“The ground beneath us is rotten. Yet we have no choice but to live on it.” These were the disheartened words of Turkish President Suleyman Demirel a few days after western Turkey was violently shaken by the worst recorded earthquake in their history, set at 7.4 on the Richter scale.
The damage is colossal: Over 12,500 confirmed deaths so far and up to 30,000 more still grimly expected once the tons of rubble are cleared; over 33,000 injured, 200,000 homeless and 60,000 buildings damaged or destroyed. Reconstruction costs have been estimated as high as $20 billion, or one tenth of Turkey’s gross national product.
Public anger continues to grow toward the state and military as relief efforts are criticized as slow and disorganized.
The path to reconstruction will be long and arduous. But Demirel will be able to count on the help of some old and perhaps some new friends. By one count, 42 countries and 38 international organizations have sent aid to Turkey since the quake struck. The international community has jumped to be involved, but its involvement may turn out to have more than purely goodwill motives.
Turkey’s occupation of a key position in Middle Eastern politics raises unavoidable questions as to how this sudden and unexpected devastation, and Turkey’s new position of vulnerability, will affect the region’s geo-political balance.
As Israel’s strongest ally in the region, Turkey—with its formidable military strength—has long been considered by some intelligence sources to be the main deterrent to any Middle Eastern country with hostile intentions against Israel. As a secular Islamist state and nato ally, a Turkey in need of major foreign assistance represents an open door to radical Islamic parties and organizations which might, in supplying aid, also be tempted to promote their own political and religious causes within Turkey.
Turkey now has its plate full with rebuilding both its country and the lives of its people, but watch its neighbors: The process of rebuilding may result in not only a new face for western Turkey, but one for the region’s geopolitical balance too.