Turkey’s top charity organization, the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay), is under scrutiny again due to the whereabouts of 20,000 tents donated by China to the humanitarian group for earthquake victims.
Eleven provinces in the country’s south and southeast were hit by two powerful earthquakes, registering magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.5, on Feb. 6, which were followed by numerous aftershocks, leading to the death of more than 45,000 people in Turkey and wreaking devastation in the region as well as in northwest Syria.
Cumhuriyet daily journalist Murat Ağırel in late February broke the story that Kızılay had sold 2,050 tents to the Foundation of Anatolian People and Peace Platform (AHBAP), Turkish rock star Haluk Levent’s relief organization, for 46 million Turkish lira ($2.4 million), rather than donating them.
In his column on Thursday, Ağırel questioned the whereabouts of 20,000 tents that he said were donated by China, saying he found documents regarding their transport to Turkey by Turkish Airlines (THY) but couldn’t find any information about where the tents were sent in the country.
“What happened to the tents that came from China?” the journalist asked, adding that Kızılay officials haven’t answered his phone calls or written questions since his revelation about their tent sale to AHBAP.
“In an official statement, Kızılay said they had sent 75,136 tents [to the earthquake region]. I wonder if these tents are were ones in their warehouse. … Some 20,000 tents came from China alone. I hope they didn’t sell those, too,” Ağırel said.
The journalist also said Kızılay also received donations of blankets valued at €3.5 million ($3.7 million) but that they hadn’t been used yet because the group hadn’t decided “whether to distribute those blankets or replenish its missing stock of blankets.”
Ağırel’s earlier claim about the sale of tents was confirmed by both AHBAP and Kızılay chair Kerem Kınık, who said Kızılay Çadır, a subsidiary of his organization in charge of producing the tents, had provided them to AHBAP “at cost” and that their cooperation was “moral, reasonable and ethical.”
The developments led to the emergence of other claims of similar sales by Kızılay in the past, fueling debate, especially on social media, about whether Kızılay was a relief organization or a for-profit company.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Gürsel Tekin said in a parliamentary question submitted in July that Kızılay was acting like a for-profit company with its 11 subsidiaries, 11 general directors, CEO and a large group of political loyalists.
Tekin also underlined that trust in the institution had hit rock bottom because it acts like an extension of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Meanwhile, Cemil Çiçek, a lawyer who filed criminal complaints against Kızılay president Kınık due to the relief organization’s sale of tents, announced on Twitter on Thursday that an investigation has been launched into him.
Çiçek said he would follow the investigation closely and that Kınık will have to give an accounting of the tents he sold while earthquake victims were freezing in the bitter cold.