Six days after a major earthquake killed more than 28,000 people in Syria and Turkey, people are starting to feel angry and tense as they believe the response to the historic disaster has been ineffective, unfair and disproportionate.
Many people in Turkey are angry that rescue efforts have been so slow and that important time has been wasted during the short window of time to find people alive under the rubble.
Others, particularly in the southern province of Hatay near the border with Syria, say the Turkish government has been slow to send aid to the hardest-hit areas for what they believe is both political and religious reasons.
On Saturday, Elif Busra Ozturk waited outside the wreckage of a building in Adiyaman, southeastern Turkey, where her aunt and uncle were believed to be dead and where the bodies of two of her cousins had already been found.
“I waited outside for help for three days. Nobody came. Because there were so few rescue teams, they could only go where they knew people were still alive, she said.
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Abdullah Tas, 66, said he had slept in a car near the building where his son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren were buried. He was in the same building complex. He said the first people to help were there four days after the earthquake. The Associated Press was unable to verify its claim itself.
“What good is that for the people under the rubble?” he asked.
People in other parts of the earthquake zone feel the same way, that not enough is being done to free buried relatives. On Saturday, a crowd of people gathered behind police tape in the ancient city of Antakya to see bulldozers working on a luxury high-rise apartment building that had toppled and landed on its side.
Relatives watching the salvage work said there were more than 1,000 people in the 12-story building when the quake hit. They said hundreds of people were still inside and the work to get them out was slow and not very serious.
Bediha Kanmaz, 60, whose son and 7-month-old grandson had already been pulled dead from the building holding hands, said: “This is an atrocity, I don’t know what to say.” law was still in.
“We open body bags to see if they are ours, we check if they are our children. We even check those who are torn to pieces,” she said, referring to herself and other family members who were sad.
Kanmaz said the slow response was due to the government of Turkey, and he said the national rescue service was not doing enough to get people out alive.
She and others in Antakya said they thought the government didn’t care much about Alevis because they are a small minority. Alevis are an Anatolian Islamic tradition distinct from Sunni and Shia Islam and the Alawites of Syria. Traditionally, few Alevis vote in favour Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ruling party. But there was no evidence that the area was ignored because of its religion.
Erdogan said on Wednesday that efforts to help the 10 provinces hit by the quake are still ongoing. He cited claims that state institutions such as the military were of no help with “lies and false slander.” He has admitted that he made mistakes. Officials said it was difficult to get people out of Hatay at first because the runway at the local airport was destroyed and the roads were in poor condition.
But humans aren’t the only ones angry about how much damage has been done. Dozens of people allegedly involved in building collapsed buildings have been arrested by Turkish authorities or have been issued with a warrant for their arrest. The Justice Minister has promised to punish anyone responsible.
Kanmaz said the builder of the apartment building where her family died had been careless.
“If I could put my hands around the contractor’s neck, I’d rip him to shreds,” she said.
Turkey’s official news agency Anadolu said the contractor responsible for constructing the 250-unit building was detained at Istanbul airport on Friday before he could leave the country. He was actually arrested on Saturday. His lawyer said people were looking for a culprit.
There are also new problems in the multi-ethnic south of Turkey. Some people are angry that Syrian refugees who have come to the area to escape a terrible civil war in their own country are straining the limited social security system and making it harder for Turks to get what they need.
“There are many poor people in Hatay, but they don’t give us any benefits, they give them to the Syrians. They give so much to the Syrians,” said Kanmaz. “There are more Syrians here than Turks.”
There were signs on Saturday that tensions could boil over.
Two German aid groups and the Austrian armed forces stopped their rescue work in the Hatay area because the situation was dangerous and they were concerned about the safety of their personnel. The area was secured by the Turkish army and they returned to work, according to a tweet from the Austrian defense ministry.
“There is increasing tension between different groups in Turkey,” Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Kugelweis of the Austrian Armed Forces told APA news agency. “Shots were reportedly fired.”
Steven Berger, who is in charge of operations for the aid group ISAR Germany, told the German news agency dpa that “grief can be seen slowly giving way to anger” in the areas of Turkey hit by the quake.
It is both sad and angry for Kanmaz.
“I am angry. Life is over,” she said. “We live for our children; the most important thing to us is our children. We exist if they exist. Now we are over. ”
This report was compiled with the help of Emrah Gurel in Adiyaman, Turkey, Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin.
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