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The Repercussions of the Turkey-Syria Earthquake

The recent devastation in Turkey and Syria, aptly named the Turkey-Syria Earthquake, has been called the “disaster of the century” from other sources. It left at least 230,000 buildings damaged or destroyed across 11 provinces in Turkey and more than 10,600 buildings fully or partially destroyed in northwest Syria. Reaching to the authority of these nations, Presidents Erdogan and Assad have undergone trials and tribulations since the disaster, but both leave much to be desired.

Turkey’s government has displayed an interesting stance on handling the repercussions of the quake, a focus on politics and their social facade seems to be at the forefront of President Erdogan’s priorities. Of the few positive reactionary actions on Turkey’s part, targeting contractors who allowed faulty buildings to be constructed whom the government believes are responsible for some of the destruction, is among them.

However, the government knew that certain shortcuts were being used to minimize cost and speed up construction, allowing these contractors to build with relaxed building regulations. This perpetuates the idea that this was somewhat a “human made disaster”, because the negligence of the government, contractors, developers, and others is what allowed the mass construction of flimsy housing options and infrastructure.

Erdogan himself has been pushing away criticism of the government and responding to backlash with his values of political unity. He has bashed other countries for paying attention to the political interest of certain business moves, stating to Time Magazine, “I cannot tolerate the viciously negative campaigns for the sake of simple political interests”. His hypocrisy became increasingly evident in combination with his refusal to accept criticism from his people as he restricted Twitter access in fear that scholars and activists would take to social media to speak against his practices.

An arrest on the grounds of misuse of social media and speaking out against the will of the government, disguised as a “coup” has happened before, notably to Osman Kavala, an activist sentenced to life in prison for his protesting. The Turkish government’s rejection of criticism has been tested with activists speaking against their faults in not doing enough or acting fast enough.

As another attempted remedy, Turkish leaders have banned social media, with special efforts against Twitter. This is a counterintuitive method though, as civilians used social media as a means to coordinate relief efforts.

The country’s leadership has been seen pointing the blame and scapegoating when confronted about their own shortcomings, spreading misinformation about Syrian refugees being the reason for the disarray. This comes in the form of numerous arrests of Syrian Refugees for petty theft of resources or food, so they can create a figurative band-aid and not remedy the situation at its root. The Turkish Government has shown time and time again that the real heroes are the civilians adapting to harrowing conditions.

In Syria, machines such as forklifts have been brought in to help rescue survivors of the earthquake underneath the rubble as well as make tents for temporary residence after rescue. Politically, President Bashar Al-Assad, due to international pressure, has agreed to open two new border crossings, one of which is “temporarily disrupted”. According to a United Nations spokesperson who spoke with The Associated Press, this is because of infrastructure damage and difficult road access. This damage in particular affected the Hatay airport and the road to the border crossing used for aid.

Currently, there is not much initiative being pushed to repair. Debatable negligence is only one of the questionable decisions of the Syrian government. In northwestern Syria there’s a lack of contact with foreign countries and international aid because Syria is notorious for not being a reliable source of aid to areas under opposition control. Therefore, foreign countries are less likely to provide aid to more isolated regions.

There are a couple main theories that are being considered in terms of getting aid to Syria, the U.N cross border mechanism, and cross-line aid. The former concerns going around the Syrian government for aid, which could backfire in causing unnecessary violence or arrests.

An example of this, as early as mid-2011, civilians suspected of smuggling food and medicines there were arrested for simply providing humanitarian assistance. In the Foreign Policy, Charles Lister identified the U.N. cross-border mechanism as cumbersome. Relying on it alone would cost lives. But essentially, supplementing it with cross-line aid or aid sent via Damascus and across the internal front lines would prove to be worse.

This cross-line aid, meaning wiring aid through Damascus for government rationing, reveals itself as hostile since the Syrian government has routinely manipulated humanitarian assistance to harm people in opposition-held areas of the country.

In summary, the Syrian government isn’t providing the country with the acceptable humanitarian assistance and aid venues, and Turkey’s minimal efforts are largely diluted by political endeavors and concern on social perception.


Sources:

Sparrow, Annie, et al. “Don't Trust Assad on Syria Earthquake Aid.” Foreign Policy, 15 February 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/02/15/un-assad-syria-earthquake-aid-victims/. Accessed 23 February 2023.

Burga, Solcyre. “How Turkiye's Earthquake Response Failed | Time.” TIME, 16 February 2023, https://time.com/6255634/earthquake-Turkiye-syria-erdogan-rescue/. Accessed 23 February 2023.

Lucente, Adam. “Explainer: Why Syria's Assad opened two border crossings for earthquake aid.” Al-Monitor, 14 February 2023, https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2023/02/explainer-why-syrias-assad-opened-two-border-crossings-earthquake-aid. Accessed 23 February 2023.

CHEHAYEB, KAREEM. “Quake brings chance for Syria's Assad to ease isolation.” AP News, 10 February 2023, https://apnews.com/article/politics-2023-Turkiye-syria-earthquake-government-bashar-assad-bc119ca06fad6a2d015c0a41a4a9769a. Accessed 23 February 2023.

“Turkiye quake: President Erdogan accepts some problems with response.” BBC, 9 February 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64577371. Accessed 23 February 2023.

““A Human-Made Disaster”: Kurdish MP in Southern Turkiye Slams Government as Death Toll Hits 42000.” Democracy Now!, 16 February 2023, https://www.democracynow.org/2023/2/16/Turkiye_earthquake_building_regulations. Accessed 23 February 2023.


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