Out of the rubble of destruction, hope and generosity emerge

My colleague and friend, Fulya Ozerkan, is reporting from Ercis on the deadly earthquake centered near there for Agence France-Presse, the French news service.

Since last Monday, she has driven each morning from Van about 90 minutes, returning in the middle of the night. She gets what sleep she can; at some point, the rush of the big story wears off and bone-tiredness will set in.

She describes the town as nearly flattened. The death toll stood at 601 by Sunday, more than 80 percent of them from Ercis, a town of 70,000 people.

Winter is settling in and temperatures have dropped below freezing. Turkey has begun to accept international assistance, including from its neighbor and long-time enemy Armenia and from Israel.

“There are still people with no tents under freezing temperatures,” she said in a Facebook private message. Wherever there is a crossroads, there are people living, waiting for help. “They offer to journalists their bread despite their sufferings.”

News reports say more than 230 people have been pulled from the rubble alive, including a 2-week-old infant found after two days. By Saturday, formal search and rescue operations were giving way to a focus on caring for the living. Close to 4,150 were injured in the earthquake, which measured 7.2 on Richter scale Oct. 23.

Mehmet Fatih Öztarsu, a Turkish journalist who spent three weeks at the Tallahassee Democrat in an exchange program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, was cheered by Turkey accepting help from its traditional foes.

“I think natural disasters can finish all conflicts in the world with the help of pure emotions of humanity. We need it. There is no discrimination, fight, or hate speech,” he said in a Facebook message.

Humanitarian assistance is coming from all over the world, according to various news reports. Canada said it had shipped 500 winterized tents on Sunday. Israel said it shipped five prefabricated housing units on Sunday. The Voice of America reported today that the Turkish chapter of the International Federation of the Red Cross distributed more than 7,500 tents and 22,000 blankets, as well as stoves, food and clean water.

Turkey is not an impoverished Third World nation. It is not Haiti. It has a long allegiance with the West – particularly the United States, which helped build the modern Turkey after World War II.

It is a secular nation with modern cities, and it has an advanced civil response capability.   

But in Erics, hundreds of buildings have collapsed or are unsafe for humans. The devastation is immense and Turkey relented and accepted international aid after at first trying to go it alone.  

The border between Turkey and Armenia remains closed. But Armenia planes carrying assistance from the Armenian capital to the Van province take just 40 minutes and provide hope, that unique emotion that is always there, even in the darkest hours of humanity: hope for the survivors and hope that – somehow—out of the rubble will emerge the basis for a new day in the relations between these neighbors.

It was that hope that brought me to Turkey and Armenia last spring and journalists like Fatih Öztarsu and Ozerkan to the United States and Armenia. Hope that, as journalists working to speak and write the truth, peace emerges, borders open up and squabbles over ancient lands may be resolved.

It is that same hope now that brings Jews, Muslims and Christians together to care for the survivors, for, as Fatih Öztarsu says:

“Only we are equal at this circumstance as humans.”


Bob GABORDI – Tallahassee Democrat / 31.10.2011


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