Why the Earthquake in Turkey and Syria Matters
BY ELI EVREN ROSS
Image: Wikimedia Commons / VOA
To the kid who united everyone he knew with his smile…
On February 5, Hasan Çullu, a local of the Turkish city of Kahramanmaraş, was eating his favourite meal. He had a rather relaxed day that day. As a 19-year-old student, he was preparing for the university entrance exam and had spent countless hours isolating himself from the outside world and revising. On that day, however, he decided to rest and take it easy. This was the last good decision Hasan made. During the early hours of February 6th, a devastating earthquake struck Kahramanmaraş. Approximately 4 or 5 apartment blocks collapsed on the apartment Hasan lived in and he was buried about a metre under the ground. His body remained under the dark, cold and suffocating rubble for around 13 days. When he was eventually found, he was gripping his phone, perhaps with the intention of calling the emergency services. He did not give up on life. Hasan’s parents were also found dead in the hallway of the house. They died hugging each other, probably trying to get to their son.
Hasan, my friend, was one of the tens of thousands who passed away in the devastating quake. Indeed, the disaster worsened the already miserable conditions in war-torn Syria and in economically struggling Turkey. According to official figures, which are disputed, over 50,000 people have died in Turkey. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake is the costliest earthquake to have ever hit the Middle East. 11 out of the 81 provinces in Turkey were directly impacted by it. Prior to the earthquake, an estimated 15 million people were living in the earthquake zone in Turkey. The impact of the disaster, however, was not solely felt in that region. Foreign teams would rush to Turkey to assist with the search & rescue and relief operations, pointing to the extent of the disaster. There are some lessons that all of us can learn from this disaster.
As Warwick University students, we live in a diverse and international community. Indeed, many scholars claim that all of humanity is living in an unprecedentedly “global” epoch of history. A minor change in one continent can alter the everyday life of an individual in another. However, disasters such as these have demonstrated that the impact of an event elsewhere does not equally affect everyone. Following the earthquake, it was extremely awkward being on campus. Internally I was in grief and shock, but I was surrounded by bake sales and smiling faces in the piazza. It felt like I was in an alternative reality. Not just me, but many Turks living abroad felt the same way.
It is important to remember that many in the world are not as lucky as us to be living in a more-or-less safe country, on a well-maintained campus. When disaster strikes, not everyone is affected the same way, and it is important to empathise with and support international students in such instances.
Often, we, as people interested in politics and global affairs, focus on what politicians have said or done. We seize on scandals and rhetorical disputes and might be inclined to attribute great significance to them. Following the earthquake, however, President Erdoğan of Turkey witnessed countries he had deemed to be “Nazi remnants”, such as the Netherlands, or supposedly natural enemies of predominantly Muslim Turkey, such as Greece and Israel, come to his aid through search and rescue teams, field hospitals, emergency housing, and so on. This serves to remind us that, no matter what authorities say or do, countries are composed of human beings, and our humane sentiments surface under such chaotic and stressful circumstances. We, the people, have the right and power to voice our concerns and pressure executives into making decisions that benefit the majority, the hurt, the struggling and the oppressed. This was highlighted after the earthquake. Two days after the disaster, the Turkish government banned the usage of Twitter. Critics argued that this was an attempt to stop criticism directed towards the government, as their handling of the crisis came under increasing scrutiny. Turkish Twitter users, however, were using the platform to share and receive information from their lost and loved ones. This decision to ban Twitter usage led to outrage, and seeing the cries of the public, the government had no choice but to reboot Twitter. We, as voters and equal citizens, should always voice our opinions, even in regimes where voiced opinions are usually crushed. These opinions can and do save lives.
The 2023 Turkey-Syria earthquake changed the region forever. Tens of thousands died, hundreds of thousands grieved, and millions lost their houses. The crisis was immense, and many more incidents came about following the earthquake. The lack of coverage concerning Syria has been shameful. As have incidents of racist attacks directed towards Syrian refugees by some far-right Turkish groups. The death toll is shocking and is still increasing. A population of more than half the population of Leamington has perished. The Global North must recognise and understand that these are not merely “numbers” but real lives. Death is real and painful. If we truly live in an interconnected world, we need to care more about the suffering of the people in the Global South.
This article is written in memory of Hasan Çullu and as a fundraiser for Los Chullos Manufacturers.
Los Chullos Manufacturers is an initiative started by Hasan’s brother. The aim of the initiative is to kick-start the textile industry in the earthquake zone. Hasan’s father was also involved in textile. By buying a t-shirt from this initiative you can help the re-birth of the textile industry in the region and help hundreds and thousands of people, who have lost their homes, family and income, find some purpose in life.
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