Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, published in Saturday’s New York Times a shocking article – a scathing piece, indirectly targeting Erdogan – about the inaction of the state apparatus in the devastating earthquake that swept through Turkish cities a week ago.
The headline the newspaper gave to his article is: ‘A Girl Trapped Under Fallen Concrete. A Man Unsure of What to Do,’ which illustrates the two messages people in Turkey are sending on social media.
Pamuk says: “The first is the thing made manifest in their shock: the stunning, staggering scale of the catastrophe. The second is the feeling of abandonment and despair, felt by the whole country and as harrowing as the earthquake itself.
Erdogan has been criticized by other newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal, but Pamuk’s article is heartbreaking.
Here are some excerpts:
“The girl with sad eyes must be around 10 or 12 years old. She hardly moves as she stares into the camera phone. Whenever she does move, her gestures are slow and sluggish. The man who is filming the video spots her and cries out in astonished delight.
“There’s someone here! There’s someone here!”
“I’m cold,” the girl replies. “My brother is also here.”
“Can you move?”
“No,” the girl replies weakly. Even with her fading voice, she has finally managed to make herself heard. But there is no hope in her eyes.
It has been half a day since the first earthquake struck at 4 in the morning. Soon it will be evening again.
“Can you move your legs?”
“Very difficult,” says the girl in a soft voice, which is hard to understand. There is a new expression on her face now, as if she were hiding something….
On his own, he cannot pull the girl free of that cramped, terrifyingly heavy pile of concrete. They both fall quiet.
The girl’s eyes begin to glaze over; her exhaustion, her pain are written on her face.
“You stay right here. I’m going to go and get you some help. We’re going to get you out of there.”
But the man sounds uncertain.
But it is possible that apart from the girl and her brother, no one else in her family has survived, and so there is nobody looking for her.
“Don’t go!” the trapped child says eventually.
“I have to go, but I’ll be back!” the man says. “I won’t forget about you. I’m going to get help.”
We can tell that the girl, who has spent more than half a day trapped here on her own, is already preparing herself to die and has no strength left to object.Even so, she says again “Don’t go!,” her voice as faint as a whisper.
“I’m going to go and get you some help!” the man says, and though his voice is louder this time, we cannot quite believe him.
This is where his phone recording ends.”
We do not know whether he was able to get help.
He finally writes: “I have been waiting for another video showing the trapped girl being rescued, but it hasn’t come.”
The magnitude of the disaster that has occurred is indescribable.
Probably even under the best of circumstances they could not have rescued many from the wreckage, snow and cold.
But it took hours and in some cases days for the rescue teams to reach their destination.
The relevant services, like the Armed Forces, are so politicized that they are staffed by inappropriate people, often Erdogan supporters.
All the major weaknesses of the Turkish state have emerged at this great moment of crisis.
All of Erdogan’s grandstanding has proved hollow.
Many of those affected will never forgive him. They will always hold him responsible for the deaths of their own.
And many others will find the opportunity to take revenge on him for what they’ve endured over the years.
But it is always wrong to underestimate him. He’ll do something. He’s already arresting builders of the homes that collapsed. He will, internally, burnish his image with the help of the media he controls.
However, whatever he does, even if he postpones the elections – as I think it is likely that he will do, and then win them – neither Turkey nor he will be the same for many years, perhaps decades.
Already for a long time everything he has done has been about his smoothe exit from power.
Now that need will become increasingly urgent. And the measures he will take will be more and more of a man in despair.