6 mins read

The earth moved over Turkey and Syria

The earth moved. What Turkey and Syria went through was doomsday in the strictest sense. They are currently facing not only the largest disaster of their history but also the largest on these lands in the past thousand years. An


Istanbul launches program to check buildings’ safety following deadly quakes

2 mins read

Türkiye’s largest city Istanbul has launched a program to provide rapid scans of buildings as many residents worry about the safety of their residences in the wake of recent devastating earthquakes that have killed over 44,000 people in the country.

As the country’s financial and cultural hub with over 16 million residents, Istanbul is located at the west end of the North Anatolian Fault Line, which has produced many major earthquakes throughout history. The city government launched the scanning program in a bid to soothe the nerves of local residents.

The service, which includes measuring the consistency of concrete and counting the number of rebars with X-ray scan, will evaluate the strength of the ground and rate the safety level of the checked building accordingly.

Ozlem Tut, head of the Municipality’s Earthquake Risk Management and Urban Improvement Department, told reporters last Thursday that they received 85,000 applications for the test since the deadly dual tremors took place on Feb. 6.

“There has been a lot of concern after the earthquakes,” Tut said, “we will respond to all of it.”

The municipal teams prioritize structures built before 2000, checking 150 buildings per day.

If the concrete’s strength is reported as “weak,” then it will be reinforced. If reinforcement is not possible, then the building will be demolished before a new one is built. In case of demolition, the city provides up to 4,500 Turkish liras (238 U.S. dollars) in rental assistance to its residents.

In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake rattled the industrialized Marmara region, home to Istanbul, killing more than 17,000 people and leaving some 300,000 homeless. The devastation forced the authorities to adopt regulations with nominal construction quality after 2000.

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu urged residents to cooperate on the issue, as there is considerable work in the megalopolis of over 1.16 million buildings. According to the 2021 building inventory, about half of the buildings do not meet earthquake resistance standards.

“This is a call for mobilization,” Imamoglu announced on his social media accounts. “Thousands of buildings in Istanbul must be demolished and constructed to be earthquake-proof.”

Meanwhile, Istanbul University Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty Hospital suspended all the health and education services in its 17 buildings in the compound in the Fatih district on the city’s European side after an earthquake risk examination.

On Monday, Faculty President Nuri Aydin told reporters that the test results revealed that the buildings were at risk and the evacuation had started. This state-owned hospital is one of the most comprehensive health facilities in the city.

In the wake of the deadly tremors in early February, many Istanbul residents plan to move to earthquake-proof buildings, while the authorities are scrambling to evaluate the buildings’ strength.

Kerem Koramaz, a resident living in the Bakirkoy district on Istanbul’s European side, told Xinhua that he had applied for testing the safety of his apartment, built in 2005, in case of an earthquake strike.

“What we as citizens need most is technical support from local administrations and public institutions, which will be there for us during this process,” Koramaz said.

As a result, the rents of new apartments have skyrocketed in the city recently.

The rents of new apartment buildings have increased 10 to 20 percent in the past 15 days, said Muttalip Iscan, a real estate agent in Istanbul.

The earth moved over Turkey and Syria

6 mins read

The earth moved. What Turkey and Syria went through was doomsday in the strictest sense. They are currently facing not only the largest disaster of their history but also the largest on these lands in the past thousand years.

An earthquake is an intense shaking of Earth’s surface. The shaking is caused by movements in Earth’s outermost layer. On Monday 6th February, two massive earthquakes with a 7.9 and 7.5 magnitude hit south-eastern Turkey and south-western Syria.

According to reports, the death toll in Turkey and Syria now stands at 30,000 people, with more than 75,500 injured. But UN relief chief Martin Griffiths has said, “Turkey-Syria quake deaths to top 50,000.” Over 12,000 buildings have collapsed in Turkey alone, and, with many trapped beneath the rubble. We expect that these shocking figures will rise further, adding to the devastation in a region already roiling from years of conflict and economic and humanitarian crises.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency across 10 provinces as rescuers in Turkey and Syria struggled to find survivours.  “Thousandsof people have been injured. They have lost everything and are traumatised by the terrible earthquake and the series of aftershocks,” explains Myriam Abord-Hugon, HI’s Syria program director.

“It is currently winter in the affected region and people are facing cold, rain and bad weather after losing their homes and belongings. There is an urgent need to provide them with aid.” The earthquake has affected 23 million people, including 1.4 million children, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

George Graham, Chief Executive of Humanity & Inclusion UK has said, “We expect a huge need for rehabilitation. Many of these injuries can worsen or turn into permanent disabilities if people do not receive appropriate rehabilitation services such as physiotherapy and prosthetic fitting. We know from responding to disasters in other countries that one of the heaviest legacies of this earthquake will be its psychological impact.”

