points off Turkey’s economic growth projection this year, which previously stood at 3 percent.
In an email to clients, economist Timothy Ash noted shortages and supply disruptions would weigh on the already difficult inflation outlook in Turkey, which he predicts will further rise.
Though Ash also wrote: “The government will hope aid flows (in FX) will assure the stability of the lira and will provide an anchor to push inflation lower.”
In the meantime, all trading in the İstanbul stock exchange is suspended until Feb 15 following steep losses Monday through Wednesday that erased $35 billion in value from the Borsa Istanbul 100 Index – before some trades were cancelled yesterday.
Hours after the first earthquake, authorities declared a “level 4 alarm” based on AFAD’s Disaster Response Plan, which calls for international mobilization in search and rescue activities. The WHO also designated the earthquakes with its highest grade of emergency classification, predicting the death toll would increase significantly.
Nations and international civil organizations were quick to send assistance, with engineers, soldiers, firefighters, search and rescue officers and trained search dogs deployed to Turkey from many parts of the world. In a very unusual case, planes carrying Israeli and Iranian aid to the region were pictured side-by-side on a runway.
As international support flowed in, Kathimerini reported Turkey did not permit help from the Republic of Cyprus. Some Cypriot news sources later claimed the Turkish government eventually accepted aid, although no official confirmation has been made on the matter.
Outside Turkey, NATO expansion remains a top priority for Sweden’s PM Ulf Kristersson, who Tuesday said he was ready to restart negotiations as soon as Ankara was prepared for it.
This came after Norwegian authorities last week stopped a copy-cat Quran burning event in front of Turkey’s embassy in Oslo, banning it for security reasons after the Turkish foreign ministry summoned Norway's ambassador (though the act remains legal in Norway).
Following last month’s Quran-burning episode in Stockholm, Swedish officials have sought to recover lost momentum with Ankara, pledging to further tighten terrorism laws.
Still, Sweden’s FM highlighted religion was “not part of this deal” aka trilateral memorandum to join NATO with Finland, whose PM Sanna Marin made clear last Thursday: “Finland and Sweden applied together, it is in everyone’s interest that we join together.”
For further reading, see this Vox explainer in which academic Howard Eissenstat says: “This is a Turkey that expects its interest to be taken seriously.”
Ice cold leverage
Ending months of guesswork, a bipartisan group of 29 US senators officially linked the long-stalled NATO expansion saga to Turkey’s even longer-stalled F-16 purchase, stating in a letter last week approval of the former was a prerequisite for the latter (but would not guarantee it).
Notably, Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez was not among the signatories, saying he wants to use the F-16 sale to pressure Turkey on issues beyond greenlighting NATO expansion. Or as he told Defense News: “Just doing that, it doesn’t solve the problem.”
The news came as the US Treasury's Brian Nelson was in Turkey (on a regional tour) to warn Turkish banks and businesses their ties to Russia could be blunting Western sanctions on Moscow.
“The marked rise over the past year in non-essential Turkish exports or re-exports to Russia makes the Turkish private sector particularly vulnerable to reputational and sanctions risks,” Nelson said in remarks shared by the Treasury.
“Additionally, Russian oligarchs and government officials have continued to buy property, dock yachts, run businesses, and receive services for their property in Türkiye.”
Some observers question how much leverage Washington has on Ankara after the “Hotels and Highways” era, but Turkey's Havas last week told Russian and Belarusian airliners it may stop servicing their US-origin aircrafts, in line with Western sanctions, indicating some leverage remains.
And with dozens of countries providing assistance and deploying rescue teams to Turkey, the diplomatic turmoil of last week seems to have faded into the background.
But to briefly recap what happened, last Thursday the ambassadors from the nine countries which issued security warnings or closed their consulates in İstanbul were summoned to the foreign ministry.
FM Çavuşoğlu claimed the Western countries gave no evidence for the warnings, and even speculated that these countries made deliberate efforts to portray Turkey as unstable and unsafe. Interior Min. Soylu added some unfiltered comments aimed at US amb. Jeff Flake, saying: “Get your filthy hands off Turkey”
Then Saturday night, Turkey arrested 15 suspects with links to IS. The people were reportedly detained for planning attacks against the Swedish and Dutch consulates as well as churches and synagogues, although no concrete evidence of such a threat was established.
Fugitive gunman in Sinan Ateş murder nabbed trying to flee to Greece (Bianet)
Ukraine crop deal misses target as Russia slow-walks ship checks (Bloomberg)
Turkey and Syria face challenge to mend ties after years of ‘zero trust’ (FT)
Turkey rebuffs idea Erdoğan will allow higher interest rates after election (Bloomberg)
Father of three sent back to Syria for buying 5 packages of smuggled cigarettes (Bianet)
Russians in Turkey increasingly faced with residency permits rejections (Al-Monitor)
Turkey's inflation slows for third month ahead of election (AFP)
Turkey’s earthquakes: A monumental crisis and a political test for Erdoğan
Academic Howard Eissenstat weighs Ankara’s initial earthquake response and its political implications, writing: “The failure to immediately mobilize the military to rebuild infrastructure has clearly cost valuable time and many lives.” (MEI)
Turkey’s Turning Point
Writing before the earthquake, academic Henri Barkey argues Erdoğan will push all the buttons to stay in power “and he may seek to manufacture a crisis—including with the West” pointing to Cyprus, Syria or the Aegean as possible arenas for grandstanding. (Foreign Affairs)
Turkey’s Disengagement from the European Union
Encouraging improved EU-Turkey relations, former Turkish ambassador to the EU Selim Yenel notes: “a deteriorating economic situation spurred Turkey to mend ties with countries—Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE—that it had alienated for some time. The same was not true for the West, particularly the EU.” (GMF)
Feb 14 Trial of journalist Baransel Ağca resumes in İstanbul (background)
Feb 14-15 Turkey to host summit for gas supplying countries and European countries in İstanbul (background)
Feb 16 The KCK Press trial, involving journalists from Kurdish media outlets such as Dicle Haber Ajansı (DİHA), Özgür Gündem, Azadiya Welat, resumes in İstanbul (background)
POSTPONED: Feb 13 Table of Six meeting
Diego Cupolo, co-founder + editor @diegocupolo
Gonca Tokyol, freelance journalist @goncatokyol
Ingrid Woudwijk, freelance journalist @deingrid
Verda Uyar, freelance journalist @verdauyar
Gökalp Badak, editorial intern @gklpbdk