We have never abandoned the extended hand of friendship

In interview with Kathimerini, Turkish presidency’s communications director calls for ‘meaningful and sincere dialogue’ with Greece

We have never abandoned the extended hand of friendship

In an interview with Kathimerini, Fahrettin Altun, one of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s closest aides, calls for a “meaningful and sincere dialogue” with Greece “centered on equity and in accordance with international law.” 

Altun, director of communications for the Turkish president, thanked Greece for its support after the devastating earthquakes of February 6. He dismisses any thought of postponing the presidential and parliamentary elections set for May 14 and says Erdogan’s promise for thousands of new housing units to replace those destroyed by the earthquakes is realistic. He rejects accusations by opposition parties and many Turkish citizens that the state was ill-equipped to deal with the scale of the disaster and responds to criticism about the blocking of Twitter in the hours following the temblors.

After the earthquakes, there has been criticism about the ability of the Turkish state to deal with the situation, about delays in distributing aid and in starting search and rescue operations. We would like to hear your views on the issue.

First of all, we must understand how serious the situation is. We experienced, about nine hours apart, the two biggest earthquakes in Turkiye since 1939. Both of these earthquakes were stronger than the one that struck the Marmara region in 1999. Moreover, 11 of our provinces were affected by this situation independently. Our nation called these earthquakes the “disaster of the century.”

However, there are many people who want to disregard both the extent of the disaster as well as the efforts and sacrifices of those who saved lives in the field from the very beginning. Our state is exerting all of its power to heal the earthquake survivors’ wounds. Our citizens are generous with their financial and in-kind donations to organizations that carry out relief efforts, particularly AFAD [Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority]. In fact, during this difficult period, we have clearly demonstrated Turkiye’s unity and integrity with its state and nation.

The opposition says that, for the thousands of destroyed buildings, besides the contractors, the government and other officials are also to blame. It is noteworthy that no one resigned or was dismissed over this.

Currently, our government has no priority but meeting the needs of our citizens and reconstructing our cities affected by the earthquake. We refuse to turn this into a political issue.

We would like your thoughts about international assistance. Greece sent a message of support immediately and a Greek search and rescue team took part. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visited Antakya. Do you think this will turn a page in Turkish-Greek relations, as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said?

Following the first significant earthquake, Turkiye immediately sought international assistance and as a result, search and rescue teams from dozens of countries arrived. Greece was one of them. Of course, we are grateful to Greece and all the countries that have supported us. Regarding our relationship with Greece, we seek to maintain good relations with all of our neighbors. It is common for states to disagree with one another occasionally. We must resolve these disagreements via meaningful and sincere dialogue centered on equity and in accordance with international law. The Turkish nation has never abandoned the extended hand of friendship.

The issue of postponing elections in Turkey is in the news. Is this possible? When will the elections take place?

This is not on our agenda. Our top priority right now is to heal the wounds as soon as possible. The earthquake has caused loss of life and injury. Our primary concern is to extend the compassionate hand of the state to the injured, those who have lost loved ones, and all our citizens who have been affected by the earthquake. Obviously, our hearts are broken. Yet, we will overcome these challenging times through the unity of state and nation.

What exactly happened with Twitter not working or working slowly during the first hours following the earthquake?

In recent years, the fight against disinformation has become a top priority not only in Turkiye but also all over the world. In this regard, it is also being discussed how global companies like Twitter must build relationships with the states. Following the earthquake, we discovered that many fake alerts were posted on social media. We are looking into whether this was done on purpose or whether there were internal and external forces attempting to sabotage the search and rescue efforts. Hence, an administrative decision was reached. Twitter also recognized our concerns and took proactive steps to address them. The restrictions were lifted a few hours later.

It is reported that reconstruction in the earthquake-stricken areas will begin in March. Is this a realistic promise? Some maintain that it is a mistake to proceed without some prior steps or studies.

This is unquestionably a realistic goal because the Republic of Turkiye is a powerful state. It has an impressive capacity. As a matter of fact, our country has built safe buildings and completed massive projects across the world. Most importantly, Turkiye has a strong leader as our president. Sadly, some people believe that criticizing every action taken by the government represents politics or intellectuality. We can’t spend our time responding to their criticisms. We will immediately begin to heal the wounds, just as we did not let our citizens suffer through previous disasters. We will provide our citizens with safe and high-quality housing.

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