He further added, “Surviving an earthquake can be a deeply traumatising experience – and it will be especially so for people who have already endured a decade of war in Syria. Psychological first aid will be an essential component of the emergency response.”

Earthquake rescue team from 75 countries including Bangladesh have arrived in Turkey and Syria. The team will cooperate with the local government, the embassy in Turkey, the United Nations and other agencies on missions, including setting up a temporary command, carrying out personnel search and rescue and providing medical aid, the international media reports said.

“There is not even a single person here. We are under the snow, without a home, without anything,” said Murat Alinak, whose home in Malatya had collapsed and whose relatives are missing.  He was wailing, “What shall I do, where can I go?”

Monday’s magnitude 7.8 quake, followed hours later by a second one almost as powerful, toppled thousands of buildings including hospitals, schools and apartment blocks, injured tens of thousands, and left countless people homeless in Turkey and northern Syria.

The sole border crossing used to shuttle life-saving aid from Turkey into conflict-ravaged Syria has seen its operations disrupted by the deadly earthquake that struck the two countries, according to the UN. “The cross-border operation has itself been impacted,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, told reporters in Geneva.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, said the Bab al-Hawa crossing itself is “actually intact.” However, the road that is leading to the crossing has been damaged, and that’s temporarily disrupted our ability to fully use it,” Dujarric said.

Now areas surrounding that one border crossing have suffered significant infrastructure damage, while the aid workers on the ground have been hit by the catastrophe.

Reporting from the site of destroyed multistorey building in the southern Turkish city of Adana, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer says rescue teams are working gingerly with winches to cut concrete slabs and clear the debris. “Every hour or so, they stop working and they tell everybody to shut-up. They then call down into the rubble, asking people to make a sound if they can hear them. Then after a few minutes, they resume work,” explained Mortimer.

The US military aircraft carrying the teams and equipment were to land at Incirlik Air Base in the southern Turkish province of Adana and deploy immediately to hard-hit urban centers to save as many people as possible, Allen said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has asked European countries to send aid. In an interview with the Lebanese Al Mayadeen TV, Mekdad said the sanctions are no excuse to avoid sending aid to quake-hit Syria. Syrian officials have long argued that western sanctions have harmed reconstruction efforts in areas where the 12-year conflict has subsided. The US and European nations have said that sanctions aim to pressure the Syrian government into a political process that could end the conflict. Al Mayadeen TV did not specify if the aid call was also for the opposition-held regions in Syria.

Hundreds of shipping containers were ablaze at the Iskenderun Port earlier last Tuesday, sending thick black smoke into the sky and shutting down operations, forcing freight liners to divert vessels to other ports.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called Syria’s Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to offer condolences and support, their offices announced, in the first official exchange between the two leaders. Ahmed Fahmy, spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, said Sisi “expressed his sincere condolences” in the wake of the earthquake. “President Sisi reiterated Egypt’s solidarity with Syria and its brotherly people in this calamity. He also directed that all possible aid be provided to Syria,” Fahmy said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said “President Assad thanked Egypt for this position, which reflects the fraternal relations that bind the two brotherly countries.” While Egyptian state media noted the presidents’ call was their first since Sisi assumed office in 2014, the two countries have maintained relations during Syria’s 12-year war, unlike some other Arab countries who severed ties with Damascus. Egypt’s official position on Syria has called for “a political solution”, steering clear of discussing the fate of Assad himself, whose departure has long been demanded by several Arab leaders.

Turkey’s maritime authority said on Monday that the port, located on the Mediterranean coast in the southern province of Hatay, was damaged due to the earthquake. Turkish shipping agency Tribeca said some cargo areas of Limak port at the Iskenderun complex were still on fire and the terminal was closed to all operations until further notice. Container shipping firm AP Moller Maersk said all operations at the port have been halted until further notice.

Raed al-Saleh told Reuters urgent help was needed from international groups for the rescue effort by the organisation known as the White Helmets in rebel-held northwest Syria, where hundreds were killed and injured. “Every second means saving lives and we call on all humanitarian organisations to give material aid and respond to this catastrophe urgently,” he said.

Germany will provide an additional million euros to the Malteser International aid group and is working to make more financial aid available to other humanitarian partners helping quake victims in Syria, said Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Speaking at a news conference in Berlin on Tuesday with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirsojan, Baerbock added that Germany is also pushing for humanitarian access to Syria. The United Nations children’s agency said on Tuesday that the earthquake and aftershocks that destroyed scores of buildings in Turkey and Syria may have killed thousands of children.

