Compare the response of two countries, one Middle Eastern, the other European.
In Turkey, twin earthquakes on February 6 took more than 50,000 lives, even though there was warning about the impending earthquake.
In Greece, a train crash on March 1 killed more than 50 people.
Greece's Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis immediately resigned, saying:
"I feel it is my duty [to step down], and a minimal gesture of respect to the memory of the people who perished so unfairly, and to take responsibility for the long-standing errors of the Greek state and the political system."
In Turkey, not a single official resigned, including Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who has refused to answer any one of the 64 parliamentary motions, filed by the opposition, who had warned about the earthquake.
In 1999, Islamists took to the streets to protest the secular government after a powerful earthquake killed more than 20,000 people in Marmara region. They blamed the earthquake on "sins committed in the quake region." Twenty-four years later, Turkey's Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, blamed the 2023 earthquake on "a plan of fate."
After the 1999 earthquake, the Turkish government imposed a special "earthquake levy" on mobile communications. By 2023, $37 billion had been collected from taxpayers. When confronted by the opposition about the fate of the big sum of money, Erdoğan said: "It was spent where it should have been spent. We don't have time to spend on accountability."
Enter the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay). Founded in the 19th century as an Ottoman war and disaster relief institution, the Red Crescent is a Muslim answer to the Red Cross. Under Erdoğan's rule, the agency became a holding company in structure. After the February 6 disaster, the Red Crescent was at the epicenter of the earthquake -- but not for genuine relief efforts.
Fury in Turkey was triggered by news that when the earthquake struck, the Kızılay had, through a little-known business arm, sold thousands of tents to a Turkish charity, and scored a profit of $2.5 million, instead of dispatching the tents immediately to the victims free of charge.
Haluk Levent, a Turkish rock star and head of the AHBAP charity, tweeted:
"While people were freezing to death, trying to survive, we didn't have the luxury of debating 'should we buy these tents or not.'"
Levent conceded that Kızılay had given him "a discount," although it had charged him Value Added Tax.
Kızılay's president, Kerem Kınık, defended the sale as "moral and legal."
There is, however, more about the Islamist relief institution.
Kızılay also sold blood, which it collected from donors, to a charity after the February 6 earthquake. Sold blood. A quick glance at its financial reports showed that in 2021, Kızılay earned more than $50 million in "blood services revenues." (The 2022 figures are not out yet, but the link shows that Kızılay sold blood after the earthquake, too). Not enough? Fine. The Turkish Union of Pharmacies was one of the quickest to respond to the earthquake. The organization wanted to set up "tent pharmacies" in the earthquake zone to distribute the most urgently needed medicines for free. It needed tents. It had none. It appealed to Kızılay for help. Kızılay helped by selling them tents -- at $7,000 each.
An opposition member of parliament revealed a police report that Kızılay had sold 80 tons of clothing, donated to it, at 41 cents a kilo. "We are speechless," MP Servet Ünsal said.
A police chief was caught in the earthquake zone after he stole and unloaded at his home hundreds of relief items including tents, electrical heaters, coats, boots and electricity generators. He had brought them to his home in a bus belonging to the police force.
Turkey is a poor country, where per capita income is barely $9,000. The earthquake zone is one of the country's poorest. It was not a surprise that the Erdoğan administration pledged to build new homes for the earthquake victims. Nice? Nice. A local chamber of architects found out that the cost to build each apartment would be $40,000. The government said each apartment would be sold for $80,000.
How do Turkish banks help the victims? In Turkey, the central bank's interest rate -- the rate that banks pay on their loans from the central bank -- is an annual 8.50%. Three public lenders announced that they would impose "only" a 0.99% interest rate per month for loans in the earthquake zone Three days after the quake they raised the monthly interest rate to 1.59%.
Turkey is fun unless one must live there.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.