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Turkey-Syria earthquakes and their aftermath

February 20, 2023

Tens of thousands of people died in the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. This tragedy was not just a result of a natural disaster. Political failures are also to blame.


Geologists had warned of the threat of a severe earthquake in the Turkish-Syrian border region. But Ziyadin Çakır from Istanbul’s Technical University says those in power just prayed and hoped that it would not come to pass. Strict construction regulations to make buildings earthquake-resistant weren’t enforced. The earthquake rescue and relief operation got off to a slow start in Turkey and Syria - despite a swift international response. For the first few days, survivors were largely left to fend for themselves. The humanitarian disaster was exacerbated by the ravages of the civil war in Syria and ongoing tensions in the Turkish-Syrian border region. After nearly 12 years of conflict in Syria, few border crossings remain open. Aid convoys were held up for many days. Syria expert Carsten Wieland is also critical of the fact that much of the humanitarian aid effort in Syria has had to operate in cooperation with the Assad regime. Yet, Wieland stresses, President Bashar Assad has little interest in helping the people of northern Syria. The state has been fighting them for years: "This earthquake, to put it very cynically, is very convenient for President Bashar Assad. It is killing these people without him having to bombard them.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also come in for considerable criticism. The failures of his predecessors after the major 1999 earthquake helped bring him to power. The recent quakes could now cost him his office. Presidential elections are scheduled to take place this May or June. But political analyst Gönül Tol from the Washington Institute fears that President Erdoğan might use the current state of emergency to delay polls for a year. She says: "That would lead to a lot of instability in Turkey because someone has to be brought to account for this preventable catastrophe.” Against this backdrop of political failure, this documentary follows the survivors of the earthquakes Turkey and Syria - their search for family members under the rubble and their struggle to obtain food and shelter for themselves.

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