Greek-Turkish earthquake diplomacy

Greek-Turkish earthquake diplomacy

The Greek-Turkish earthquake diplomacy was initiated after successive earthquakes hit both countries in the summer of 1999 and led to an improvement in Greco-Turkish relations. The so called "earthquake diplomacy" generated an outpouring of sympathy and generous assistance provided by ordinary Greeks and Turks in both cases. These acts were encouraged from the top and took many foreigners by surprise, preparing the public for a breakthrough in bilateral relations, which had been marred by decades of mutual hostility.

Greek aid

uccessive earthquakes

On August 17, 1999 at 3:02 AM, Turkey experienced a massive earthquake centered around the Gölcük and Arifiye areas in Adapazarı. The most severely affected area was the industrial city of İzmit. The İzmit earthquake registered 7.4 on the Richter scale and lasted for 45 seconds. A second earthquake hit İzmit on August 22, 1999. The official number of casualties was about 17,000, although real numbers are thought to be above 35,000; 300,000 people were left homeless, while the financial cost of the earthquake is estimated at about 3 billion dollars. [P. Karkatsoulis, "The Role of Civil Society in Human Crises", "The State in Transition" (2004), I. Sideris, ISBN 960-08-0331-1, pp. 303] Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, was also affected with many buildings damaged and deaths amounting to dozens of people. The rupture passed through major cities that are among the most industrialized and urban areas of the country, including oil refineries, several car companies and the navy headquarters and arsenal in Gölcük thus increasing the severity of the life and property loss.

Greek reaction and management of the aid

The main characteristic of this particular human crisis was the difficulty of the Turkish authorities to apply any rational planning because of the magnitude of the disaster, and the fact that the majority of the Greek initiatives were undertaken not only by the government, but mainly and most importantly by local authorities, NGOs and individuals. [Karkatsoulis, 301-302]

Greece was the first foreign country to pledge aid and support to Turkey. Within hours of the earthquake, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs had contacted their counterparts in Turkey, and the minister sent his personal envoys in Turkey. On August 17, 1999 and on November 13, 1999 the Greek Ministry of Public Order sent in a rescue team of 24 people and 2 trained rescue dogs. The Ministry also sent fire extinguishing planes to help with putting out the fire in the Tupras refinery. [ [ Milliyet Dünya Sayfalari ] ] The Secretariat of Civil Protections (working under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Interior Affairs) had previously sent a fully equipped medical team of 11 people, 4 of which were doctors as well as tents, ambulances, medicine, water, clothes, foods and blankets. The Greek Ministry of Defence readied a C-130 plane for transportation of the Greek rescue team (along with the equipment and the medicine). On August 18, 1999 the Ministry of Health set up three units for blood donations. The same day aid was sent by the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. On August 19, 1999 the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up three receiving stations in Athens, Thessaloniki and Komotini, whose purpose was the gathering of the citizens' spontaneous help. Since August 19, the hospitals of Komotini and Xanthi set up their own units for blood donations, and the Church of Greece initiated a fund raiser.Karkatsoulis, 304-307]

On August 24, 1999, the five bigger municipalities of Greece (Athens, Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Patras, Herakleion) sent a joint convoy with aid. The municipality of Thessaloniki had started sending his own aid since August 19, 1999. On August 25, 1999 the National Association of Local Authorities (ΚΕΔΚΕ) offered 50,000,000 drachmas for the victims of the earthquake, and the Association of Local Authorities of Attica offered 30,000,000 drachmas to the Turkish embassador in Athens. The same day the municipality of Athens created a settlement for 1,000 persons with a nursery. Aid and equipped groups were also sent by the Greek Red Cross, the Athens' Medicine Association, and the Greek departments of the Médecins Sans Frontières and of the Médecins du Monde.

The Greek response to the earthquake received wide coverage in Turkey with newspaper headings such as "Friendship Time", [ [ Milliyet Dünya Sayfalari ] ] "Friendly Hands in Black Days", [ [ Milliyet Dünya Sayfalari ] ] "A Great Support Organization - Five Greek Municipalities say there is no flag or ideology in humanitarian aid", [ [ Milliyet Dünya Sayfalari ] ] "Help Flows in from Neighbors - Russia first, Greece the most". [ [ Milliyet Dünya Sayfalari ] ]

Both the official response and dialog and the reactions of the ordinary Greek were given wide coverage almost every day in every newspaper and on every TV channel in Turkey. Incidents such as people bringing in food donations to municipalities in Greece and blood drives in Greece specifically to be sent to earthquake victims in Turkey were highlighted. The emotional language in reporting differed significantly from the usual rhetoric found in both countries -- words such as "neighbor", "true friend" were given in the headlines.

Officials in both countries used the emotional state of both populations to good effect, emphasizing at every opportunity that this was the time for a new understanding. When the Mayor of Athens came personally to visit the earthquake site, he was met on the tarmac by the Mayor of Istanbul. The Greek Chief Admiral Ioannides came to the retirement ceremony of the Turkish Chief Admiral Dervisoglu where he was applauded for several minutes by the participants of the ceremony.

Turkey reciprocates

Less than a month after the Turkish disaster, on September 7, 1999, at 2:56 pm local time, it was Athens' turn to be hit by a powerful, magnitude 5.9 earthquake. This was the most devastating and costly natural disaster to hit the country in 20 years. The tremor had a very shallow hypocenter and an epicenter close the Athenian suburbs of Ano Liossia and Acharnes, just 18 km away from the downtown area. A total of 143 people lost their lives in the disaster while more that 12,000 were treated for injuries. Though the death toll was relatively low, the damage on several buildings and the infrastructure in some of the city's northern and western suburbs was quite severe.

This time, the Turkish side reciprocated the aid. A special taskforce was convened, consisting of the Undersecretariat of the Prime Ministry, Turkish Armed Forces, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Greek Ambassador in Ankara was contacted to pledge aid. The Turkish aid was the first to arrive, with the first 20-person rescue team arriving to the site on a military plane within 13 hours after the earthquake. More followed within hours. The Greek consulates and embassy in Turkey had their phone lines jammed with Turks calling to find out whether they could donate blood and one volunteer contacted Ambassador Corantis, offering to donate his kidney for a "Greek in need". [ [ Milliyet Haber Sayfalari ] ]


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