Ghana international winger Christian Atsu has been found alive after being buried under rubble by the earthquake, the vice president of his club Hatayspor told media on Tuesday. He had been reported missing in Turkey’s Hatay province.

In the southern Turkish city of Adana, about 200 kilometres from the earthquake’s epicentre, “about 10 buildings have collapsed, all of them high-rises, so there are victims here. There are rescue teams here, but it is stable enough and secure enough for the city to have become a hub for rescue teams arriving not only from all around Turkey but also internationally,” FRANCE 24’s Shona Bhattacharyya reports.

A large fire that broke out at a section of a port in an earthquake-stricken city in southeast Turkey is raging for a second day. Television images Tuesday showed thick black smoke rising from burning containers at Iskenderun Port on the Mediterranean Sea, in the city of Iskenderun. Reports said the fire was caused by containers that toppled over during the powerful earthquake that struck southeast Turkey on last Monday.

In Gaziantep, a Turkish city home to countless refugees from Syria’s decade-old civil war, rescuers picking through the rubble screamed, cried and clamoured for safety as another building collapsed nearby without warning. The initial earthquake was so large it was felt as far away as Greenland, and the impact is big enough to have sparked a global response.

In the city of Kahramanmaras in southeastern Turkey, eyewitnesses struggled to comprehend the scale of the disaster. “We thought it was the apocalypse,” said Melisa Salman, a 23-year-old reporter. “That was the first time we have ever experienced anything like that.”

Strained medical centers quickly filled with injured people, rescue workers said. Some facilities had to be emptied, including a maternity hospital, according to the SAMS medical organisation.

The earthquake piled more misery on a region that has seen tremendous suffering over the past decade. On the Syrian side, the area is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of refugees from the civil war.

Bitterly cold temperatures could reduce the time frame that rescuers have to save trapped survivours, Steven Godby, an expert in natural hazards at Nottingham Trent University, told AP. The difficulty of working in areas beset by civil war would further complicate rescue efforts, he noted.

Currently, there are over a million people who are left without homes. There is also a great need to work in many fields, including the reconstruction of cities and psychological support.

They are at the bottom of the ladder, but great nations hold a great sense of endurance. We hope they will overcome this disaster and emerge stronger than before.

Iranian and Turkish Moves to Join SCO Raises Its Profile

5 mins read

Held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, from September 15 to 16, the 2022 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of State Council demonstrated that the SCO was continuing to evolve into a viable international political congregation independent from the West.

Beginning in the early 1800s, international organizations (IOs) began to emerge as modest arbiters of European affairs. But during and after World War II, new IOs established themselves as far more prominent actors on a global scale. The United Nations (UN), the Arab League, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and several other IOs were created to manage the affairs of their member states.

After the Soviet collapse, more IOs were created to manage the independence of new states, globalization, and regional cooperation. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), created in 1991, attempted to coordinate military, economic, and political policies between post-Soviet states. The European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU), created in 1993 and 2002, respectively, bound member states more forcefully to common economic and political norms. Other IOs, like the Arctic Council (1996) and Asia Cooperation Dialogue (2002), aimed to foster broader regional cooperation.

Most new international organizations meshed neatly with the Western-led liberal world order. But in 2001, the formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was formally announced, and it established itself as an exclusionary outlier. Originally known as the Shanghai Five when it was created in 1996, it included China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, with Uzbekistan later joining when it evolved into the SCO in 2001.

The SCO was created partly to help coordinate a new era of peaceful relations between Moscow and Beijing and to manage their coalescing interests in Central Asian states. In addition, combatting the “Three Evils” of extremism, separatism, and terrorism were major priorities for the organization, which included data and intelligence sharing and common military drills among its member states.

Over time, the SCO began to embrace greater political and economic integration. Support for autocratic rule and limiting criticism of human rights violations set it apart from other Western-aligned IOs, with the SCO also overseeing the growth of joint energy projects, the fostering of trade agreements, and the introduction of the SCO Interbank Consortium in 2005 “to organize a mechanism for financing and banking services in investment projects supported by the governments of the SCO member states.”

But the organization’s most pressing vocation was facilitating a multipolar world order. Investing in an independent forum for economic, political, and military affairs outside of Western influence became a key component of Russian and Chinese attempts to reduce Western power in global affairs.

Russia and China have also developed complementary mechanisms to the SCO, which have helped decentralize its mission. Following the blacklisting of several Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) in 2014, for example, the Kremlin approved the creation of the System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS) to replicate SWIFT and introduced the National Payment Card System (now known as Mir), while China created the Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS).

