In the aftermath of the disaster, one of the issues we need to focus on the most is memorylessness, fatalism and being convinced by symbolic indicators (such as halalism). I believe that how we react to such a massive death and destruction, and whether we keep our memory of what happened alive or not, will and should be the determinant of our common values and relationships.

A photo from the protest of Feminist Solidarity for Disaster Relief

The Minister of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change, while making a press statement about Turkey and the climate crisis at the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Climate Change last November, emphasizes that “Turkey went to Pakistan, a friendly and sister country of Turkey,” for humanitarian aid in the climate crisis-based flood disaster in Pakistan, in which approximately 8 million people were displaced and 1739 people died, “and that they witnessed that there was nowhere left for water to go, that the disaster in Pakistan could happen anywhere, and that therefore the policy of loss and damage [1] should be fair”.

When we consider that disaster risks at local and global level can be predicted to a great extent thanks to today’s scientific possibilities, and that today’s politics and international law are also about managing the risks related to disasters caused by the climate crisis and independent of it, it is impossible not to agree with the minister’s warning that “it can happen to any country”.

In this meeting attended by the Minister, the president of Palau, a small island country vulnerable to disasters due to the climate crisis, told the delegations of developed countries, “There is no difference between leaving us vulnerable to the effects of climate change and bombing us.” With these words, the president of the small island country completes what is missing and critical in Turkey’s Minister of Urbanization’s statement that disaster risk is rational and up-to-date. We have been predicting and knowing disaster risks for decades, the -politicized- issue is to eliminate our vulnerability in disasters, which is equivalent to dropping bombs inside our homes, or to maintain this vulnerability, to profit from this state of vulnerability (Turkey’s construction sector, zoning amnesty, etc.).

In the earthquakes of February 6, we experienced/are experiencing a process that can be equated with being bombed repeatedly in this country where we are left vulnerable to earthquakes. We have witnessed AFAD’s [Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency] inability to reach the wreckages, the weakness of the search and rescue teams and capacities, the coordination problem of public administrations leading the process to tragedy, the lack of effort to preserve the bodily integrity of the bodies of people who died during the debris removal, the failure to investigate the reasons why some bodies could not be reached, the Presidency of Religious Affairs (which has been on the agenda in recent years with its enormous share of the state budget, incomparably larger than that allocated to other public institutions, and its provincial organization) having no policy or discourse to ensure that the dead are respected, that shrouds are provided and that burial is in accordance with human dignity, that mass graves are created with blankets and bags, and that construction projects are announced even before our mourning is over. Moreover, Turkey should have been preparing for these earthquakes based on its earthquake experience of more than 20 years. In a country of disasters, looking at the history and experience of disasters, as individuals we have the right to have confidence that the state has made the right risk management and emergency response plan perfectly. What happened in Turkey three months after the speech of the Minister who warned that “it can happen to any country” was not just a natural phenomenon, but a tragedy caused by lack of politics, lack of precaution and incompetence.

Turkey has no preparedness, no response capacity and no coherent policy for climate crisis-based disasters, just as it has no preparedness for earthquakes. According to the Turkey Climate Report published this year, there were 1035 extreme weather events. In 2021, floods accounted for 33.6% of extreme weather events. In 2021, 82 people died and 16 people were missing in the Western Black Sea flood disaster. After this event, it is our right to assume that public administrations have a plan against flooding. Yet as I write these lines, floods have occurred in the cities affected by the earthquake and 16 people who survived the earthquake have died in the floods. With the Interior Ministry’s warning to “citizens to stay away from the river beds”, the collapse of an intersection inaugurated three months ago, and the statement of Minister of Agriculture and Forestry on a television program a few hours later that “16 of our people died, but the soil mixed with the water”, expressing the belief that this was the solution to the drought and that the disaster was eliminated by the disaster, we witnessed political performances that surpassed the ministers and prime ministers who drank irradiated tea after Chernobyl. At a more fundamental level, this process has raised the question of whether there is an uncorrupted, intact public service in all sectors of state administration, and whether it is sufficient.

The Minister of Environment and Urbanization, while referring to the policy of loss and damage, made reference to climate finance to deal with disasters caused by the climate crisis. In a system like Turkey’s, where central and local governments are dominated by the ruling party’s politics of monism and power, where there is no auditability, no transparency, where political partisanship prevails over the word of science, and where the judiciary is far from being functional, preparing a country for disasters is neither about financing alone, nor about the magnitude or nature of the disaster, but about the value given to the right to life, and the value of the right to life in Turkey is highly political.

In the destruction we have experienced and the tragedy we have witnessed, we have seen that this monist system, which the current government associates with stability, and the ethos of a strong Turkey, a country that extends a helping hand to sisterly and friendly countries, a country with the world’s largest airports and mega projects, the world’s 11th largest economy, the country with the most rapidly growing economy, the country that develops, which the same government has been building for 20 years, has also been destroyed. We are a country of unmanageable, uneliminable risks and a country that no longer sees disasters as natural and a country in ruins. Where the risk becomes vital is not the natural event itself, but the poor quality of public services and resources.

