Observations of the Turkish Quake: Widespread anger at the state


I was in Istanbul last summer (99) when the 7.4 quake hit 90 kilometers away in Adapazari, killing 50,000 people. Government death statistics stopped rising at 17,000 when there were still 35,000 'missing likely because officials wanted to decrease the damage that the quake did to the government's image. The Turkish government didn't send any aid to quake victims for over 12 hours. Foreign rescue teams arrived first.  The government caused widespread ire because of its lack of timely action, and because it later cleaned out rubble with large machines before they were sure those buried were dead, killing any buried survivors.  There were no traffic cops in Istanbul, a city of 16 million, for many hours and no electricity for 12 hours (therefore no traffic lights) but there were no traffic accidents to speak of. As has been noted about other disasters such as Mexico City '86, people were impressed with their own ability to help themselves and coordinate aid efforts. People from around the country (including Istanbul anarchists) gathered all the food, water, medicine and blankets they could and headed to crisis zones. Here are some quotes from the English language daily "Turkish Daily News" August 21, '99.


"At this point people are just wishing that the state would stay out of their way. President Demirel's official car blocked the way of ambulances to and from the disaster zone.  The majority of people say this behavior is typical of the president who doesn't pay much attention to the people."


"When authorities arrived at 330 PM Thursday at Yalova people got angry. 'They should be ashamed to come.' But the state is as indifferent and careless as it has been for the past 40 years."


The following comment by a high Turkish official apparently really pissed people off:

"I wish the dead peace and those that remain patience. The state is mighty. The wounds will heal."


"The government was also unhappy with state TV broadcasts during the first 24 hours of the crisis in which the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation showed the inability of the authorities to cope with the crisis. The government reportedly reprimanded Turkish officials."