Turkey and Syria: why so many earthquake victims?

Roughly a week after the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, the recovery efforts continue. It is now extremely unlikely that more survivors will be found; more than 40,000 dead have been pulled from the rubble so far. While in Turkey the search for those who are to blame for the high number of victims has begun, many in Syria are still waiting for help. Commentators give a voice to the despair.

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Birgün (TR) /

Human lives disregarded

It is because of corruption and greed that the number of victims is so high, Birgün explains:

“The tragedy of the collapsed Emre apartment building in Antep is basically the story of AKP Turkey. With 22 flats and 12 floors, it became a coffin for dozens of people. On the ground floor of this building located in the central district of Şehitkamil, load-bearing walls had been removed to make room for a bank. ... This is a prime example of how capitalist greed and the lack of controls disregard human life and how an entire system allows this to happen. ... There was a similar scenario in Diyarbakır's Yenişehir district, where the supporting columns of the collapsed B and D blocks of the four-storey Galeria building had been removed to make way for a car park and a market.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

There are no images for opportunism

A growing number of contractors are being arrested in Turkey, Volkskrant columnist Frank Heinen notes:

“Images are being circulated of men who are allegedly responsible for the unsafe buildings being arrested. So far, however, the officials and politicians who granted exemptions and amnesty for the building plans that violated the rules remain untouched. For years, the Turkish construction sector was given free rein by the state, and now it is being persecuted by that same state. The wind has changed. ... In the 1963 film Hands over the City, a skyscraper collapses in Naples. People are killed and injured. ... 'Our hands are clean', cry the city councillors. ... There too: incompetence, opportunism.”

Kathimerini (GR) /

Kismet as an alibi

Columnist Pantelis Boukalas criticises Erdoğan's attitude in Kathimerini:

“During his protected visits to the earthquake-stricken cities, the Turkish president has only one answer and 'consolation' to offer the victims: kismet [Turkish for fate]. The same answer, whose amorality cannot be hidden under its pseudo-religious cloak, was also given by a contractor when he was asked why an apartment building he built collapsed within seconds, killing 80 people. 'Kismet, of course'. Kismet is used as an alibi. But states are formed and act precisely to counter any kind of kismet, to overcome it, to defeat it or at least to mitigate its allegedly predetermined consequences. ... In Turkey, kismet has the name of Erdoğan.”

Yeni Asya (TR) /

Why all the buildings are still standing in Erzin

Amid all the destruction some examples of successful earthquake protection are still standing, Yeni Asya points out:

“In Hatay province, which was almost completely flattened by the earthquakes, not a single building collapsed in the Erzin district. ... In the city of Erzin, which has a population of 42,000 and is located 20 km from Osmaniye and 110 km from Antakya, both of which were badly hit by the earthquake, not a single person died. The reason is the same as in Tavşancıl, where not so much as a nail was dislodged in the 1999 earthquake: illegal constructions were not allowed. Are these two examples not enough to convince administrators and those administrated to take comprehensive precautions before earthquakes hit?”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Assad's cynical plan

The rebel regions in the north of Syria still stand little chance of receiving assistance, La Repubblica warns:

“The problem is essentially that Damascus claims the right to 'approve' and distribute international aid to the entire area, including the uncontrolled regions, especially those in the north-west, in the Idlib region and entire neighbourhoods of Aleppo - the worst-hit zones. It was in Idlib that the earthquake claimed the most victims and caused the most damage, because it was to that region that Assad drove the rebels from other areas in order to re-establish control over large parts of the country with the help of Russian-Iranian aid. With an estimated four million people, the Idlib region is thus completely overpopulated.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

The Turkish-Greek friendship lives on

Daily Sabah journalist Hakkı Öcal is particularly touched by the deployment of Greek aid workers in the crisis area:

“Perhaps we, the people in Türkiye, have been missing the siblinghood of the people on the other side of the Aegean Sea we thought lost to the ugly politics of Mitsotakis. Perhaps, we have been missing the display of that brotherhood as recently as the era of former Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras. ... There are thousands of brothers and sisters from several countries hunting for survivors in freezing temperatures since the first hours of this disaster that had befallen Türkiye and Syria, but I hope the 420 [Greek] personnel among them are a sign of the brotherhood of the Greek people that politics could not kill. That is the true moment of hope amid the horror.”

