The Humanitarian Crisis in Turkey and Syria

An earthquake initially centered in Gaziantep, Turkey was felt in Cyprus, Egypt, Israel and Lebanon. It’s killed and injured tens of thousands of people in Turkey and Syria, including Syrian war refugees. The relief effort by the United Nations has been complicated by the destruction, as rescue workers continue searching for survivors.

The international response to a crisis of this magnitude would seem to rest entirely on numbers, and the death toll only grows by the hour. It’s a horrific tragedy, but one that may not have a face attached to it. When the Notre-Dame cathedral burned down in 2019, there was an urgency to the restoration that it became symbolic. The question would be: “Why don’t we care about human lives as much as that church?”

And we know the answer, when those human lives are “over there.” To American eyes, Turkey and Syria are interchangeable conflict zones caught up in ancient, unknowable strife. Even this map, from the Carnegie Middle East Center, is meant to illustrate operations by the Turkish Army in the Syrian civil war. In fact, one of the only faces to emerge in news coverage of the tragedy is none other than authoritarian Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

I don’t know anything about the culture of Turkey or Syria: the music and art and cinema of either. Turkey’s film industry has been battling censorship from the beginning, and Syria’s shifted toward propaganda in the 1970s.

So much to say, I wish that instead of sadness alone, there was a similar urgency with this crisis. A sense for what’s at stake, or for the significance and functions of those devastated buildings and the texture of those lost lives. Otherwise, people are just numbers, and while that has its own moving power, I can only hope it’s enough.

Follow these links for lists of how and where to help:

Turkey’s Earthquakes Struck the Heart of the World’s Largest Refugee Population. Here’s How to Help (TIME)
How to help people affected by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria (The Washington Post)
How you can help earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria: These groups are taking donations (USA Today)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s