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The Mass Media

Devastation all around: Why Turkey and Syria need our help

It’s been six weeks since we first saw the mass destruction across south-central Turkey and northern Syria; a disaster that has taken the lives of at least 47,244 people [1].The Turkish Government reports more than 13.5 million peoplealmost twice the 2021 population of Arizona [12]—are impacted in the aftermath of multiple earthquakes [2]. This number representsroughly 16 percent of Turkey’s population of over 84 million people[3]—an utterly shocking statistic.  

As we continue to watch the ongoing situation in the area, I believe it is important for us as an academic community, while regular citizens are going through such a difficult time, to rally together in support for those who are affected. By showing our support, we can make sure these areas recover quickly and can help those desperate for recovery, whether they go to our university or have family or friends  caught in the destruction.  

Throughout the southern and northern regions of Turkey and Syria, the devastation is extremely visible to anyone who is living in the area or watching the events unfold through the news. While the affected are attempting to quickly recover from this tragedy, they face significant difficulty, as both countries are run by tyrannical dictators—President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey and President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. While it may seem ridiculous to start blaming people for natural disasters, blame is well deserved for these despots; the massive destruction that has taken place is a direct result of their incompetence. Essentially, President Erdoğan and President All-Assad failed to enact strong infrastructure regulations, which could have prevented such a staggering amount of damage and loss of life.  

In Türkiye, for example, it is no great secret that Fthe sheer scale of destruction could have been avoided, had Erdoğan’s government stepped up and prepared for earthquakes properly. There should have been national infrastructure regulations instituted in the first place—for this reason, anger toward the Turkish government has grown as the reality of their incompetency increasingly revealed itself [10].  

Throughout northern Syria, over 40,000 families have lost their homes to the earthquake in areas that are already ravaged by the ongoing civil war [15]. While the United Nations was prepared to deliver aid to the affected families of northern Syria, the All-Assad regime would not allow for northern borders to open for a week—a horrific decision [15]. While the U.N. took responsibility for not reaching the affected families in time, they noted that their delay wasin part due to an ongoing civil war throughout Syria, and a stubborn All-Assad not allowing them past the border [15]. There have also been reports that some of the aid from the U.N. is being stolen by opposition factions, who are selling it on the black market [15].  

So, because a few people were unable to step up and instill basic intrastate regulations, tens of thousands of lives have been taken in the destruction.  

As I was writing this story, I wanted to talk to someone from the devastated areas so they could give me a deeper insight into what has taken place, what is being done on the ground to help and what we can do to help. I spoke with Ummuhan Yamak—a fellow Beacon and a member of the Graduate Student Assembly Event Planning Committee—who helpsrun the Save the Children fundraiser here at UMass Boston. Save the Children helps raise money for civilians in the devastated areas of Türkiye and Syria.  

“Another one just happened a few days ago,” Yamak told me, referring to the earthquakes. “It was a 6.4 magnitude […] any buildings that were not destroyed, they all became destroyed. Everything was just rubble, and the government was not fast enough to reach them because they were not prepared. And you’ve got to understand, Turkey has all the seasons, and right now it is a very hard winter—like negative 30s, negative 25s—and it happened in the places that are already cold.”  

While earthquakes are common in Türkiye and other parts of the world, what is uncommon is the lack of preparation on the part of the Turkish government. They continuously try to find scapegoats to deflect the blame of the crisis onto. For example, Erdoğan outlandishly claims that nearly all buildings that fell were built before the year 1999—exactly one year before he took power [4]. As such stories of incompetency from the government spread across Turkey, harsh measures are being taken by the Erdoğan regime. For example, shutting down the country’s Twitter servers for 24 hours last Thursday [5], fining Turkish national broadcasters for “critical coverage” of Turkey’s handling of the earthquakes, [6] and neglecting to take any steps to stop internet scammers stealing donation funds that are supposed to go toward rebuilding the impacted areas [7].  

