Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday linked deaths in a massive earthquake that has claimed the lives of thousands in southern Turkey to “destiny’s plan,” a phrase often used by the president in the wake of disasters that his government is accused of failing to take precautions for in advance.
Turkey’s most powerful earthquake in almost 100 years struck near the city of Gaziantep, which is home to around 2 million people and on the border with Syria, on Monday, killing more than 11,000 people in Turkey and neighboring Syria.
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which struck as people were still sleeping, was followed by dozens of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue operations the same day.
Erdoğan on Wednesday visited Kahramanmaraş, a city near the epicenter of the quake, and said in a statement to the press that a total of 8,574 people have died and 49,133 have been injured in the quakes, which have flattened 6,744 structures in 10 Turkish provinces.
The president said they allocated funds from the treasury and plan to “relieve” families affected by the major quakes by giving each of them TL 10,000 ($530) in the short term. He added that they aim to have Turkey’s state-run housing authority, TOKİ, build new apartment blocks for the victims of the deadly earthquakes in 10 provinces within a year.
Although Erdoğan admitted that there were “some difficulties” in search and rescue efforts on the first day, he claimed they were able to control the situation on the next two days, adding that he believed that people had shown and would continue to show patience in the face of the disaster.
His statements came as many politicians, earthquake experts and journalists were criticizing the government for its late response to the major quake and lack of coordination in search and rescue efforts, which they claim led to a surge in the death toll, and as scores of social media users were continuing to share addresses of people who are known to still be alive and waiting to be pulled from under the rubble.
“These things happen as part of destiny’s plan,” the president is also heard saying to a victim during his visit to Kahramanmaraş.
Erdoğan has come under fire several times for linking deaths in other disasters to “destiny,” while experts and citizens said they happened due to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s failure to take the necessary precautions to prevent them.
One of the latest such disasters was when 41 miners lost their lives after a methane blast ripped through the mine near the small coal town of Amasra on Turkey’s Black Sea coast in October.
“We are people who believe in the plan of destiny,” Erdoğan told reporters afterward, adding that such accidents “will always be; we need to know that, too.”
His comments sparked anger among his opponents, and triggered protests in İstanbul with a few demonstrators saying, “It was not an accident but a massacre.”