As search and rescue operations in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria wind down, there has been widespread criticism of the Turkish state’s response. Nevertheless, for all the shortcomings in the government’s response to the earthquakes, it is miles ahead of how the Syrian state responded.
The devastating earthquakes that struck southern Turkey on Feb. 6 spell trouble for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of elections that polls already suggested would be no easy win. Within days, the disaster had reshaped electoral calculations by directly challenging key elements of Erdogan’s narrative claim to leadership.
The importance of civil defense capabilities, so often neglected during quieter times, has become starkly visible in Turkey and Syria in the past two weeks. When confronted with war or natural disasters, a society can only protect survivors if it has the state capacity to organize an effective civil defense effort.
Two earthquakes on Feb. 6 have so far killed more than 35,000 and injured tens of thousands more in southern Turkey and northwestern Syria. But while the disasters were natural, not all of the fallout was: The humanitarian catastrophe caused by the earthquakes has been worsened by corruption, politics and geopolitical rivalries.
Why we pay so much attention to some tragedies, like this week’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and not others is bound up in questions of cause and effect. There is nothing political about an earthquake, we tell ourselves. There are no perpetrators, only victims. But politics always plays a role in the impact of a natural disaster.
Could the horrors of the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria on Monday be accompanied by a slim silver lining? Could the international humanitarian efforts in response translate into lasting repairs of destabilizing diplomatic rifts? The evidence from history suggests that it’s complicated. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
The struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia has insinuated itself into nearly every regional issue, fracturing international alliances and sustaining wars across the region, while raising fears of a direct conflict between the two powers. Meanwhile, the region is rife with ongoing conflicts, and the long-simmering dispute between Israel and Palestine continues to flare up periodically.
It’s hard to say what impact Cyprus’ upcoming presidential election will have on reunification, as the issue has received little attention throughout the campaign. There was a time when the “Cyprus Problem” dominated Greek Cypriot politics. But today, the political debate tends to be more focused on domestic issues.