Earthquakes and solidarity

Earthquakes and solidarity

When the lives of thousands of people are cut short by the uncontrollable power which some people call fate, political time necessarily pauses as well – at least for a while – until habit and various interests rebind its different parts. In our already turbulent region, earthquakes are often seen as an accidental fate. This is happening now, with the deadly earthquake that struck two countries that are entangled in an undeclared war: Turkey and Syria.

The tragic magnitude of the losses forced the Turkish government to do what every government is forced to do in dire circumstances: appeal to the international community. The response was immediate and widespread. Many countries, including Greece, have already sent specialized rescue teams. When people’s lives are lost en masse, and when there are hopes of saving others trapped in the wreckage, even nationalist isolationism must fold its banners. Unfortunately, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has plenty of time ahead of him to raise them again.

In his first statements, Erdogan described the current earthquake as “the biggest disaster since the 1939 Erzincan earthquake,” when a 7.9-magnitude tremor killed 32,968 people. I hope his words turn out to be true, because it is as if he is speculating that deaths will exceed the 17,000 of what proved to be the second largest disaster back then on August 17, 1999. 

At that time, the support of Greece was mustered rapidly and in various ways. Just twenty days later, on September 7, 1999, it was Turkey’s turn to stand in solidarity, after the earthquake that hit Athens, killing 143 people. The – albeit transitory – “earthquake diplomacy” developed on the grounds of spontaneous popular sentiments, which acted as an exhortation to the political leadership of the two countries.

In August 1999, Erdogan, who had been obliged to resign from the mayorship of Istanbul, regained his political rights. He had been deprived of them in 1998 for 10 months, because during a demonstration he had recited verses by the Turkish nationalist poet Ziya Gokalp: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers…” Now, in the regime that has since been imposed by Erdogan, the contested verses are no longer philology or literature but hard politics, domestic and foreign. However, solidarity should always take priority.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.