Six days after a big earthquake killed more than 28,000 people in Syria and Turkey, people are starting to feel angry and tense because they think the response to the historic disaster has been ineffective, unfair, and out of proportion.
Many people in Turkey are angry that rescue efforts have moved so slowly and that important time has been wasted during the short window for finding people alive under the rubble.
Others, especially in the southern province of Hatay near the border with Syria, say that the Turkish government was slow to send help to the worst-affected areas for what they think are both political and religious reasons.
On Saturday, Elif Busra Ozturk waited outside the wreckage of a building in Adiyaman, southeast Turkey, where her uncle and aunt were thought to be dead and where two of her cousins’ bodies had already been found.
“I waited outside for help for three days. No one 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 been sleeping in a car near the building where his son, daughter-in-law, and four grandchildren were buried. He was at the same building complex. He said that the first people who came to help were there four days after the earthquake. The Associated Press could not check his claim on its own.
“What good is that for the people under the debris?” he asked.
People in other parts of the earthquake zone feel the same way, that not enough is being done to free buried family members. On Saturday, a crowd of people gathered behind police tape in the ancient city of Antakya to watch bulldozers work on a high-rise luxury apartment building that had fallen over and landed on its side.
Family members who watched the recovery work said that more than 1,000 people were in the 12-story building when the earthquake hit. They said that hundreds of people were still inside and that 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 out of the building while holding hands, said, “This is an atrocity, I don’t know what to say,” Her daughter-in-law was still inside.
“We open body bags to see if they’re ours, we’re checking if they’re our children. We’re even checking the ones that are torn to pieces,” she said, referring to herself and other family members who were sad.
Kanmaz said that the slow response was because of the government of Turkey, and he said that the national rescue service wasn’t 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 that is different from Sunni and Shia Islam and Alawites in Syria. Traditionally, few Alevis vote for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party. But there was no proof that the area was ignored because of its religion.
Erdogan said on Wednesday that efforts to help the 10 provinces that were hit by the earthquake were still going on. He called claims that state institutions like the military were not helping “lies and fake slander.” He has admitted that he has made mistakes. Officials said that getting people out of Hatay was hard at first because the runway at the local airport was destroyed and the roads were in bad shape.
But people aren’t the only ones who are angry about how much damage has been done. Dozens of people who were allegedly involved in building buildings that fell down have been arrested or given detention warrants by Turkish authorities. The justice minister has promised to punish anyone who is responsible.
Kanmaz said that the builder of the apartment building where her family had died had been careless.
“If I could wrap my hands around the contractor’s neck, I would tear him to shreds,” she said.
Turkey’s official news agency, Anadolu, said that the contractor in charge of building the 250-unit building was held at Istanbul Airport on Friday before he could leave the country. He was arrested for real on Saturday. His lawyer said that people were looking for someone to blame.
In the multiethnic south of Turkey, there are also new problems. Some people are upset that Syrian refugees who came to the area to escape a terrible civil war in their own country are putting a strain on the limited welfare system and making it harder for Turkish people to get what they need.
“There are many poor people in Hatay but they don’t offer us any welfare, they give it to the Syrians. They give so much to the Syrians,” Kanmaz said. “There are more Syrians than Turks here.”
On Saturday, there were signs that the tensions could be about to 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 worried about the safety of their staff. The area was made safe by the Turkish army, and they went back to work, according to a tweet from the Austrian defense ministry.
“There is increasing tension between different groups in Turkey,” Lt. Col. Pierre Kugelweis of the Austrian Armed Forces told the APA news agency. “Shots have reportedly been fired.”
Steven Berger, who is in charge of operations for the aid group I.S.A.R. Germany, told the German news agency dpa that “it can be seen that grief is slowly giving way to anger” in the areas of Turkey that were hit by the quake.
It’s both sad and angry for Kanmaz.
“I’m angry. Life is over,” she said. “We live for our children; what matters most to us is our children. We exist if they exist. Now we are over. Everything you see here is over.”
This report was put together with help from Emrah Gurel in Adiyaman, Turkey, Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin.
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