Ummuhan told me that the Turkish government’s continuous corruption toward nonprofit organizations has grown to become so erratic that a Turkish musician named Haluk Levant started his own foundation, called AHBAP, which donates money to Turkish civilians so they can get the goods they are desperate for. On top of this, the government is not exactly helping make resources easier to access [8].  

Our student population at UMass Boston is one of the most diverse in the nation [9], and included in that diversity are many students who are Turkish, Syrian and Kurdish. In a very real sense, these fellow Beacons endlessly suffer at the hands of the dictatorships in Turkey and Syria. It is important for all of us as a community here at UMass Boston to come together in support of those who have been impacted by helping in any way we can.  

Some ways to help could be  donating to fundraisers like AHBAP that will help the victims recover, sending supplies to the affected areas or volunteering for one of the many charities set up to help the people of Turkey and Syria. Save the Children is a good option, as it is run on-campus. It helps donate food, blankets and other needed resources to those in need throughout the affected areas.  

While there is a lot to take away from this situation, the most important thing to remember is that, with the state Türkiye ’s government is in at this moment, they are not prepared to take care of their citizens in case of another earthquake—an earthquake scientists say is very likely to take place at some point soon in the next few years [14]. Such an earthquake could even impact places such as Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, which has a population of almost 16 million people and a 64 percent chance of being impacted by 2030 [14].  

One of the important notes I took away from Ummuhan was when she discussed how, to her and a lot of Turkish people, the biggest fear is that even if Erdoğan is gone, there will still be millions of people living in the rural areas of the country who may still be against new construction regulations. Despite the hardships that have occurred over the last few weeks, it is important for all of usat UMass Boston to come together and support those who have been impacted in these times. The level of trauma that has been dealt to these civilians is unacceptable and cruel.  

If you want to help donate to the people of Turkey and Syria and assist them on their recovery, please donate to either AHBAP or the UMass Boston GSA’s Save the Children webpage. 

[1] https://apnews.com/article/2023-turkey-syria-earthquake-earthquakes-6bc8e1b7ab6e7bb6ba0cf9257cb86069#:~:text=Turkish%20Interior%20Minister%20Suleyman%20Soylu,magnitude%207.8%20earthquake%20to%2043%2C556 

[2] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/2/6/turkey-syria-earthquake-death-toll-and-devastation-live-tracker  

[3] https://www.google.com/search?q=what+is+the+population+of+turkey&oq=what+is+the+population+of+turkey&aqs=chrome..69i57j0i512l7.5697j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8  

[4] https://www.turkishminute.com/2023/02/15/erdogan-claim-that-98-pct-buildings-destroyed-in-quake-built-before-1999-unrealistic-experts-say/  

[5] https://balkaninsight.com/2023/02/08/turkey-blocks-twitter-after-public-criticism-of-quake-response/  

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/feb/23/turkey-fines-broadcasters-for-coverage-critical-of-earthquake-response  

[7] https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/paypal-and-twitter-abused-in-turkey-relief-donation-scams/  

[8] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64560339  

[9] https://www.umb.edu/news/detail/umass_boston_third_most_diverse_college_in_us_report_finds  

[10] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/turkey-earthquakes-death-toll-anger-erdogan-ak-party-amnesty-rcna71400  

[11] https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/27/football/besiktas-football-turkey-earthquake-spt-intl/index.html#:~:text=CNN%20Store-,Turkish%20soccer%20fans%20throw%20stuffed%20animals%20on%20the%20field,dissatisfaction%20with%20government%20quake%20response&text=In%20a%20show%20of%20support,Be%C5%9Fikta%C5%9F%20and%20Antalyaspor%20on%20Sunday 

[13] https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/AZ/PST040221#PST040221  

[14] https://www.duvarenglish.com/istanbul-to-be-hit-by-major-quake-in-next-7-years-with-64-chance-kandilli-observatory-professor-warns-news-61894#:~:text=Prof.,year%202030%20is%2064%20percent 

[15] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/syria-turkey-earthquake-deaths-12-years-syrian-civil-war-thousands-need-help/