Turkey, Syria deal with aftermath

Earthquake devastates infrastructure, governments

Bennett Trubey, Arts & Life Editor

Following the devastation and destruction of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, Turkey and Syria are now facing shifting political and social scenes.

On Feb. 6, at 4:17 a.m., the earthquake struck near the border between Turkey and Syria, leaving millions within the initial 11-mile radius homeless. 

The ensuing humanitarian crisis is drawing global attention, with aid pouring in from allies for both countries and organizations like Red Cross. 

Upper School History Teacher Dr. Wesley Lummus has addressed the earthquake in his classes and suggests, as both countries are recovering, supporting the millions of displaced citizens.

“If you feel compelled to donate money or aid, find a good, reputable service and be really diligent with that,” Lummus said. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the earthquake was the highest magnitude earthquake in Turkey since 1939 and the second strongest in history.

The United Nations Development Program reported the earthquake left approximately 1.5 million homeless. Crowded encampments have sprung up in stadiums and on the streets.

The UNDP also estimates that 2 million people have left the affected area, which Lummus says will have significant implications.

“I think we’re going to have permanently displaced people,” Lummus said. “I think Turkey, in particular, is looking at a displaced internal population.”

The combined death toll following the earthquake, as of Feb. 23, was more than 47,000 people, according to AP News. However, the number of Syrian dead could be far higher or lower than reported.

“Syria is the one that keeps getting forgotten,” Lummus said. “When they talk about the 40,000 plus who died, those totals are for Turkey because sometimes they leave out the Syrian dead.”

In terms of foreign aid, Turkey has received support from countries that are fellow members of the Western Alliance, as well as NATO. Consequently, Turkey has received much more attention and support in Western media than Syria, a part of Russian and Eastern orbits.

“Syria’s big danger is just being forgotten,” Lummus said. “Turkey at least has those alliances and is in the newspapers.”

Although the earthquake will have a lasting impact on Turkey and Syria, both were already devastated economically and politically. The CSIS reports that the Turkish lira lost 44% of its value in 2021, and the country experienced a 58% inflation rate in early 2023.

“So even before this, it was awful,” Lummus said. “Syria was even worse because of the Civil War.”

Because of the Syrian Civil War and President Bashar al-Assad, tensions have risen between the two countries. The war also rendered the Syrian government incapable of preventing the Kurds from attacking Turkey from the border, escalating the conflict.

But Lummus said the war is now slowing as Turkey’s attitude toward Syria is changing.

“They’re now sort of warming up to the Syrian government and treating it not as a government to be overthrown but as a government that’s just going to be in place,” Lummus said. “It’s gone from hostility to sort of accommodation.”

Turkey’s recovery also will be significantly delayed due to the severe destruction of buildings, as CNBS reports more than 160,000 buildings containing 520,000 apartments were destroyed.

“All of those buildings were not up to code,” Lummus said. “Part of the reason why people are mad in Turkey is because they had to pay a special tax for earthquake insurance.”

Turkish politicians are now questioning President Recep Erdogan’s government, as its failure to provide sound infrastructure has exposed its corruption and inaction.

“I’ve been going to Turkey for a long time,” Lummus said. “Everyone has been talking about the big earthquake and when it comes, ‘Are our buildings safe?’ I think that this exposes the Turkish government for its corruption, weakness and its inability to solve this problem.”