Aysegul Kars Kaynar
Earthquakes: caught between the mundane and the extraordinary
Twelve hours after the earthquake: The Maras-centered earthquake that occurred at approximately 4:00 a.m. local time on February 6 is the most catastrophic in recent history. Turkey, which sits on fault lines and has not learned from any of its past earthquakes, was caught unawares yet again during this quake, as it will be during the next. Again, scientists were ignored. Warnings went unheeded. Again, government buildings, hospitals, roads, and bridges were among the first structures to collapse. Again, the public was sifting through the rubble by its own means and own solidarity. Again, municipalities and civil society organizations were leading campaigns.
It is difficult to ascertain whether or not earthquakes are a commonplace occurrence in Turkey, which is positioned on a seismic belt. On the one hand, the power of the earthquake does not lie in its 7.7. Richter-scale magnitude, nor in the buildings it has razed to the ground or the close to 3,000 lives it has stolen. Its power comes from halting life, politics, and rivalries; from being able to stop daily life. Neither the European Court of Human Right’s (ECHR) Bylock violation decision (which I had intended to write about today), nor the Supreme Court’s apathy towards the ECHR, nor the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-Terrorism Organization (JITEM) case which went to trial on Monday, nor the ongoing war in Ukraine…
An earthquake causes all things to cease; it stops life entirely and imposes only its own supreme dichotomy: life, or death? And from the brinks of death emerges a life form stripped of all its differences, one that recognizes neither language nor religion, and the “human” emerges as a pure species. Everyone rushes to the aid of this human whose insides have been eviscerated and whose outsides have been filed down and who can, in any moment, be you or I, a Turk or a Greek, a Christian or a Muslim. There is no such thing as the “international brotherhood of nations,” but if there were, it would most resemble the solidarity of nations who practically compete to provide aid to one another after earthquakes. This is the power and abnormality of earthquakes: their ability to lay bare this human being who appears from the brink of life and death and whose existence is limited to this sphere, and to reveal a network of relationships that is based on a new ethical practice.
Seventeen hours after the earthquake: Somehow, Turkey is unable to experience the earthquake as an abnormal situation. A state of emergency or mobilization has not been declared. The armed forces were not dispatched to the earthquake zone to support the wreckage removal efforts; at least, not until around the hour hit 22:30 when the Ministry of Defense announced that 3,000 soldiers from the Turkish Armed Forces had been sent to Hatay, Malatya, and Maras. The Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) is out of sight in Hatay, and the gendarmerie is similarly absent. Helicopters are not soaring over the skies of the ten provinces, and there is no official activity that suggests anything urgent is being done.
The government is not making calls for businesses that have heavy machinery, front loaders, or operators. Statesmen or ministers have yet to visit the earthquake region. The earthquake taxes that have been levied for years have not been presented for use. The stock market is open. The banks continue to operate. Moreover, the President and the spokesperson for his party continue politicking. That is to say, the earthquake was unable to put their politics and discrimination on hold by creating an abnormal situation. The abnormality that we were to experience was limited to the closing of schools and to the declaration of a national period of mourning that came in the nighttime hours and the benefits of which remain unclear aside from lowering the flags to half-mast.
Twenty-eight hours after the earthquake: As the voices of those under the wreckage can still be heard, the entire public is quick, immediate, and urgent; almost moving heaven and earth to ensure that everyone acts in accordance with the earthquake and the unique state of humanity it reveals. They do not sleep or leave. Despite this, the state organs and the inertia of its institutions come to drop a stone wrought of fury to accompany the suffering that rests on the hearts of those who witness this mundane, lethargic, and nonchalant response to a disaster of extraordinary proportions. That stone sits on my heart too.
It is unknown how many hours before the quake; we can now clearly determine that there has been a split, a rupture, a breaking of bridges. This break is between the state and the people. Not only did the state, led by the representatives of the people, not come to save its dying people, but it also has no empathy left for those remaining. The state feels no responsibility towards either the deceased or the survivors. The people are the ones who pull the dead from under the rubble, and the people are the ones who throw a blanket over the back of the survivors. How long will this go on?
Aysegul Kars Kaynar: She was born in Ankara in 1980. She received her graduate degree from Middle East Technical University’s Department of Political Science in 2014. In 2015, she won an award in the doctoral thesis category at the Young Social Scientists Awards organized by the Turkish Social Sciences Association and in 2017, she received an honorable mention at the Halit Celenk Law Awards. She was a researcher at the New School for Social Research and the University of Hamburg, after which she worked at Humboldt University. She has published on the subjects of contemporary Turkish politics, the rule of law, and military-civilian relations.