Ohannes Kilicdagi

Ohannes Kilicdagi

Earthquake and the state

How a state responds to a catastrophe tells us a lot about its structure and its priorities

Without having healed the wounds opened by the Covid pandemic completely, we now face a devastating catastrophe of earthquake both in terms of the territory it has affected and the destruction it has caused. In the face of this catastrophe, the organization called the state, including all those elected and appointed, has dramatically and terribly failed in Turkey. We can examine this failure under the headlines of pre- and post-earthquake. Let us start from post-earthquake.

Destruction is so huge and expansive that it is understandable to a certain extent that the immediate forces and personnel of the state may not cope with the situation as fast as they should. Then what is expected from state officials is to leave hubris aside and open the way for all, domestic or international, who are willing to help and facilitate their job. However, the state officials in Turkey neither sufficiently did what they should have done in the aftermath of the earthquake nor let the others perform their jobs. For example, they have blocked the relief activities of municipalities that are not governed by their party, Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi-AKP); they have caused unnecessary but vital delays in foreign rescue teams’ arrival to the field. Moreover, they have lied, as if mocking the agonies of citizens, saying “We left none of our citizens in the disaster area hungry or without shelter.”

They do not want anyone other than themselves to shine, but at the same time they are incapable of doing what should be done. It cannot be said that this situation is independent from the regime that has been created in Turkey and its mentality of governance. The state has been always authoritarian in Turkey, but the Erdogan regime has turned this to a sort of totalitarianism. It has not left any domain that is not dominated by the state which is a state that is integrated with a single party, the AKP. They cannot tolerate the public visibility, and especially anyone other than themselves and their bureaucrats, who actually become party officials, to receive any credit. This approach has an important role in the fiasco that took place after the earthquake.

As for the pre-earthquake reasons of the failure, many different things can be said under various headlines. Violation of the process regarding construction permits, ignoring the remarks and warnings of earthquake experts, scientists, allowing construction on lands that were supposed to be meeting places for people after an earthquake etc...However, rather than dwelling on specific and technical issues, I want to underline something more general that is related to not only the state but also the common mentality in society, which is the definition and perception of “the great and strong state.” If we do not want to be buried under the rubble of the earthquake, we should change our definition and perception of the great state. In Turkey, states that have large armies, powerful weapons, capable of occupying other countries, prosecuting dissidents by their police are perceived as great states. Nevertheless, a great and strong state is that state which can make its citizens live, and live prosperously, construct buildings that are not demolished in earthquakes and can cope with such catastrophes when they happen; and coping with catastrophes starts before catastrophes, that part is even more significant. It is about how many resources are allocated to whom and activities during “normal times,” and, of course, this is a political choice. This determines your status as a great state that can cope with disasters.

Let us not forget that every penny allocated to armament, occupation, security policies is cut from potential resources for education, health or, as in this case, struggle against earthquake. Are they mutually exclusive? If your resources are scarce, yes, they are mutually exclusive, and Turkey’s resources are scarce. When I say “resources,” please do not think about only money but besides it, labor, time, know-how, education etc. are all resources. It is your decision on which areas, and for which purposes you allocate these resources in your "routine" and "normal" times that determines whether you will become a great state or not. It determines the answer to the question on whether you will be a country that boasts with its tanks, weaponry or its capability of constructing buildings that do not collapse in earthquakes and of not sacrificing its people to catastrophes.

Are there any countries in the world that achieve both at the same time? There are, not many, but their resources are much greater than Turkey’s resources. If you are not able to do both, then your choice determines your fate.

On the other hand, to me, any resource spent on weaponry, military technologies, armies etc., not only in Turkey but anywhere in the world, means betrayal of humanity, current and next generations as well. I know that for many, this argument is naive to the point of stupidity. But the first step of creating a better, happier, wealthier world for human beings is to stop considering this remark as being naive.

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