AKUT asked to vacate headquarters amid political pressure

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Turkey’s prominent Search and Rescue Association (AKUT) was given 15 days by the governor’s office to vacate its headquarters in İstanbul following the chairman’s statement claiming political pressure from the government.

AKUT co-founder and chairman Nasuh Mahruki had said last week that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been exerting pressure on AKUT and obstructing its work due to his critical views of the government.

AKUT has been using the same building for the last 15 years, leased from the government for for 49 years.

Mahruki, who writes for the critical Sözcü daily, said in his column on Monday that some AKP municipalities, acting on orders from Orhan Karakurt, the general coordinator of the arts in the president’s office, are creating problems for AKUT teams, canceling the financial support they promised to provide and asking AKUT to vacate the offices they have been using for years. Mahruki said the AKP municipalities do not even call on AKUT teams in times of emergency, putting the lives of missing people and those injured in accidents at risk.

“Obstructing the search and rescue activities of AKUT, which strives to do nothing more than save lives, encourage people to volunteer and conduct numerous useful and noble works, is a crime, is merciless and goes against one’s authorities and responsibilities,” he wrote.

AKUT came to public prominence and won much appreciation for its work in the aftermath of a massive earthquake that hit the Marmara region in 1999, killing around 20,000 people. AKUT volunteers rescued 220 people under collapsed structures back then when there were no other search and rescue teams and Turkey was caught unprepared to handle the aftermath of a such a big earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale.

Turkey sits on major fault lines, and earthquakes are nearly a daily occurrence in the country, making the work of organizations such as AKUT more crucial.

Mahruki, who is also a professional mountain climber, was the first Turk to climb the Seven Summits.

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