Kathimerini (GR) /

A little closer to normalisation

Kathimerini welcomes the decision to send Greek rescuers:

“The so-called earthquake diplomacy has proven to be very powerful in the past. ... Obviously, an earthquake, a natural disaster, no matter how big it is, does not automatically fix all the bad things, nor is it a switch that will turn and completely normalize bilateral relations. It can, however, act as a catalyst to show in practice the real disposition of one country toward the other and, no doubt, it can decompress the accumulated tension in Greek-Turkish relations, which is a source of constant worry.”

Politiken (DK) /

Political consequences, please!

For Politiken, voting Erdoğan out of office in May is the logical move:

“There is every indication that Erdoğan has failed miserably in his responsibilities. In his two decades in power, he has done too little to protect citizens from the earthquakes to which Turkey is so prone. ... From Turkey's point of view, one can hope that the earthquake will result in political changes in the country - preferably towards more democracy and liberalism, in contrast to Erdoğan's increasingly autocratic form of government. The presidential elections are three months away. A defeat or at least a big loss of votes for Turkey's strongman would be good for Turkey and for Europe.”

The Economist (GB) /

Erdoğan likely to postpone elections

The Turkish president will make sure he doesn't have to face voters in the midst of a crisis for which many believe he is responsible, The Economist suspects:

“Erdogan faces an election in May that was already going to be tough for him, thanks to a floundering economy and an inflation rate driven to over 50% by his foolish monetary policies. Voters will note his response to the earthquake, and ask why his government did not do more to prepare for such a disaster after the tremor of 1999. He knows it: government prosecutors have already launched investigations into two journalists for criticising the state's response. ... He might now postpone the elections.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Time to build better

A risk analysis has shown that a severe earthquake in Bucharest could claim more than 6,500 lives. More than 2,400 buildings are considered at risk of collapse. Adevărul columnist Ștefan Vlaston comments:

“The images from Turkey show us something. That some buildings remained standing despite the earthquake, surrounded by countless collapsed buildings. What made the difference? A building design that followed the requirements of earthquake protection. The others, most of them, contributed to the deaths of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people. All those people trusted the Turkish authorities to do their job, which is paid for with taxpayers' money. Turkey, like Romania, has experience when it comes to the effects of earthquakes. Both have learned nothing.”

Naftemporiki (GR) /

Just deserts for corrupt building policy

Erdoğan shares responsibility for this disaster, Naftemporiki points out:

“He came to power 20 years ago, after another major earthquake in 1999 which killed 18,000 people. In those 20 years, his government has failed to prepare the country for another such an earthquake. After the devastating 1999 earthquake, an 'anti-earthquake tax' was introduced to make new public buildings in vulnerable areas earthquake-proof [among other measures]. ... Instead, the money has been directed elsewhere, as the opposition denounces. The people's money has been wasted. Large construction companies with links to the state and the ruling party were contracted to construct these buildings but failed to comply with earthquake protection regulations.”

Magyar Narancs (HU) /

Pressure could lead to effective measures

The disaster poses a risk for Erdoğan, but that could also be a good thing, Magyar Narancs believes:

“The issue of responsibility will become an important component of the presidential election campaign, and not without reason: the illiberal and authoritarian Erdoğan regime, including its expert apparatus, has done little to mitigate the consequences of earthquakes. .... This could motivate the Turkish authorities to act quickly now. They cannot afford to abandon one of the largest peripheral regions of the country and its population, which is largely of Kurdish origin and therefore considered prone to rebellion.”

Denik N (CZ) /

Turning point in Turkish politics unlikely

Erdoğan still has every chance of surviving this crisis too, says Deník N:

“The country is plagued by inflation of over fifty percent, and wages are not keeping up with the price increases. In reaction to the economic crisis, Erdoğan announced a massive aid package that could help him win back some voters. In response to the earthquake, he has promised another financial aid package. ... If Erdoğan manages to drown out criticism with grand gestures and continued aid, he will be able to maintain his reputation as a capable leader ahead of the election. So far, there is nothing to suggest that the current situation will break his most loyal core of voters.”

Yeni Şafak (TR) /

Postpone the election campaign for now

The opposition is accusing the government of failure because the aid has reached the disaster area too late and is inadequate. Political unity must be the top priority now, warns the pro-government daily Yeni Şafak:

“Before the earthquake there was an increasingly heated election campaign in Turkey. That is normal. But now we are in a special situation and everyone must show our country and the world that we stand united. The political debates can come later. Making the disaster a part of this showdown, and in particular seeing it as an opportunity, will only hurt our country and our nation. Our people will not like this situation being exploited in this way.”