February 6: two earthquakes struck Turkey, killing over 30,000 people. Ten cities were at the center of the disaster, in the southeast of the country, a region where more than three million people live.
From the first hours, the inability of the government (which also has the task of organizing the presidential and general elections coming up on May 14) to manage the emergency was clearly visible.
Murat Uysal, from the Evrensel newspaper, recounted what he saw in the city of Malatya: “There is a lack of water and a lack of basic necessities. We did not see any rescuers or Red Crescent aid.” Journalist Sefa Uyar, the Iskenderun correspondent for the Cumhuriyet newspaper, wrote: “People are throwing themselves in front of the diggers to stop them and then lead them to the rubble where their loved ones are. There are only volunteer rescuers and many neighborhoods are entirely destroyed.”
Hazar Dost, for the news portal T24, reported from the city of Hatay: “Tents are nonexistent. There is a lack of water, there are fears of outbreaks of epidemics. Relief only arrived 24 hours later. The historic district of the city, Antakya, can be said to have disappeared entirely.”
Unfortunately, this situation is nothing new for Turkey: the response to the 2011 earthquake in the city of Van, and the 2020 one in Elazig, showed similar problems; similarly, during the management of the 2022 summer fires on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, there was a lack of diggers, tents, food, personnel, and aircraft to fight the fires. After the Van earthquake, the victims lived in containers for a full two years, and the new houses they were eventually given flooded with the first rains and became uninhabitable within a few years.
After the Elazig earthquake, the nation discovered that aid collected in 2011 had been used for other purposes, and with the 2022 fires it emerged that numerous aircraft had been left waiting for maintenance for years. Fortunately, there are journalists exposing the government’s incompetence, but at a steep cost.
On February 7, the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation against journalists Enver Aysever and Merdan Yanardag for their criticism of the government on the internet. The next day, Mahmut Altıntas, a reporter for Meztopotamya news agency, and his colleague Sema Çaglak of the JinNews agency were put in provisional detention while documenting earthquake damage in Birecik.
Again, this is nothing new. For years, the ruling coalition in Turkey has been trying to silence journalists who criticize it by passing ad hoc laws and employing both the judiciary and the police for this purpose.
There has also been no shortage of sporadic citizen protests. In Adiyaman, the transport minister, the prefect and reporters from state broadcaster TRT were directly confronted by regular citizens for their mismanagement and the incorrect information disseminated by the regime’s propaganda media; the same happened in Antep to the deputy of the main ruling party, and in Diyarbakir to the justice minister.
All this is happening in a country sunk up to its neck in an unprecedentedly deep economic crisis. The devaluation of the lira, rising unemployment, the unstoppable rise in inflation and the tragic drop in purchasing power are economic conditions that are making life impossible for people, who are abandoning the country at a remarkable rate and going abroad in search of a safe haven and a peaceful future.
Meanwhile, the presidential and parliamentary elections are getting closer and closer. According to the latest poll by the Avrasya agency on February 5, the ruling coalition would get about 32 percent of the vote, and the united oppositions would cross the 41 percent threshold. The behavior of the undecided will be crucial, who amount to about 12-14% in every poll.
Given the situation, the regime is trying its best to manipulate the news and tell the story of a reality that isn’t there, aiming to keep its electorate solid and limit its losses on May 14. Since the first day of the earthquake, ministers have been talking about a situation “under control,” and President Erdogan, in his visit to Pazarcik on Wednesday, called the events an “inevitable situation” and “part of destiny’s plan,” assuring citizens that “tomorrow will be much better.” After the 1999 earthquake, it had been Erdogan himself who had said: “It’s not the earthquake, but the lack of prevention that kills.”
Now, Ankara has declared a state of emergency for three months in the earthquake-hit areas. People fear this will be an opportunity to enact a lot of bans and censorship during the election period.
In the end, this is a regime that has been steadily losing support since 2013, as evidenced by the Gezi uprising, the 2014 anti-corruption investigations, the 2015 elections, the 2017 referendum, and the 2019 local elections. This is precisely why it is increasingly using undemocratic tools. The question that calls for an honest answer is, “How long will its allies continue to support it?”