Earthquake brings out best and the worst

Earthquake brings out best and the worst

The Van earthquake gave us a mirror and what we saw in the first instance was nothing for Turks to be proud off. Fortunately, better instincts kicked in quickly so we got to see the other side of the country too.

If we take “the bad and the ugly” first, it was reprehensible that latent racism should have surfaced instantly upon news of the earthquake. Given Van’s large Kurdish population, the knee-jerk reaction of many, as seen on various social media, was that this was “divine retribution against separatist Kurds for PKK attacks.”

“Here’s a taste of your own medicine” read one message. “Better Van than Can (pronounced ‘Jan’ in Turkish)” read another one, playing on words since “Can” is also a Turkish boy’s name, and means “life” as well.

Then two famous women – one a news anchor and the other the presenter of a popular TV show – stepped in to up the racism. On presenting the news about the earthquake, the first one blurted out that “it was a sad event even if it happened in Van.” Later, after angry reactions, she backpedaled, arguing that her comments were just a “slip of the tongue.” A “slip” it was, except that it was a revealing “Freudian slip.”

The other woman, however, drove the nail into the coffin of humanity. Taking aim at Kurds, ATV’s Müge Anlı said: “They give children stones to throw. They hunt our soldiers in the mountain like birds. Yet when something happens, they call on Little Mehmet [an epithet for the common soldier] and the police to help them. Every one should know their place.”

The strong reactions to such remarks were not late in coming. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “damned” those who expressed such racist views. Even the leader of the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), whose grassroots supporters agitate against the Kurds because of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacks, condemned this kind of racism, gaining praise from Kurdish politicians in the process.

While anonymous racists are still out there, those who have been exposed by name are now trying desperately to explain why they were “misunderstood.” In short, “the bad and ugly” also spawned sentiments this country needs for peace and harmony among citizens of Turkish and Kurdish origin. The assistance streaming into Van from all parts of Turkey is also telling in this respect.

But the “bad and ugly” was not one-sided. Scenes on Turkish TV of Kurds plundering aid trucks in the center of Van, and carrying away tents and clothing desperately needed elsewhere, were compounded by reports that many of the seized tents were being sold on the black market in Van.

This “deficit in humanity,” however, manifested itself most clearly when the PKK used the confusion of the earthquake to mount fresh attacks against security forces, rather than rally to help their own kind in their hour of desperate need.

Sensible Kurds should now have a better picture of what this group really stands for. There are already reports that pro-PKK militants who are using the confusion of the earthquake to stage stone throwing demonstrations against security forces are being chased away by their own people in some places.

The 1999 İzmit earthquake totally changed the negative mood between Turks and Greeks, who immediately mobilized to help at the time. The Van earthquake may also contribute to better understanding between Turks and Kurds.

This is crucial given that there are those on both sides trying to throw a spanner in the works as far as domestic peace in this country is concerned.