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Earthquake of 7.8 magnitude shatters lives in Turkey and Syria

On Feb. 6, 2023, one of the deadliest earthquakes in the 21st century struck south-central Turkey near the Syrian border, devastating communities and causing the untimely deaths of over 40,000 citizens and counting . It was closely followed by numerous aftershocks, the second of which, occurring 11 minutes later, had a magnitude of 6.7.

The mainshock was 11 miles (18 kilometers) deep and the one that followed was just over six miles (10 kilometers) deep. The intensity of the shaking was incredibly severe due to the relative shallowness of the quakes. As of 10:30 p.m. (local time), roughly 30 aftershocks with a magnitude of over 4.5 have been recorded between the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Malatya.

The Kahramanmaras Earthquake is the strongest in the world since the 8.1 magnitude earthquake which struck the southern Atlantic Ocean in 2021. Tens of thousands of citizens, many of which were likely in bed when the tragedy took place, have experienced severe bodily harm as a result.

With at least 1 million left homeless, monumental relief efforts were led as more than 238,000 Turkish and international workers assisted in rescues as well as provided damage control to heavily afflicted regions. However, only 5% of affected areas were searched following the immediate aftermath, as the international community did not react fast enough. While most rescues happen within 24 hours of a natural disaster, additional equipment and help took days to arrive.

A Saudi relief plane arrived at Aleppo National Airport in Syria, containing 35 tons of food and other aid. Moreover, $50 million was released from the emergency fund to aid Syria; Antonio Guterres announced that Turkey will follow a similar plan. The U.N. launched a $397 million humanitarian appeal, which is expected to cover three months worth of resources.

Kara Peruccio is the assistant professor of history and women’s, gender and sexuality studies as well as a historian of the modern Middle East and Mediterranean. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

Peruccio’s areas of study are women’s movements, modern Middle East History, the 20th-century Mediterranean and cultural history. She taught English in Uşak, Turkey between 2011 and 2012.

“100 lira is the equivalent of $5.30 US. There is currently massive inflation in Turkey; what $15 US looks like, you could buy two boxes of 30-count diapers, 20 kilos of pasta, or five fleece blankets. American currency goes super far right now, which is why it’s been so amazing to see people giving any amount, since many small dollar donations add up,” Peruccio said.

President Erdogan publicly vowed to rebuild hundreds of thousands of destroyed homes. However, he is currently under criticism as videos show him having earlier hailed the very housing projects which buried thousands of people.

As the Turkish government began to accelerate the prioritization of economic development throughout recent years, by means of creating a more business-friendly environment, the regime became further centralized. There was a complete shift in the concentration of power directly from the prime minister to the president. The Turkish government decided to abolish the prime ministry entirely in 2017, and it went into full effect in 2018.

Erdogan, the former prime minister, was voted president by a margin of 52% in 2019. The drastic switch to a purely presidential regime caused a formerly symbolic presidential position to become that of authoritarian leadership. Political opposition argues that the reason for the slow, ineffective response is the intense centralization of power.

Directly following the tragedy, the Turkish regime banned Twitter for a total of 12 hours as a means of regulating governmental criticisms. There was then an increased difficulty in communicating vital information to the public, such as the sharing of family members’ addresses and calling for help.

Professor Emeritus of political science at UMaine, James Warhola, knows Turkey and speaks Turkish. His research interests include comparative politics (especially Russia, Turkey and Eurasia), politics and religion, politics and ethnicity and political theory.

“Let’s just say it’s a very capacious definition of false information. In other words, anything that gets overly or in some cases even slightly critical of the regime can be perceived by them as slandering the government,” Warhola said.

The disaster has also led to a question of whether or not Turkey will postpone the 2023 presidential election. Opposition parties cried foul to this possibility as it would be unconstitutional to do so apart from when in time of war. It is still scheduled to occur on May 14, 2023.

“The fact that this happened in an election year makes everything more complicated. There is some disillusionment in terms of fairness of election, and whether or not the state is actually helping people,” Peruccio said.

State-run Anadolu News Agency announced that an approximate total of 41,791 buildings collapsed or were heavily damaged. Turkish authorities are arresting contractors with links to said projects, one of whom was detained in connection to the collapse of a 16-story building in Adana, which took the lives of 70 people.

Tens of thousands of buildings in the south of Turkey were utterly destroyed due to shoddy construction that violated numerous building codes. Some examples are using older types of concrete frames that were not designed from seismic considerations to absorb ground motion, as well as further cutting corners by mixing concrete or using cheaper metal bars to gird pillars. It contributed heavily to the death and injury toll. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag has said that legal proceedings against over 130 people with suspected ties are underway.

The political opposition is that if contractors are held accountable for the lives lost, so should the public officials who allowed them to get away with not strictly adhering to building codes. Though they are set in place by law in Turkey, and up to a general global standard, they were not by any means strictly enforced or adhered to.

“It has been said that this might be an opportunity for Turkey, as they rebuild, to do so in a way that will help ameliorate the climate crisis. 13% of all carbon emissions come about as a result of construction. In principle at least, the Erdogan Regime should not object to that,” Warhola said.

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