As the death toll continues to rise in the wake of a massive earthquake that hit Turkey on Monday, rescue teams have still not reached places with buildings in ruins. While the government-controlled media continues to broadcast in line with the official narrative, opposition politicians and citizens are showing their reaction on social media, stating that the government has failed to coordinate earthquake relief efforts.
One of the issues that the government has received the most criticism for is that rescue teams have not arrived in areas where the earthquake inflicted some of the worst damage. People whose loved ones and relatives were under the rubble wrote that they were waiting for help, sharing addresses on social media. They say that in the disaster area, where the weather is poor, every second is important. The fact that several dozen people were rescued from underneath the rubble yesterday afternoon shows the importance of timing. People in Hatay, Adıyaman and Gaziantep, which were badly affected by the earthquake, shared videos showing that Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (AFAD) teams had not reached the region even 24 hours after the quake struck. It also appears that difficulties have been encountered in transporting foreign aid and rescue teams to the disaster area. For instance, a video of an Israeli team waiting at the airport for hours went viral.
One of the reasons the rescue teams couldn’t get to the disaster area is that the highways were badly damaged by the earthquake. There were long lines of vehicles on the roads, especially due to damage on roads connecting to the province of Hatay. Some experts who stated that the new roads were built along fault lines said the problems experienced were due to a tremendous lack of foresight.
The issue that has attracted the most backlash on social media is that public buildings were severely damaged. The İskederun and Antakya state hospitals in Hatay were toppled by the earthquake. Experts say hospitals should be the most earthquake-resistant of buildings. In addition, some small private hospitals in the 10 provinces affected by the earthquake have been rendered unusable. There were also deep cracks in the runway of Hatay Airport, which has been closed to flights since the earthquake struck. People who wanted to leave Hatay for safer places were stuck in the province due to the unusable roads and closed airport.
In addition, many people found the statements of representatives of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to be partisan. AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik said in Adana, which was affected by the earthquake, that the ruling party and its partner, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), were on the ground and that the rescue efforts were under control. Social media users reacted strongly to the party promotion on such a day. The fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called only the mayors belonging to his own party immediately after the earthquake and did not contact opposition mayors also led to criticism.
President Erdoğan usually addresses crowds several times a day, and his speeches are broadcast live by almost all TV stations in Turkey. However, it was uncommon for Erdoğan to appear in front of the cameras almost 36 hours after the earthquake hit. Although it was announced that he had spoken with foreign leaders on the phone, including US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the lack of public appearances was attributed to health problems. Some social media users reminded that Erdoğan did not appear in public right after disasters and soldier deaths in Syria in the past so as not to damage his image and that he often had ministers or bureaucrats address the public in times of crisis, claiming that he is using the same strategy now.
In his first address to the nation after the earthquake, Erdoğan declared a state of emergency in the 10-province disaster area. Confirming the heavy criticism, he admitted that some places could not be accessed. However, he cited weather conditions and the effects of the earthquake as the reasons. Calling on the public to help with donations, Erdoğan said banks would not charge transaction fees on transfers made for earthquake assistance. Erdoğan threatened opponents, stating that he had taken note of statements made in the media against the government and that the prosecutors would take action when the time was right. The presidency’s communications office urged citizens to download an application to report fake news about the disaster.
The issue that Erdoğan is most criticized for is that it is too late for the military to participate in rescue operations. One of the most frequently asked questions on social media was why soldiers in units stationed in areas inaccessible to search and rescue teams hadn’t started rescue activities themselves. As the criticism intensified, Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar announced that reinforcements had been made to units on the ground and that 3,000 new commandos had been sent to help in rescue efforts.
In addition Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum stated at a press conference that no organization other than AFAD would be allowed to deliver and coordinate aid and said all aid will be delivered to people only by AFAD.
Political observers speculate that the state of emergency will be used to silence voices of dissent on social media and that the general election, which is scheduled to be held in May, may be postponed.