Two subsequent major earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria
On February 6, a massive earthquake hit a large areaof Turkey and northwest Syria, leaving millions homeless. Turkey'ssouthern provinces of Kahramanmaras, Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Kilis, Osmaniye,Diyarbakir, Adiyaman, Malatya, and Sanliurfa were hit by the quake. Accordingto Turkish officials, 13.5 million people were affected.
The earthquake was accompanied by bitterly cold winterweather. The magnitude 7.8 earthquake destroyed entire apartment buildingsin Turkish cities. According to the Health Ministry, the earthquakes and aftershocksdamaged 15 hospitals across ten provinces.
The second quake also hit the region in the afternoon and wasstrong enough to devastate other buildings and, like the first, was feltthroughout the region.
Turkey announced on February 6 a seven-day nationalmourning after the two major earthquakes.
President Erdogan spoke with severalparty leaders on the phone. Erdogan called Meral Aksener, the head of theright-wing nationalist Good Party, first about the earthquake. Erdoganwent against tradition by calling Aksener first instead of KemalKilicdaroglu, the head of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).However, Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu didn't have a meeting about the earthquakeduring the week.
On February 7, Turkey declared"emergency rule" in ten provinces for three months. The government alsodeclared a "level 4 alarm", calling for international assistance. Theemergency rule permits authorities to employ any resources available in thedefined zones, whether public or private. President Erdogan said that 100billion Turkish liras ($5.3 billion) would be allocated to the region.
On February 8, President Erdogan promised toconstruct new homes for the victims of the earthquakes. On the same day,the Turkish government imposedrestrictions on Twitter. The restriction sparked broad public outrage since ithampered rescue efforts.
The move came as President Erdogan was visiting the disasterregion amid rising public outrage over the government's late andinsufficient response to rescue efforts. Several VPN providers announced freeservices to assist Turkish users. On February 9, Netblocks reported thatTwitter access had been restored in Turkey.
After the quakes, 94 countries have offered to assist Turkey'ssearch and rescue operations, Erdogan said on February10. Erdogan also acknowledged that the government's response was not as swiftas it could have been during his visit to the earthquake-stricken province ofAdiyaman.
Turkey's Security Directorate reported theidentification of 274 account holders accused of spreading"provocative" information about earthquakes. According to thedirectorate, nine people were arrested.
Many people echoed concerns about hygiene, especially insufficientnumbers of working lavatories in the region, indicating the danger of spreadingsome diseases. Health experts warn of possible outbreaks of cholera and polio.
Looting of shops also took place in some areas. Erdogan said thegovernment would take action against those responsible for looting and othercrimes in the region. Justice Minister announced that 57 people were arrested for lootingor trying to defraud victims.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on February 12 that 131suspects had been identified as beingresponsible for the collapse of some of the thousands of buildings. Oktay notedthat the justice ministry set up bureaus in the provinces affected by theearthquake to investigate deaths and injuries effectively and quickly. Justice MinisterBekir Bozdag announced 3 peoplewere arrested during the operations.
Opposition parties have criticized the government for a long timefor allegedly failing to enforce building regulations and misusing specialtaxes collected to strengthen buildings after the 1999 earthquake.
According to the Turkish authorities, as of February 12, 29,605people died, and morethan 80,000 were injured in the earthquakes. 12,141 buildings were destroyed in theearthquake. 147,934 people affected by the earthquake have been transferred toother cities.
Former CHP leader dies at 84
Deniz Baykal, the former main opposition CHP leader, died on February11 at 84. Baykal had been struggling with health problems for several years.
Official says Akkuyu nuclear plant not affected by quake
An official from the Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom,which is building the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in Turkey, said that theplant construction was not damaged by the earthquakes thathit central Turkey and northwest Syria on February 6.
