Western Silence Deafening Following Earthquake in Turkey

Feb. 6, 4:17 a.m. “There was so much dust. I could hear other people screaming, I told my brother to calm down and kept praying. We’ll be saved, I said.” – Abdülbaki Enes; he and his brother were saved in the 198th hour from under the rubble of an eight-story building.

It was 4:17 a.m. in Turkey when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Kahramanmaraş. The people of Kahramanmaraş were still asleep in their beds. Given time differences, the Turkish students on Oberlin’s campus were still awake when it hit. My heart dropped when I saw the text my friend sent, breaking the news to me. I remember my eyes losing focus, desperately trying to call my family with my shaky hands, ears ringing as my housemates asked, “Are you okay?” 

Will I ever be okay? Will my people ever be okay? “Okay” is now a forbidden word. 

When I learned about the earthquake, within the first hour, the death toll was 17. I am only giving numbers as the Middle East seems to be only statistics for some people. But, the moment the death toll was above zero, I knew the world collapsed. I knew our government was going to be inefficient, unprepared, and penniless. I wanted to fly out, volunteer, do something. Had breathing always been this hard?

Feb. 6, 10:07 a.m. “I kept thinking to myself: ‘Am I hurt? Yes. Is it deadly? No. I will be okay. I just need to keep myself alive until help is here.’ But it was so hard to breathe in there and believing that became harder.” 

– a 14-year-old boy who was saved from under the rubble in the 86th hour.

Like all Turkish people, I spent that night checking the news for any updates, calling everyone I knew asking if they were okay. The whole night. Have you spent hours trying to contact your possibly dead family members? 

The earthquake had covered a radius of 285 km (177 miles). But somehow, we felt it in Oberlin.

Feb. 6, 11:20 a.m. “Does anyone hear my voice?” echoed in the streets of Hatay. Voices were heard, but help didn’t arrive until after the 80th hour.

It destroyed around 4,500 buildings. People were nowhere to be found, buried deep underground. Roads were cracked and undrivable, airports damaged and unflyable. The temperature is around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with heavy snow and a blizzard. How do you send help in those conditions? Where would you put the millions of displaced people? How would you act in the critical 72 hours after an earthquake?

Feb. 6, 1:25 p.m. “Allah, it is happening again. More and more people are screaming. My Allah, help us all.” – a middle-aged man who was recording a video when the second earthquake hit.

The second earthquake, a magnitude of 7.5, struck not long after. It was not a tremor — the first one was so powerful that it triggered the next fault line. The total number of destroyed buildings is now 5,600. Many cities are unreachable. Classes? I am in Turkey currently, sorry. May I be excused? No.

Feb. 7, 7:26 p.m. “‘Where is the help? I have lost my perception of time. Will I survive this?’ were the only things I could think of. I felt like I was buried alive.” – a middle-aged woman who was saved in the 200th hour.

Let’s do some quick math: 5,600 buildings demolished, 385,000 apartments seriously damaged. People were sleeping as the first one hit at night. Assume that we assign 20 rescuers to each destroyed building: that is 112,000 rescuers in total, not even taking damaged buildings into account. Let that number sink in. 

Assume, magically, that Turkey found that many rescuers; they still have to get to the area. It’s already been nine hours. We need heavy machinery to remove the concrete. Remember you have no roads, no airports. Transportation to those cities is nearly impossible. The tremors are with magnitudes above 6.0. It is not safe to go down there. 

By this time, we are begging people to share and donate. Are we on mute?

Feb. 8, 12:28 p.m.  “I lost everyone I know. My two daughters, my mom, my dad, my cousins, my aunt. I am a nobody. What’s the point of living?” – a 43 year-old woman, who is now staying at the temporary tents, crying during a news interview.

That’s when the despair sets in like a dark foggy creature sitting on our chests. People have died. Many more will. Not because of the earthquake, but due to terminal dehydration and hypothermia.

My friends and I immediately started to think about how we can help: social media, donations. We need outside help. Where is everyone who shares GoFundMe or Venmo links every day? Oh, right. We are used to tragedy. Surely, we cannot be devastated by this after years of wars and terrorism. I am angry, crying on the phone to my parents: “Do we not matter at all?” 

The death toll is already in the thousands. What if I was there under the rubble? Would you care then?

Feb. 9, 3:45 p.m. “Adıyaman was left to its destiny. No one came to help. We heard the screams: ‘Does anyone hear my voice? Does anyone hear my voice? Does anyone hear my voice?’ I saw people trying to dig a pathway into the rubble to save their loved ones with bare hands. But we couldn’t do anything. We watched, felt, and heard them die.” – a nurse, who had been working non-stop and interrupted the news conference to voice her grievances.

I am so tired. I am fading.

The death toll is above 43,000 in Turkey, 5,000 in Syria, and 100,000 injured in Turkey, soon to be more. 26 million displaced in Syria and Turkey combined.

Such a poorly handled situation, such insensitivity by the West. I am sorry we are non-white. I am sorry we are from the Middle East. I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry. Please help. Please share. Please donate. 

I was a zombie for two weeks, I still am. Nightmares, not being able to breathe. Constantly on the news, learning that some people I knew passed away. “Are you okay?” 

Turkish culture has always been founded on collectivism. None of us were relieved that some people we know were okay. Not when all those people were suffering, suffocating, fading away. We are one and we are bleeding. 

I can’t stop hearing: “Does anyone hear my voice?”

Does anyone hear my voice?

Why is that so hard to hear?