Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Georgetown Examines Turkish Earthquake's Political Fallout

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Georgetown Examines Turkish Earthquake's Political Fallout

Article excerpt


Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and the Institute of Turkish Studies sponsored an Oct. 27 forum analyzing the August 1999 earthquake in Turkey. Georgetown associate professor Dr. Scott Redford, who was in Turkey at the time of the quake, began the forum by describing events immediately afterward.

He said it took a while for realization of the earthquake's magnitude to set in, as the area's infrastructure was so severely damaged that there was limited access to the sites of the quake. The media, however, flew helicopters over the damaged areas, providing the Turkish public with astounding pictures of the damage. When Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit removed four local governors, the press had a field day, vilifying contractors for poor construction practices.

The earthquake also resulted in increased involvement by private citizens and underlined the importance of new forms of technology. People with cell phones called radio stations, describing what they could see in front of them. Others with video cameras provided their footage to the TV news. Personal connections came into play with these videos: if a video was aired on the news, help was sent to that city. The Internet also was a means of communication and news, with Web sites listing the names of the dead. Such personal initiatives surpassed any state response.

Prof. Sabri Sayari, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Turkish Studies, then discussed political implications of the earthquake. In its aftermath, people asked why, when 90 percent of Turkey lies in earthquake zones, the government was not at all prepared. The government had no plan for civil defense, and for the first day after the quake the government's attitude was business as usual, with ministers and parliamentarians discussing social security reform. The quake also exposed the extent of the naked corruption in municipal government, with payments made to municipal officials in return for not enforcing construction codes.

The vacuum left by the government's inability to respond effectively was filled by voluntary groups. A good deal of this effort was led by Islamist organizations that provided such basic necessities as soup kitchens, blankets and temporary shelter. …

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