World Bank announces financial assistance for recovery effortsafter earthquake
On February 9, the World Bank announced that itwould provide 1.78 billion dollars to Turkey for recovery andreconstruction efforts following devastating earthquakes and aftershocks. Thefund will be used to rebuild the basic infrastructure at the municipal level.
Istanbul exchange shuts for first time after 1999 earthquake
The Istanbul Stock Exchange announced on February8 that it would be closed for five days due to earthquakes, the first suchshutdown since the 1999 earthquake.
The exchange justified its decision by citing the increasedvolatility and extreme price fluctuations after the earthquake disaster.
The stock market suffered significant losses early on February 8before it ceased operations.
"Earthquakes to disrupt Turkey's growth, stretch budget asErdogan heads to elections," Reuters
Massive earthquakes in Turkey will add billions of dollars ofspending to Ankara's budget and cut economic growth by up two percentage pointsthis year, officials and economists said, as the government faces hugerebuilding ahead of tight elections.
While officials say, the extent of the destruction is not yetclear, they believe rebuilding will stretch Turkey's budget.
Earthquake damage is also expected to hit production in theaffected region, which accounts for 9.3% of Turkey's gross domestic product(GDP). Indicating the extent of the disruption, electricity use in Turkey dropped11% on February 6, compared to a week earlier, Energy Exchange Istanbul (EPIAS)data showed. That disruption could hit economic growth this year.
Theearthquakes in Turkey hit rebel-held northwestSyria
In Syria, the severely devastated areas were those that borderedTurkey and were not under the jurisdiction of the Syrian government.International help is delivered to those communities through a single bordercrossing in southern Turkey which was also affected during the earthquakes.
As of February 12, 3,576 people died in Syria,already devastated by nearly 13 years of civil war.
There were harsh criticisms that the rebel-held northwest hasreceived far lessaid than government-held areas.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad has admittedshortcomings in humanitarian efforts but also blamedWestern-sourced economic sanctions.
Turkey considers opening border to Syrian government-held regionfor aid
According to a Turkish official speaking to Reuters on February10, Turkey is considering reopening a border crossing into Syrian governmentterritory to allow earthquake aid to be sent directly to areas underSyrian President Bashar al-Assad's control. The country isalso planning to open a second border into the opposition-controlled Idlibprovince, the official added.
Border gate between Turkey, Armenia opens after 35 years for aidafter earthquake
For the first time in 35 years, a border gate between Turkey andArmenia has been opened to allowaid from the latter to victims of the earthquakes in southern Turkey.
In 1988, the Turkish Red Crescent last used the gate toprovide relief to earthquake-hit Armenia.
"Changing Turkish Calculus in Northern Syria" by MustafaEnes Esen, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy
The earthquake which struck Turkey on Monday had a devastatingimpact on south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria. While the situation inTurkey is dire, the catastrophe is in many ways worse in northern Syria. It isexpected that things will go even worse for the rebel-held parts of northernSyria as help cannot reach with ease.
The earthquake will also have consequences for prospective Turkishmilitary operations that would take place in northern Syria before the generalelections normally scheduled in July.
If a new ground military operation is launched, it would probablytarget Tal Rifaat, Manbij, and Kobani. But, the main road connecting Turkey toSyria has been severely damaged, significantly disrupting the Turkish military'slogistics. Under these circumstances, Turkey will not launch a large-scalemilitary operation until it fixes logistical problems.
On the other hand, decision-makers in Turkey are now concentratingtheir efforts on relief operations in the ten provinces ravaged by theearthquake. Most likely that Turkey will postpone a final decision over anincursion into Syria until the dust settles from the devastating earthquake.
"The unbearable cost of authoritarianism" by Ali Dincer,Turkish Minute
Authoritarianism has a pitfall that often comes into view lateron, sort of like a plot twist. The tacit assumption that the man at the topwould always hold the public's well-being and the country's best interestsabove everything else and that he would allow no other consideration to muddyhis motives is, to put it mildly, naïve.
