Earthquake In Turkey: They can kill Kurds, but can't run soup kitchens

EVERY EARTHQUAKE has its own barbaric timetable: catastrophe, rescue, survivors, dead, mass burial. Then the television pictures fade away, just as they do today when old American movies replace on Turkish television the live coverage of their country's Golgotha. Bread and circuses take the place of grief, fantasy replacing horror.

In Turkey, we have just reached the final equation. The "last" victims dragged from the pancaked houses - be sure there are a few (or many) still waiting for the rescuers who will never come, and who will die, gently or in pain - while their country's leaders declare that "we only need to trust the power of our nation and our state, and deal with our problems hand-in-hand". This is what the Turkish Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, said. "We have the strength to overcome this earthquake very soon."

And we - the West - accept this. Just as we accepted their word when the Turkish government said that 14, then 100, then 6,000, then 10,000 were dead, avoiding that critical figure of the missing - 40,000 to 50,000 - which was obvious. The government figures were faithfully repeated by the satellite television reports for at least four days, obfuscating the real dimension of this epic tragedy. When 50,000 were dead, we went on obediently reporting that a few thousand had perished. And no one asked the critical question: what happened to the Turkish army, the defence of the nation, the creation of Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, upon whom the Turkish people relied for their protection?

Alas, the long-term lesson of this disaster has not been mentioned: the defenders of the Turkish people did not defend them. They tried, up to a point, but they had no expertise.

They were untrained, they were unprepared. Somehow, with our Nato training, they were able to sustain a massive guerrilla war against Kurdish separatists, and occupy northern Cyprus, but when they were tested last week, the Turkish army's performance was pitiful. It turned out that while they could assault the PKK with US attack helicopters, they could not even set up soup kitchens for Turkish civilians 24 hours after the earthquake. They could "cleanse" the Kurdish towns around Diyarbakir but they couldn't produce a single earthquake rescue unit around Istanbul.

While tens of thousands of survivors pleaded and screamed for help, only a few battalions turned out to drag the concrete from the living and the dead. In Izmit, armoured vehicles moved through the streets - as if the security forces wanted to put down an insurrection rather than rescue the men, women and children dying in the ruins. While people cried for help in Aydin outside Yalova, hundreds of soldiers sat in their army trucks in a stationary convoy inside the town. They were not armed with picks and shovels and earth-moving equipment, but with automatic rifles. How many more victims might have been rescued if the quarter- million-strong army fighting the Kurds in south-east Turkey had been deployed to the devastated North-west?

"Turkey is our long-time ally and the people of Turkey are our friends," President Clinton said yesterday. So why - instead of selling them our helicopters and fighter bombers (501) and tanks (4,205) - didn't we train these soldiers to deal with earthquakes, the most brutal enemy of the Turkish people? But no, we never encouraged this huge military power to look after its own people, any more than we forced it to accept human rights in Turkish Kurdistan. We poured our outdated Nato weaponry into their armouries after the Soviet Union collapsed. We wanted to support not our "friends" - as President Clinton would have it - but our military ally.

There was an instructive episode in the hours that immediately followed the earthquake. Even as his people were dying in their thousands General Huseyin Kivrikoglu, chief of the Turkish general staff, took time off to visit Attaturk's tomb in Ankara. After all, he had an important guest to take there: his American opposite number, General Henry H Shelton. General Kivrikoglu did not take him to see the devastation, but spent much of his time in conclave with the US chief of general staff, the US ambassador and other American military officers at army headquarters.

After a few words about how America is "sharing" the sorrow of the Turkish people, General Shelton went on to defend US bombing policy in Iraq. Did he ask why the all-powerful Turkish army did not have a single earthquake rescue brigade, not even a sniffer dog team? It's unlikely. When you ask Middle East nations to be your policeman, their citizens are the last people on the agenda.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor