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Poor response to earthquakes exposes extent of favoritism, incompetence in Turkish bureaucracy

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The poor response of Turkish authorities to the massive earthquakes of Feb. 6, which have killed more than 45,000 people in Turkey and Syria, brought the extent of favoritism and lack of competence in the ranks of the Turkish bureaucracy under scrutiny.

Following the country’s most powerful earthquakes in nearly 100 years, opposition politicians and experts called on officials in Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to resign from their posts.

The 7.8-magnitude quake, which struck near the city of Gaziantep on Feb. 6 while people were sleeping, killed more than 45,000 people in the 10 southeastern provinces hardest hit by the disaster, according to the latest official figures. The quake was followed by thousands of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that shook the region later the same day.

Experts, prominent figures and opposition politicians criticized the AKP for not appointing staff to state disaster response and relief agencies based on the staff’s qualifications and work performance.

“The wrong people were appointed to the wrong institutions. Inadequate qualifications undermine the institutions, slow down the system, disrupt the organizations and eventually lead to death. Turkey has a big problem with the merit [system]. It was not the earthquake that caused the deaths, but negligence and stupidity,” tweeted geologist Celal Şengör.

According to Turkish media, İsmail Palakoğlu, who works as a manager at Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (AFAD), had no expertise in disaster relief. Instead, he was a graduate of a theology faculty and had experience in the country’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

Palakoğlu is not the only example of how people with a Diyanet background are appointed to positions at AFAD.

According to a report in the Sözcü daily, there are AFAD directors in at least seven provinces who have degrees from religious vocational schools.

“These men, all in managerial positions at Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), are graduates of religious vocational schools. Two worked as imams, others with irrelevant backgrounds. And there are many others who hold key positions without any credentials,” Gönül Tol, Turkey program director at the US-based Middle East Institute, tweeted.

Another appointment that caused a stir in the country was that of a theology graduate named as the dean of a faculty of architecture on Feb. 7.

According to Turkish media, just one day after the earthquakes, Prof. Dr. Muhittin Kapanşahin, who holds a degree in theology and had completed an Ph.D. in Islamic history and arts, was appointed the dean of Karabük University’s faculty of architecture.

The news of the appointment has sparked outrage, with many questioning how someone without any qualifications in architecture could be appointed as the dean of a faculty of architecture.

Journalist Fatih Altaylı expressed his disbelief at the appointment on Twitter, stating, “I laugh at those who say we learned lessons from the earthquake. They didn’t learn any lessons. If they had, they would not have appointed a theology graduate as dean of Karabük University’s faculty of architecture after the earthquakes. Anyone can search for him. His name is Muhittin Kapanşahin.”

Former prime minister and current opposition Future Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu also criticized the appointment of unqualified individuals to top positions at AFAD and the Turkish Red Crescent.

On Friday Davutoğlu questioned the qualifications of ex-prime minister Binali Yıldırım’s relatives working in managerial positions at the Turkish Red Crescent.

In 2018 Yıldırım’s brother İlhami Yıldırım was appointed by the government as a trustee at the Red Crescent.

Last year, media reports revealed that Binali Yıldırım’s daughter, daughter-in-law and nephew were also working in high-level positions at the 150-year-old not-for-profit.

Erdoğan’s AKP, which has Islamist roots, has long been receiving criticism for engaging in favoritism and filling state posts with its cronies.

Critics say AKP nepotism reached new heights following a failed coup in July 2016 after which the government removed more than 130,000 civil servants from their jobs under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

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