Obviously, Turkey's deadly earthquake of February 6 isn't byitself Erdogan's fault. It's a once-in-a-century disaster that would unleashwidespread destruction no matter where it hit on the map. Yet his governmenthas made it very clear that its top priority is not crisis management butrather preserving its image, as evidenced by the bureaucratic hurdles erectedagainst all nongovernmental disaster relief efforts as well as the unbelievablycruel restriction imposed on Twitter, the platform where thousands of survivingearthquake victims made their voices heard from underneath the rubble.
Erdogan's furious statements, full of threats and vitriol againstcritics and devoid of any semblance of compassion or genuine expression ofsorrow at a time of unprecedented human tragedy, have epitomized the ultimatecost of the devil's bargain that is authoritarianism. My fellow Turks haveunfortunately indulged in it, and we've all suffered because of that, one wayor another, over and over again. My only hope is that there are people aroundthe world who can learn from our mistake.
"What happens, happens: how Erdogan's earthquake responsetarnished his brand" by Ruth Michaelson, The Guardian
Erdogan's refusal to accept criticism of the state's response hasdone little to quell growing public anger at a disaster response that has oftenarrived too late, or in the case of some remote villages, appears yet to havearrived at all. Across southern Turkey – areas traditionally consideredbastions of support for the president and his Justice and Development party(AKP) – displaced citizens surviving in freezing conditions complained openlyabout delays and sleeping in the cold despite the state's promises.
The two-decade reign of the AKP has been marked by a nationwideconstruction boom. Many of the same concrete apartment blocks built as part ofthe AKP's construction boom were razed to the ground by the earthquake earlierthis week.
"How will Turkey's killer earthquakes impact the country'spolitics?" by Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor
As in 1999, questions about building codes and safety standardsunder two decades of AKP rule marked by unprecedented corruption will grow.Erdogan's contractor cronies, known as the "Gang of Five," madebillions of dollars in public tenders. The main opposition leader, KemalKilicdaroglu, who is widely expected to run against him, has vowed to take themdown.
Cash injections from friendly Gulf regimes and cheap energy fromRussia, which helped to grease the spree, are unlikely to mitigate the colossalcosts of Monday's tragedy.
Rising public hostility to the presence of almost 4 million Syrianrefugees will make it hard for the government to justify any diversion of fundsto Turkish-occupied northern Syria. The silver lining for Syria's Kurds, whosenortheast region was barely affected, is that Erdogan is now even less likelyto invade as he's been threatening to.
The coming days will reveal just how adept Erdogan remains atturning adversity to his own advantage as he did after the abortive coup in2016, using it as a pretext to crush his opponents. Rather than briefKilicdaroglu on the relief effort, he chose to call Meral Aksener, leader ofthe nationalist opposition Good Party. Some accuse her of stitching up backroomdeals with the president. Today's phone call may have reinforced theirsuspicions. However, the scale of Monday's disaster suggests that even Erdoganmay be out of his depth this time.
"The shock waves from Turkey's Twitter restriction" byKatie Dancey-Downs, Index on Censorship
Monday's devastating earthquakes in Turkey have led to the loss ofthousands of lives but one of the government's responses to the disaster istroubling. At midday on Wednesday, Twitter was restricted in Turkey. The quakecaused a number online connectivity issues, but this was not the reason thatusers couldn't get onto Twitter. It was a direct response to politicalcriticism.
"These mass censorship incidents happen after politicalscandals, they happen after terrorist attacks, they happen in a variety ofcircumstances — also during military operations in the south — but it's thefirst time that they've been applied in the aftermath of a natural disaster,"Alp Toker, founder and director of NetBlocks, said.
"It was intentional mass censorship applied at a time whenpeople are really using Twitter and relying on it to seek help, and to ask forequipment supplies, but also to get in touch with loved ones and see if friendsand family are okay. The idea that such a vital tool would be withheld isshocking," Toker added.