A cold Monday morning near the town of Gaziantep, on the border between Turkey and Syria.
A tremor of a record-breaking 7.8 magnitude strikes, resulting in what is already considered today to be the seventh most deadly natural disaster of the century.
BBC’s live-updating website page, dedicated to the news on the disaster, broadcasts a short video reportage filmed on the field.
We’re in Hatay, Turkey: two strong hands, welding protective yellow and white gloves, bringing forward an indistinguishable – although small – mass of blue plaid covers. People gather around, some helping the man, some watching in stillness. As the reporter follows him forward, the stretcher under this wrapped up cover appears, and a hand reaches out of the blue plaid - a hand that’s too small to be wrapped up in a similar situation. The background is one of complete desolation, of an almost unrecognisable city. The reportage goes on to show us emotional close ups of other victims rescued. We change location to Armanaz, Syria: a smiling young boy, lifted up from a dark hole in the rubble, and hugged tight by rescuers. All crowding around him in the pitch darkness, infected by the same childish laughter; maybe a moment of much needed relief amidst the disaster. The same brotherly manifestations of excitement arise with every victim saved: whether it’s a family all together (such as the one recorded in Bisinia, Syria), or a man and his wide-eyed kitten (Hatay, Turkey) - dozens and dozens of other citizens, along with the rescuers, surround the rescued victims sharing cathartic screams of joy.
The earthquake’s trembles reportedly arrived all the way to Lebanon and Israel.
Within the Turkish-Syrian epicentre, the disaster hit 10 Turkish provinces and the northwestern area of Syria, in the area of Aleppo. “It’s the size of France”, Caroline Holt, IFRC Director of disasters, climate and crises reported, when describing the territorial scope of the earthquake.
On the following day, an initial death toll of 4,300 was reported, but the fear of what was still to be unearthed was looming. This fear was echoed in the WHO’s warning of an “eightfold increase” on initial numbers.
As of February 11th, the toll has surpassed the unfathomable digit of 23,000 people.
Reporters have estimated several thousand injured, along with hundreds of thousands that have been displaced from their homes - forced to fill that void in tents in supermarket car parks, mosques, roadsides, or even in the very ruins.
It’s been cautioned as a humanitarian disaster.
As regards Turkey specifically, the country is highly susceptible to such dangers given its position over a “crossroads of tectonic plates”.
The current state of the concerned thousands of human beings in fact deserves the most attention right now, not only for the lack of resources and shelter at their disposal, but also for the unbearably low temperatures.
Paradoxically, the request for attention is not only directed towards other nations, and maybe even world citizens, but first and foremost from the Turkish government itself, effectively struggling to aid the citizens in time.
Citizen Ayşe Kep states:
“We are here to wait for the funerals, I only have hope, but I still don’t believe they’re alive. My cousin is under there, and these rescue workers didn’t arrive until today. But it’s worse in my village, there’s no electricity or water, no help at all.”
Wednesday morning, after preaching in favour of national unity, the country’s 12th president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who intends to continue his 20 year office in the next elections, addresses those criticising the government’s slow response, or, in his own words, the “dishonourable people” who are spreading “lies and slander”.
According to Erdogan’s official statement, the delay in support has been due to the high damage to the roads and infrastructures; although it is reported that the construction machines began working upon his highly mediatised visit.
Regardless, the Turkish people’s anger is a very concrete matter.
“If there was more help, they’d manage to get them out,” added Ayşe Kep.
The director of the Turkish research program in Washington, Cagaptay, has referred to what appears to be a stronger focus on control, on the president’s behalf. The undeniable proof of this is none other than the social media blackout on the very Wednesday: Twitter’s services were completely shut down in the nation for a staggering 12 hours, due to the proliferation of negative comments and complaints against the government. As per France 24, “the police have detained 18 people since the earthquake over “provocative” social media posts that criticised government response”.
What’s important to stress here, is how a platform with the potential of connecting human beings of the international community, from simple citizens to possibly helpful world leaders, and spreading essential information and requests, was blocked in the midst of a cataclysmic and national disaster.
On the other hand, the effort of re-edification for Syria poses an entirely different set of hardships.
In fact, the nation has been no stranger to the displacement of its citizens, to cities scattered with rubble, and, unfortunately, to a rising death toll, all due to the civil war that has been the everlasting socio-political and economic backdrop of the country since 2011.
The World Food Program itself spoke of a “catastrophe on top of catastrophe”.
According to the UN already “more than four million people were already dependent on humanitarian aid in the worst parts of rebel-controlled Syria”.
Here in our very Maastricht, there are multiple options of a wide nature. To those in need, the University wants to remind you that the UM psychologists are at your complete disposal, or for those looking for a support system made up of friendly faces, the university has also set up a whatsapp group, completely open for access to all those who have been impacted.
For those wanting to help, the University website provides a list of charity events organised in the next week. Starting with a hoodie sale, all proceeds of which will be donated to UNICEF, and finally two bake sales, one taking place on Tuesday (February the 14th) in the common room of the FSE building (PHS1), which will be donating to AHBAP; and the second on Monday, February 13th (from 14:30-17:15), donating to the victims and the survivors.
To everyone affected by this event, remember that you are not alone.