WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO US…
ECCAR vice-president Dr. Ayfer Yazkan Kubal from the municipality of Kadıköy (Istanbul) in a personal note on the twin earthquakes of 6 February 2023.
The world or the life you live in can be shattered in just a few minutes. All you have valued, materially or spiritually can be under the rubble of a building just as your body. You will have to wait in complete darkness and dead silence where the air is slit by the screams of other survivors.
Millions of people in Türkiye and Syria have been buried alive during the twin earthquakes of 6 February 2023. It was a calamity of a thousand years; same place being struck by two huge earthquakes in the same day. The death toll is around 50.000 but one can easily calculate the same number of people are still under the rubble, lost or unaccounted.
Through the earthquake, the Turkish public saw clear that regulations should not be bent for personal or political gains. While Türkiye was shocked by the devastation as ECCAR vice-president, I also saw the humanitarian help that flew to Türkiye. No country or people around the world said, ‘let the Turks die under the rubble’. Nor the people under the rubble saw the real life heroes saving them as foreigners or as Christians. When the search and rescue teams heard someone breathing or saw that someone was alive under the rubble, they did not think about the survivor’s skin color, religion, or mother tongue. It was a time where everyone under or over the rubble was simply just a human. It was a time where there was no need to talk. We were all one heart because all we felt was the pain of the lost and the incredible happiness of finding a survivor.
The Turkish public experienced an overwhelming solidarity, also from neighboring countries with which the relations are marked by conflicts. The real lifetime heroes Armenians, Greeks, Israelis, Chinese and many more from around 105 countries including the Republic of Cyprus, which lost 35 souls of Turkish origin, mainly kids who came for a sports tournament. The Republic of Cyprus, whose history is an amalgam of pain for so many people, wept together. The Turkish public cried for the loss of lives after the recent train accident in Greece. In times of crisis and tragedy, human solidarity across borders, religions and beliefs reminds us that we are all actually the same as human beings. At the same time, we are reminded that tragedies like this earthquake do not affect everyone in the same way. Existing inequalities are reinforced and deepened.
There will always be the ones who incite hatred, also in times of crisis. Tolerance of hate speech often functions as foundation for violation of human rights. Precisely for this reason, human rights should be protected by the rule of law to show consequences to people and institutions that violate them. No matter if these people are academics, politicians, scientists, banker or villagers. Public opinion is often shaped by the lies that are so easy to spread. In cities, we can combat this language and attitude of hatred by setting examples how these stereotypes are wrong. Public figures in cities must be brave and prove that some concepts are just stereotypical words. Labels are just for boxes and not for people, even and especially in times of crisis.
ECCAR member city, Kadıköy Municipality has outdone itself with the help of its 500.000 inhabitants. I personally cried because it was a sight you would maybe see once in a lifetime, maybe if it was a war. The municipality was one with its people and the Mayor of Kadıköy, Şerdil Dara Odabaşı set literally no boundaries to this aid because what is politics without feelings? The people of Istanbul were happy and forever grateful to Mr. Odabaşı only because they were able to care for the wounds of others as best they could; whether the people in need be of Turkish, Kurdish or Armenian origin or Syrian refugees in the trusted circle of the municipality. All municipalities surely helped, but Kadıköy was different in the sense of the involvement of its people.
Mayor Şerdil Dara Odabaşı also warns of a future danger that all mayors must think of. In case of any natural disasters, there is always the possibility that the mayor himself and the municipal employees as with everyone in the city might get injured or possibly die. At that point there is no more a city administration. There may not be a municipality building or the whole system might go down for days. During this tragedy we have seen that local administrations, buildings as well as the municipal workers were heavily affected. One strategy that is essential for us are partner cities from regions that are not going to be affected by possible earthquakes or other catastrophes. Since last week, Kadıköy has a new twin city, Çankaya in Ankara. In case the mayor or social workers of Kadıköy cannot work due to a natural disaster, the mayor of Çankaya will come with his team and implement an emergency plan prepared by the Kadıköy Municipality, which includes all the necessary details.
Diplomacy has helped Türkiye. Diplomacy can be based on mutual benefit. Diplomacy can be based on mutual trust. For that we must praise the good practices of each other. The earthquake maybe did not change the course of the entire country but it did change the feelings of the Turkish people, having seen the pouring international help, search and rescue teams pulling babies, grannies from the rubble. Seeing them carry women and men who were hurt or seeing them crying with relatives of someone they had lost under the rubble. It was no Hollywood movie. It was simply love that we felt in our most desperate time. I am just one person but I have to say: I am forever indebted to the world and will serve humanity and thus everyone around me as much as I can, as a municipality councilor. I thank the ECCAR for giving the opportunity to express myself.
Dr. Ayfer Yazkan Kubal
Kadıköy Municipality Councilor