In a century of continuous development of science and technology, we are in a land of contradictions. Arbitrary actions and decisions of public administrations instead of prudence in policy-making, corruption for profit-making and other political purposes becoming dominant and ordinary, the law no longer being a remedy against corporate crime, and the “legalization” of crimes committed in partnership between the state and the corporation… In the daily routine of social and political life, where public service is not based on needs, rights and social policy, but on populist politics and communication and influence strategies that are in accordance with the  spirit of social media, floods, earthquakes, heat waves, hailstorms, droughts are not disasters themselves, but the starting point of disaster. Resistant buildings need to be built, but public administrations do not build or check them. Perhaps because no one could be convinced otherwise, the superficial complaints about not doing politics in the disaster area and in relation to the disaster, which became a phenomenon on social media in the early days of the disaster, quickly faded. The discursive immunity of the state administration was shattered by the pain in the disaster zone and the outcry of the earthquake victims.

“Disaster is not natural, but political.” [2] Because it is political, it kills, deprives people of basic needs such as shelter, food, water, health care, menstrual products, discriminates, spreads hatred against refugees, loses and abuses children, does not meet the specific needs of women and LGBTI+s, and excludes them from a suitable public service. Just as a disaster is a process that transforms nature into an object of rent that needs to be conquered and monetized, nature is still the one that has to carry this position bestowed upon it after the disaster. Instead of a disaster policy that has the aim of risk reduction at its core, we are stuck in a central and administrative management approach that will inevitably create more and different risks as a result of the monetization of nature.

The earthquake experience in Turkey has always played an important role in the shaping processes of legislation such as urban transformation, zoning and building inspection. The development of the right to building inspection and earthquake-resistant housing in legislation and public policies is discussed in the article titled “Building Inspection System and Disaster Management in Turkey”, available at this link. In Turkey’s history full of earthquakes, despite the fact that the necessary scientific and policy determinations have been made to be prepared for disasters, zoning amnesties, the transformation of building inspection into a profit-making activity, and the subordination of building inspection of housing both in the central government and local governments by politics are among the main reasons for today’s destruction. [3]

For example, in our geography with a history full of earthquakes, for the first time, legislation was created with the idea of making policies to minimize the damage caused by the 1939 Erzincan Earthquake and the earthquakes that occurred afterwards, rather than focusing only on compensating the damage. 84 years ago. For the first time, the zoning law of 1956 ensured that the danger of natural disasters was taken into account when determining settlements and building inspection issues were prioritized. 67 years ago. For the first time, in the sixth 5-year development plan dated 1989, the term “earthquake-resistant building” was included in public policy documents and it was set as a public goal to identify technologies suitable for earthquake-resistant building construction in earthquake zones and to ensure the application of these technologies in all buildings. 34 years ago. Frequent zoning amnesties were seen as one of the most important reasons why the buildings of the 90s were not suitable for inspection and this problem was voiced by experts. 30 years ago. [4] The last zoning amnesty law was passed five years ago. If the February 6 earthquakes had not happened, new zoning amnesty proposals would have been in the queue as another electoral politics project.

In the 2010s, despite the fact that disaster and housing resistance became a “rule” in both development plans and legislative amendments, we were forced to live in fragile cities caused by the transformation of building inspection into a profit-making activity, insufficient expert capacity in the public sector and politics making enforcement impossible [5]. The problem of housing during the economic crisis and the problem of housing during the earthquake met at the same point. Not to mention the lack of access to affordable and safe housing, the transformation of urban transformation projects into gentrification projects, the sweeping out of cities of those who do not share or benefit from the rent, the bullying of property owners even when one wants to have the earthquake resistance of his/her house checked, and the preference of property over life.

In countries like Turkey, law emerges and comes into existence through the discourses constructed by politicians, rather than through law-making. My favorite example for this proposition is the de facto abortion ban. It is legal, but after the political discourse against abortion, it has de facto no longer been an accessible health service. Not by law, but by the government’s speech. The de facto creation of law by politicians in Turkey, apart from the legal developments that remain in theory, has not only led to the collapse of the legal system but also directly destroyed the guarantee of the right to life. The dominant politics’ insistence on airports on the fault line, more mega projects, nuclear power plants have not only led to destruction with specific and concrete projects, but also established a culture that excludes scientists, professional chambers, technical experts, lawyers, non-governmental organizations who identify risks and warn decision-makers, defines them as elements that do not want the country to develop, and even arrests them.

