Disasters & Accidents

Erdogan criticized for shortage of aid in earthquake-ravaged areas

By Ilya U. Topper

Iskenderun, Turkey, Feb 13 (EFE).- “Thank you for coming. You foreigners treat us better than our own government,” Hatice tells a Spanish rescue team setting up a field hospital in Iskenderun, in the province of Hatay, one of the most affected by last Monday’s powerful earthquakes that devastated southeastern Turkey, leaving over 31,000 dead and more than 80,000 injured.

Hatice, a woman in her fifties, does not hide her anger with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom she accuses of abandoning the province for political reasons.

“You know that most of us here vote for the opposition, and of course, since they can’t scrape votes here, they don’t give us priority when it comes to sending aid,” she complains.


Although the AKP, the Islamist party founded and led by Erdogan, won in Hatay province in the last general elections in 2018, its margin over the opposition social democratic CHP party was much narrower than in the rest of the provinces most affected by the disaster.

In the 2019 municipal elections, the CHP won 55% of the vote in the province, its fourth-best result in the country, while in several of the other quake-hit provinces, the AKP was above 60%.

Another Iskenderun resident, Mehmet, an excavator driver, also blames the lack of aid on political motives with an undercurrent of religious tension.

“There are a lot of Alevis here, and we know that the Sunnis don’t like Alevis,” he tells Efe.

The Alevis belong to a monotheistic denomination that formally falls within Islam, but without fulfilling any of the mandates of this religion, considering them unnecessary for the faith.

Their liberal lifestyle, with normalized alcohol consumption and without the segregation of the sexes preached by orthodox Islam, contrasts with that of the conservative Sunni regions of Anatolia and especially with the AKP’s Islamist discourse.

While the anger is palpable, there are many who also acknowledge that the sheer size of the affected territory, which is larger than Portugal and is home to around 10 million people, has certainly hindered the emergency response.


Although the magnitude of the disaster exceeded any capacity to effectively respond, there is also the feeling that the government’s first concern has been to limit the damage to its own image, with only four months to go before the elections.

Just 24 hours after the quake, authorities released a mobile app dedicated to combating “disinformation,” asking citizens to report suspicious news.

On Wednesday afternoon, the authorities ordered Internet providers to restrict access to Twitter as much as possible to prevent the dissemination of images and opinions unfavorable to the government, reports Birgün newspaper.

The measure provoked particular anger because many people used Twitter to share information on potential survivors who were trapped under collapsed buildings.

Even when not directly naming the president, many citizens show their disappointment with “politicians” or “those in charge” in general.

“We have been practically at war with Greece for two years,” says one resident of Adana, referring to Erdogan’s speeches that for most of last year evoked the possibility of invading the neighboring country to settle maritime disputes in the Aegean.

“And now the Greeks have been the first to send us aid, medicines, rescue teams. Why can’t we always live like this all over the world?” this man asks. EFE

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