Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has blamed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for failing to prepare the country for earthquakes during their 20 years in power, local media reported on Wednesday.
A 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck near the Turkish city of Gaziantep – home to around 2 million people and on the border with Syria – as people were still sleeping on Monday 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.
The quake flattened thousands of structures, trapping an unknown number of people and potentially impacting millions. Officials and medics said more than 11,000 people have died and that tens of thousands have been injured.
Kılıçdaroğlu visited several regions affected by the quakes on Tuesday and released a video on Twitter in which he shared his observations from the Arsuz district of Hatay, one of the provinces that witnessed the greatest destruction and where residents complained about the lack of efficient search and rescue operations.
Halkımızın halini yerinde gördüm. Yaşananlara siyaset üstü bakmayı, iktidarla hizalanmayı reddediyorum. Bu çöküş tam da sistematik rant siyasetinin sonucudur. Erdoğan’la, sarayıyla ve rant çeteleriyle hiçbir zeminde buluşmayacağım. Ben halkımın kavgasını vereceğim. Sonuna kadar. pic.twitter.com/MMDeBCBFRC
— Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (@kilicdarogluk) February 7, 2023
“Our country is faced with terrible destruction. … What we see here is heartbreaking. Our hearts ache. … You are never, ever alone. … We will do everything we can to get our cities and villages back on their feet. We will move into the recovery phase in the most severely affected areas,” the CHP leader said.
He continued to say that Erdoğan was “primarily responsible” for the devastating effects of the quakes since his AKP government had failed to take action to prepare the country for such a disaster, despite experts’ earlier warnings, during their 20 years in power.
The CHP leader said the government failed to take necessary measures to coordinate resources, sufficiently utilize Turkey’s experience in such events, ensure public institutions’ cooperation with municipalities and nongovernmental organizations, send soldiers to the earthquake areas and dispatch miners, who are natural search and rescue personnel, to the areas that needed them before it was too late.
“In short, they failed in this as they did in everything else. … That’s why I never think of meeting him [Erdoğan]. I would never, ever see this issue as being above politics. His politics brought us to this situation. … I refuse to align with those in power. … I will fight for my people until the end,” Kılıçdaroğlu added.
He further said he told mayors from his party to do their best to provide resources for earthquake victims even if the AKP government tries to put up “bureaucratic barriers” to prevent it, as they did during COVID-19.
“[I told them] ‘If you have to be arrested for finding bread and blankets for the people, get arrested.’ The squabbles, the protocols [and] the bureaucracy are over. … Millions of people are in the streets. Thousands of them are under the rubble. … We are both sad and angry. Now is the time to repair and improve,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
Meanwhile, jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, a former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), on Wednesday expressed support for Kılıçdaroğlu on Twitter through his lawyers.
“Both a strong solidarity and a strong political stance are very important and valuable for us to get through this difficult period together,” Demirtaş said, referring to the CHP leader’s statements.
Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
The country’s last 7.8-magnitude temblor was in 1939, when 33,000 died in eastern Erzincan province.
Turkey’s Marmara region suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999, leading to the death of more than 17,000 people.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate İstanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.