In this country, how many lawyers, how many professional experts, scientists, and civil society organizations felt themselves under threat, had their demands ignored by judges and prosecutors, and were subjected to humiliation by the lawyers of companies and public institutions for drawing attention to the risks posed by industry, airports, mega projects, and thermal power plants? For my part, I can’t help but recall how, during the discovery hearing of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) Case held in Akkuyu these days, the Ministry’s lawyers didn’t even deign to respond to the lawyers who wanted to take soil samples and have them examined, and to the experts who evaluated the geological characteristics of the region where the nuclear power plant was planned, and how the judges rejected the requests without giving a single word of justification.

In addition to all this, in all these areas subject to criticism, it is also necessary to deal with a false reality constructed by the administration. The social media posts with the caption “leave no one behind” by the president of the Red Crescent who has not incorporated a single line of the Leaving No One Behind policy of the international Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, of which he is a member, which points out which mechanisms should be established especially for women and children in disasters, into Turkish legislation and practice, is a clumsy fiction of reality. That  president of the Red Crescent previously responded with the plan for nation gardens in 81 provinces (planned in protected areas and urban forests and threaten flora and fauna) to the massive loss of forest land, with the zero waste program to the import of plastic waste that has turned the country into a new destination for waste trafficking and crimes, and to the huge question mark over what will happen to asbestos debris waste.

Instead of qualified and accessible public service in responding to disasters, we have witnessed a process that is fully privatized and in which new markets have become actors [6] through the Red Crescent’s holding practice and sales strategies in disasters. According to the Disaster and Emergency legislation, the governorships, which are obliged to identify where the debris waste sites are in the event of an earthquake, to notify AFAD and to know what kind of debris management to implement in the event of a possible danger, turned a blind eye (perhaps even organized) to the illegal dumping of debris waste in olive groves and Milleyha Bird Sanctuary. The same governorships, despite having failed to fulfill their public duties, are now planning hasty tenders for debris removal. Plans are being made to build new construction sites on cultivated agricultural fields, pastures and forests in the disaster zone where basic needs are not met. We have no legal right to object to these steps taken due to the decree laws declared under the state of emergency.

Finally, there is one more issue that I would like to pour my heart out on. What we remember about the disaster that killed tens of thousands of people and destroyed the standard of living of millions of people, the exact number of which remains a mystery even now, and how long we will keep our memory fresh is also about the politics of the disaster.

In the aftermath of the disaster, one of the issues we need to focus on the most is memorylessness, fatalism and being convinced by symbolic indicators (such as halalism). I believe that how we react to such a massive death and destruction, and whether we keep our memory of what happened alive or not, will and should be the determinant of our common values and relationships. Byung Chul-Han, in his text On the Disappearance of Rituals, draws a topology of today’s world, and points out that the loss of the rituals and symbols that hold communities together has led to a breakdown in our interconnectedness and the connections we establish with each other through common values, and that today, dominated by the circulation of information and data, has turned into a pressure for production and authenticity. Personally, like many others, I felt dozens of emotions at the same time during the disaster period. On the one hand, we experienced the establishment of social solidarity in the spaces left vacant by the public sector, and the direct relationality (such as the establishment of Feminist Solidarity for Disaster Relief) that we established with the people in the disaster zone and with each other through what we felt, through our common emotions. On the other hand, I find it worrisome that Chul-Han’s current circulation of information and data, which has replaced the state of contact with each other, the return and the efforts to return to a daily life -that it has happened in such a short time, that there is an eagerness to do so- that turns individuals into performance subjects, where individuals are forced to produce continuously with a narcissistic drive, where values become objects of individual consumption. However, for the society we envision, accountability can only be realized through remembering, and organized motivation is strengthened by not forgetting. The source of my concern is rather my belief that if we do not keep our memory fresh in the face of these tragedies in an organized way, if we as individuals do not remind the destruction of cities, the death of living beings, the disrespect for dead bodies in every political process, and if we fail to turn our memory into an instrument of pressure in the public sphere, we will end up on the same side as those who are fatalistic and those who give their blessings, even if not in terms of discourse and causality. I think that the inaction and thoughtlessness of the one who says “the earthquake is from God” and the memorylessness, the community without communication and common values carry the risk of being functionally positioned in the same place as a result, and I find it frightening for this to happen.

[1] Loss and damage policy is the financing policy of developed countries, which have a high historical responsibility for the climate crisis, to compensate for the losses and climate damages of undeveloped countries that are vulnerable to the climate crisis and threatened by climate disasters. It is also framed as climate debt of developed countries.

[2] The words of a March 8 banner prepared by feminists in Berlin.

[3] Türkiye’de Yapı Denetimi Sistemi ve Afet Yönetimi [Building Inspection System and Disaster Management in Turkey], Seçil Gül Meydan Yıldız,

[4] Ibid

[5] Problems of implementation identified in the referenced article.

[6] The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein.

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

Translator: Gülcan Ergün

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here