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Society

"Helping here all together": how the tragedy in Turkey has rallied emigrants and shaken the seat under Erdogan

12.02.2023

A massive earthquake hit Turkey at the beginning of February - some 25,000 people have already died so far. Hundreds of people remain under the rubble, thousands of homes have been destroyed.

This terrible tragedy has united people - people all over the country are collecting humanitarian aid, donating money and volunteering. Russians, who fled their homeland because of the war in Ukraine and for whom Turkey has only recently become a new home, are no exception.

Media Loft spoke to Daria, a Russian emigrant from Antalya, who saw with her own eyes how the tragedy brought Turks and emigrants from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus together.

I raked in everything I could get my hands on

For Daria, who has lived in Turkey since March 2022, the morning of February the 6th began with endless calls from relatives in Russia who had seen footage of the terrible tragedy. Fortunately, Antalya was not affected, but many in the city posted videos of chandeliers wobbling in their rooms.

In the Russian-speaking communities on social media, Daria saw many advertisements for help to the victims. In Antalya they immediately set up collection points and there were lists of things that were needed.

Daria immediately ran to the shop, where - as she recalls - there were already a large number of people buying up everything to help the victims.

"I bought big blankets, two by two metres, lots and lots of wet wipes... big packs, pads, nappies. What else was there, I don't remember anymore. I grabbed whatever I could see, whatever I could get my hands on. I was a little out of it, I was in shock," she recalled.

A long line of people with trunks started walking from the shop to the collection points.

"Everyone was dragging things. There was such a rush and people were coming one by one. A man was walking and after him, five metres later, another man and another man - they were coming in long lines," Daria describes her Monday morning.

Every day there were more and more people bringing things.

"There were crowds of people; I saw that they were already packing everything... The pile of things was as big as a man. There are already bales of things - and they need to be sorted. I was amazed that people want to help so much," she recalls. Everyone, Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians who live here… everyone responded."


Rescue operations in Elazığ, Turkey
Photo: Bulent Kilic / AFP

In addition to the official ones, people have started organising informal individual reception centres. For example, the beauty salon where Daria goes and where the Russians work has set up its own reception. By the way, employees of the salon felt the tremors and even posted a video of their chandeliers swinging.

"We have another point at the gatehouse. Everyone from the house also brings them here, and then they take them to the victims. I think there are already dozens of these very makeshift collection points that have been set up spontaneously.

Immigrants who arrived recently and who sometimes needed support themselves, are now organising everything necessary to help the victims.

"Our acquaintance, also from our house, a Russian girl, organizes hot meals for the victims. She is getting in touch with local cafes and restaurants. So that we can somehow feed people," says Daria.

Keeping close

Daria says she has responded to calls for help because she wants to help and wants to be involved. Her friends on social media post appeals for help and stories of how they are helping themselves.

    "We are very grateful for our host country, the locals treat us very well here, they love us very much. There are no conflicts here. Even between Russians and Ukrainians - everyone lives together," she says.


Rescue operations in Diyarbakir, Turkey
Photo: REUTERS

"They put out requisites, what to send, where to send it and all that. They put it all in Russian, how to get there. There are all the names, all the lists, all in Russian so we all understand and help," she says.

"People are on alert right now. And there's no such thing as 'I don't care', 'it's not my country at all', 'I don't want to help anyone'. Everyone here is united, everyone is very worried and trying to do the best they can."

Catastrophe threatens the regime

Meanwhile, critics have lashed out at the government of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan over inadequate efforts to distribute aid and organize rescue efforts. Erdogan himself has even admitted "some mistakes" by the country's authorities.

For a week now, heartbreaking stories of those rescued and those killed in the rubble have been appearing in the press. Only on Friday rescuers dug up a family where a baby showed no signs of life in its mother's arms. There is also a picture of a man holding the hand of his dead daughter, who was found under the rubble, has already gone around the world.

Against the backdrop of widespread destruction and loss of life in the country, there was talk of corruption, which had led to new buildings being built in earthquake-prone areas. The media also began discussing the houses that had already been built and that had also been built with irregularities.


During the disaster, many buildings collapsed like houses of cards
Photo: REUTERS

Almost immediately after the disaster, the Turkish government restricted access to Twitter and TikTok within the country as the number of posts and videos in which the authors claimed that the government was slow to react and unable to help began to grow exponentially.

Twitter CEO Ilon Musk wrote on his account that the social networking team is trying to sort out the blockage.

By: Katya Kobenok
Cover photo: BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images

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