These initiatives even proved attractive to states that were more aligned with the Western-led global order. India and Pakistan began SCO accession talks in 2015 and officially joined the organization in 2017. Despite relatively positive relations with the West, India and Pakistan have both faced Western criticism over human rights and democratic backsliding in recent years. India’s introduction of platforms like RuPay in 2012 and Unified Payments Interface, which eroded the traditional dominance of Visa and Mastercard in the country, also complemented SCO’s attempts to reduce Western economic preeminence globally.

At the 2022 summit of the SCO Heads of State Council, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev reiterated that the SCO was not an anti-U.S. or anti-NATO alliance. But the organization’s original motive to create a multipolar world was echoed in its Samarkand Declaration, the final declaration of this meeting, and continues to conflict with Washington’s attempts to maintain the U.S.-led world order. According to the declaration, the member states “confirm[ed] their commitment to [the] formation of a more representative, democratic, just and multipolar world order.”

This core stratagem continues to appeal to countries around the world. Alongside the leaders of its eight member states, the SCO invited the presidents of Belarus, Mongolia, and Iran as official observers to the recent summit. Having started its accession process in 2021, Iran signed a memorandum of understanding with the SCO to join the institution by April 2023.

The SCO would likely alleviate Iran’s sense of economic isolation stemming from Western sanctions, a sentiment shared by Iranian officials at the summit and something that was also noted back in 2007. Belarus has also found itself under increasing sanctions in recent years and enhanced its accession procedures to join the SCO in Samarkand.

The presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey were also invited to the SCO summit as special guests, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announcing that his country would seek full membership to the SCO. In 2012, Erdoğan joked to Russian President Vladimir Putin about abandoning Turkey’s EU aspirations if Russia would allow them into the SCO. Turkey’s renewed attempt comes at a time when its ties with the rest of the Western world are increasingly strained and could instigate other NATO states, and potentially the EU states, to join the SCO as well.

The SCO has also established strong relations with other IOs. Representatives from ASEAN, the UN, the Russian-dominated CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) were invited to the 2022 summit. Notably absent were any representatives from the EU or NATO. Meanwhile, in 2005, the U.S. was rejected from gaining observer status, solidifying the SCO’s status as a bulwark against U.S. influence in Eurasia.

Like all major international organizations, the SCO faces systemic obstacles that hinder its effectiveness and long-term viability. At the recent summit in Uzbekistan, China’s Xi Jinping was welcomed to the country by his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Putin, however, was greeted by Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov, highlighting Russia’s strained relations with many of the former Soviet states and the growing strength of Beijing over Moscow. Unlike in the CSTO and the EAEU, Russia is not the dominant actor in the SCO, and will increasingly have to contend with China’s predominant authority.

Disputes also remain between SCO member states. India and Pakistan, for example, are afflicted with an ongoing struggle over Kashmir. China and India have their own territorial disputes and have engaged in minor violent skirmishes since India joined the SCO. Additionally, deadly clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan erupted during the recent summit, while admitting Armenia and Azerbaijan, both of which are SCO dialogue partners, will only further increase the number of members currently locked in their own territorial disputes.

But the SCO has consistently portrayed itself as a vehicle to supervise these issues. The leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan met for talks during the summit to assuage tensions. And since 2002, the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) has encouraged military coordination between member states, with the Indian and Pakistani militaries conducting RATS drills in 2021. More drills between them are planned for October, and while they are aimed primarily at countering unrest from Afghanistan, they are also part of SCO’s attempts to manage relations of member states.

China and Russia have also agreed to “synergize” the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the EAEU to help mitigate possible tension between them, with both Xi and Putin meeting on the sidelines of the 2022 SCO summit and pledging to respect each other’s core interests.

The SCO member states clearly believe the organization can, and has greater potential to, effectively manage their concerns and regional affairs, and its appeal continues to grow. Besides the additional SCO dialogue partners (Cambodia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt were granted the status of SCO dialogue partners at the 2022 SCO summit. Myanmar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Maldives were also granted the status of dialogue partners.

Russian and Chinese influence will fall as more members join, which will also dilute consensus within the organization. But it remains a Beijing and Moscow-led initiative to manage world affairs and to demonstrate that the “international community” is not just the West. With almost half of the world’s population and a quarter of the global GDP, the SCO is increasingly becoming a representative of the Global South.

By pooling together other IOs into an umbrella forum, the SCO can further its goal of challenging the wider Western-dominated IO ecosystem and prevent Washington from setting the global agenda. This will require the constructive management of Russian and Chinese ambitions and the increasingly complex needs of more member states.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.