Quakes in Turkey and Taiwan test country relations

Sascha Matuszak

As Turks and Taiwanese around the globe struggle with destruction caused by earthquakes in their countries, they have found relationships with erstwhile antagonists further tested.
Whereas the Turkish and Greek governments have drawn together in this time of need, Beijing and Taipei are squabbling anew over international aid.
“This catastrophic event has brought two nations together,” said Mehmet Ozhabes, a member of the University’s Turkish American Student Association. “The two nations will not suddenly feel like they have no problem between them. However, as I follow from the Turkish and international media, the ‘icebreaking’ process has been started. Both countries were the first to help the other one after the two disasters.”
The Turkish and Hellenic student associations plan to mirror their countries’ rapprochement by organizing a dinner together, possibly leading to joint fund-raising activities, Ozhabes said.
The Taiwanese and Chinese governments, although facing disaster as traumatizing as that which brought Turks and Greeks together, have not been drawn closer as a result.
China insisted all international aid agencies receive Beijing’s permission before entering Taiwan, angering Taiwanese and stifling United Nations relief efforts.
Both Andrew Yang, president of the Friendship Association for Chinese Scholars and Students, and Calvin Chu, president of the Taiwanese Student Association, stressed their organizations are apolitical and on good terms with each other.
Yet Beijing’s insistence that the International Red Cross receive official permission before entering Taiwan prompted Chu to find an independent organization for sending aid.
“(China wants) the world to think that Beijing is the central government and Taiwan is just a province,” Chu said.
“We are all Chinese, we should do something to help our brothers,” Yang added. “As for political conflicts, we try to stay away from that.”
Dave Okar and Gulin Oz, University doctoral candidates, were in Istanbul when the quake struck.
“Istanbul became a tent city, all open areas were filled with people,” Oz said.
When Oz and Okar returned to Minneapolis on Aug. 22, they began organizing fund-raising events for earthquake relief. Oz is a member of TASA, which was already planning several events.
Okar and his art studio, Art Temple, were able to set up a Turkish concert and poetry reading at Kieran’s Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis last Friday. Concert organizers raised $1,735. Combined with the previous TASA events, the total amount raised was $7,700.
University ties
The University has a long-standing relationship with Bogazici University in Istanbul. In 1989, this led to a faculty-exchange program between the universities’ political science departments.
Professor Ersin Kalaycioglu of Bogazici University, who participated in the exchange program in 1989 and again this year, was also in Turkey when the earthquake hit.
“It influenced a very large area; roughly 80 to 90 miles of a fault line broke off,” Kalaycioglu said. “It pushed about four to five meters of the northwest part of the country west.”
Associate professor Martin Sampson of the political science department, who runs the exchange program, was also in Istanbul during the earthquake.
“For a very large part of Istanbul, there was no damage,” Sampson said. “Most of the damage occurred along the Marmara Sea (east of Istanbul).”
The relationship between the two universities led University President Mark Yudof to write Bogazici University’s President Ustun Erguder, expressing the University’s willingness to help.
“The best way we could add support was through the university with which we have a relationship,” said Robert Kvavik, University associate vice president and executive officer. “(It’s) better than running in there blindly.”
Kvavik said the University has promised to help TASA fund one of its next events, a Nov. 10 art show at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum. That event is also sponsored by the Art Temple and the Eat Bugs Art Gallery.
“We said we would support (TASA’s) application with the Weisman (and) are willing to provide some funds for rent,” Kvavik said. “Students came to us with a reasonable request, and we were glad to help.”
“The University wanted to do things, but they did not know where to start,” said Oz. “They were interested before we even talked to Yudof.”

The quakes
The earthquake that destroyed much of the Turkish city of Izmit and its outlying areas on Aug. 17 registered in at a magnitude of 7.4. More than 15,000 people died in that quake, and at least 600,000 were left homeless. The World Bank estimated the costs of the damage to be close to $6.5 billion.
“There are about 2.5 million people who are tremendously scared, who don’t go to their homes, even if their homes escaped without a scratch,” said Kalaycioglu. “People cannot relax in their homes any longer.”
The quake in Turkey surpassed both the Sept. 7 quake just north of Athens and the Sept. 21 quake in Taipei in terms of damage and loss of life. The Greek trembler measured in at 5.8, leaving 139 dead and more than 50,000 homeless. The Taipei earthquake reached a magnitude of 7.6, accounting for 1,450 dead and 100,000 homeless.
Prior to the quake, relations between Greece and Turkey were already improving in the business community and among the foreign ministers. The quake has provided an impetus for further reconciliation.
The quick response of foreign governments, including Greece, to the earthquake in terms of equipment and manpower has helped to change the impression Turks had of certain countries, Kalaycioglu said.
“That seems to be a positive development so far, although there are limits to these kinds of development,” Kalaycioglu said. “We will see how these things shape up in the future.”

Sascha Matuszak covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]