Turkey’s earthquake, fate, and thoughts on democracy
CAGRI TANYOL- I think the Maras-centered earthquake that took place on February 6 that laid waste to ten cities constitutes the greatest catastrophe in the history of the Turkish Republic.
The scenes we have witnessed since February 6 serves as an example of how modern broadcasting distracts the public. According to official figures, the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that hit Golcuk in 1999 had caused 18,373 deaths. Yet in that disaster, neither the destruction was to this extent nor were we the passive participants of that tragedy where we could watch the destruction in all its bare, unfiltered reality through the use of drones, phone cameras etc.
The situation is further dramatized by the phone calls for help made by victims trapped underground and the voice recordings they made believing that these would be their last words. I think in the upcoming weeks, as the wreckage removal continues, we will see more of this bitter footage. This degree of technological advancement undoubtedly forms a startling contrast with the collapse of structures that crumbled to dust and were not fit to be called buildings or houses.
Among the affected cities, Antakya [Antioch] is perhaps the one that carries the most historical importance. Interestingly, when we look at the ten most destructive earthquakes in history, Antakya makes the list with two earthquakes.
The first of these hit when Roman Emperor Trajan and his successor Hadrian were both in the city in the year 115. The second took place in 526, during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. Both earthquakes killed more than 200,000 people. In other words, major earthquakes in the region are disasters that have been recorded meticulously in history. Of course, the Byzantine Emperor, who experienced the destruction of this city in the 6th century (and probably only learned about it days later), could not do much about it.
In the pre-industrial era, disasters (even in civilizations as organized as Rome) were for most societies, a manifestation of the fate that the gods had designed for them, and it was unlikely that distant rulers could take extensive precautions against them. Fatalism and beliefs about the world after death also reflected this fact. For example, the only hope of a civilization living next to an active volcano for the sake of the fertile lands it would bestow upon them was that the gods they worshiped would be satisfied with them.
However, today, neither is the state a structure so far removed from its citizens, nor is nature beyond the control of humanity to that extent.
Without question, civilization is the story of man’s attempt to bring nature under his control. In this regard, the ineptitude of the centralized authority sends an interesting message regarding the state of civilization.
For example, while the employees of an unorganized search and rescue institution under the leadership of a theologian shout "Allahu Akbar" after every person they rescue, the Israeli teams, whom they decidedly do not like at all, come to the country with thermal UAVs. And for every baby that survives during this humanitarian crisis whose rescue is marketed to us by the mainstream media, perhaps a thousand babies freeze to death under buildings that are not displayed.
On the other hand, television coffeehouse regulars with doctorates, such as the geologist Celal Sengor, who filled up our screens right after the disaster, describe the fault lines to viewers using colored construction paper. However, neither we nor the people living in the earthquake zone need this information right now. What needs to be done is for the state to utilize its own institutions and to provide serious civil defense training during secondary education to its people, who live in this earthquake-prone country.
The people of this poor region, on the other hand, do not have much different options to the aforementioned who lived on the edge of a volcano centuries ago. While the ordinary people of that society lived in the shadow of the volcano, the fate of poor people of Turkey in apartments stacked one on top of the other, is subject to the whims of the earthquake gods.
Perhaps one would like to disagree. After all, when a person thinks about himself/herself and the society they live in, sometimes the notion of free-will weighs heavier. We might think to ourselves that these people should not have voted for this government. We might also say that they could have taken care to not live in such faulty buildings.
I mean, there has been democracy in this country for 80 years, right? These people could have supported politicians who prioritized matters such as civil defense! Instead, a significant portion of them preferred to live with their families in the high-rise buildings that are rather common in Turkey. Perhaps some of them had apartments built to put what land they had to good use, only for the entire family to end up under the rubble.
They might have chosen not to do these things of their own free will. But here we must stop and think. All this could only be possible if these regions, which do not have much in the way of production, did not live in a world where increasing their life-changes was so dependent on construction.
Wherever you might happen to live in Turkey, is there one person among you who does not know someone waiting on urban transformation, condominiums, etc. for their property values to appreciate? It is worth remembering that such expectations are not the norm for every society and that there are places where people's life chances do not depend on real estate. Or consider this: What other settlements could even be possible living under a government that provides families with very limited daycare facilities in a patriarchal society that assigns women the duties of housework and childcare? The more limited government services are in a society, the more traditional family networks are utilized. This is why we often see people living in flats stacked on top of each other with their parents or uncles in Turkey.
At this point, we might observe a vicious circle. People have linked their destinies to construction, and the construction industry is teeming with ill-educated contractors, some of whom have grade school degrees, just as there are leech therapists and or cupping therapy practitioners in the health sector. The critical difference, however, is that such bogus treatment is easily revealed to be ineffective and, as such, hospitals and doctors are at the heart of public health. On the other hand, ignorant or malicious contractors can hide in the shadows until major disasters strike.
Those who make their living on profits from unsound buildings support politicians who will grant them construction amnesties and play Russian roulette with an earthquake that will strike the region every few centuries. On top of this, shopkeepers using the ground space of many of the collapsed buildings cut off the structural columns to make room for their businesses, and in some instances, the lawsuits triggered by these crimes continued indefinitely, resulting with the whole building being destroyed during the earthquake.
Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said on February 11 that greater changes than a mere change in government is needed. On the one hand, videos on social media of looters being severely beaten and tortured have turned into a way for society to let its anger out. Whereas in reality, it is not just the existence of dishonest or incompetent contractors that led to the formation of thi corrupt system that resulted in this human-made catastrophe. The people of the region and the local and national politicians they elected also played a major role.
If that is the case, aren’t the countless citizens or refugees accused of looting who are beaten or murdered as part of this societal nervous breakdown reminiscent of the human sacrifices made to appease the gods in certain ancient civilizations? After all, the murder of an ordinary thief on an ordinary day does not receive the same societal approval.
Yes, big changes are needed. And among these changes, there are no utopian goals, such as the eradication of theft from society. The public needs to end their support for profiteers. They need to ascribe more value to their own life and to the lives of others in the society in which they live. They need to ensure that the politicians they elect are prosecuted if they do not value their lives. That is because I presume that anyone in our day and age with the slightest ability to think, knows that earthquakes are not the gods exacting punishment on them. (Even though there were some clerics who claimed the opposite after this earthquake as well.)
If these changes do not take place, our people cannot differentiate themselves from the ancient peoples who lived in fear as they prayed next to their volcano. When disaster strikes, those who in their envy of bygone emperors live in palaces in Ankara will continue to tie the matter back to God, as helplessly as a former Byzantine emperor once did.
Refusing to allow those who govern them to shift responsibility to others is also in the hands of the public. For the locals in the region, it is time to wake up. Even though it is already too late for many…