Erdoğan, far-right ally visit earthquake zone amid criticism

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his election ally, Devlet Bahçeli, stand with rescue workers as he visits the hard-hit southeastern province of Hatay, the scene of destruction following two earthquakes on February 20, 2023. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit near Gaziantep, Turkey, in the early hours of February 6, followed by another 7.5-magnitude tremor just after midday. The quakes caused widespread destruction in southern Turkey and northern Syria and has killed some 45,000 people. Yasin AKGUL / AFP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his far-right ally, Devlet Bahçeli, visited one of the provinces hit by two powerful earthquakes earlier this month amid mounting criticism of the government due to what many say is its poor response in the aftermath of the disaster, Turkish Minute reported.

Erdoğan and Bahçeli visited Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, one of the cities hardest hit by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey’s south on Feb. 6, killing more than 45,000 people in the region and parts of Syria as of Monday.

The earthquake was followed by dozens of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue efforts the same day, leading to the collapse of thousands of buildings.

They were to visit Kahramanmaraş later in the day. Kahramanmaraş is one of the cities that saw the most death and destruction due to the earthquakes, with the epicenter of both quakes within its borders. The temblor hit 11 Turkish southeastern provinces in total.

During their visit to Antakya, Erdoğan and Bahçeli were briefed by search and rescue teams as hope is fading that more survivors will be found under the rubble of dozens of collapsed buildings.

As of Sunday Turkey had ended rescue efforts in all provinces except the two hardest hit by the massive quakes.

“In many of our provinces, search and rescue efforts have been completed. They continue in Kahramanmaraş and Hatay provinces,” chairman of Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (AFAD) Yunus Sezer told reporters in Ankara.

It was the first time that Bahçeli had visited the earthquake region since Feb. 6. He was mostly silent in the aftermath of the earthquakes and attracted criticism for targeting some relief organizations at a party meeting last week, accusing them of acting like the state.

Bahçeli also received criticism for not visiting the earthquake zone promptly, especially his hometown of Osmaniye, one of the 11 provinces affected by the quakes.

He also did not open his villa in Osmaniye, which is said to have around 20 rooms, to earthquake survivors who were left to spend the night outside in freezing cold in the first days after the earthquake.

President Erdoğan visited several provinces in the first week of the earthquakes where he acknowledged that there were some shortcomings in his government’s post-quake response.

Following the earthquakes, Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were accused of poor performance in coordinating search and rescue efforts, mainly failing to mobilize enough people and a lack of coordination among the teams, which resulted in civilians in some regions trying to pull their loved ones from under the rubble themselves and finding them frozen to death although they sustained no critical injuries in the collapse.

In a speech at the Hatay AFAD center on Monday, he also reiterated that his government was aware of some of the shortcomings which he said appeared when the destruction caused by the quakes was compounded by harsh winter conditions.

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