Southern Türkiye was jolted by twin earthquakes on February 6 that caused unprecedented devastation across an extremely vast area, impacting 11 provinces. Almost on par with the scale of the devastation, Türkiye has also received a huge amount of humanitarian aid from many countries with which Türkiye both has cordial and strained relations. In light of the considerable level of solidarity showcased by many countries, it is still unclear whether this atmosphere of solidarity and amicability will translate into tangible outcomes in the respective bilateral relations between Türkiye and these nations. Likewise, it is also unclear whether the solidarity displayed by countries with which Türkiye had tense relations until the earthquakes will cause a thaw in bilateral ties and lead to a new chapter in relations. We asked foreign policy experts to weigh in on these questions.
Hasan Kalyoncu University
States design foreign policies to protect or realize their interests. Nevertheless, they often mute their interests to address the aftermath of natural disasters and humanitarian concerns. These events require a collective response from states since forces of nature can neither be stopped nor can the consequences of the disasters be ignored. In this sense, even competing and hostile states sometimes forget their contradictory agendas and rush to disaster zones for humanitarian purposes, stripped of politics.
The February 6 destructive earthquakes, respectively measuring 7.7 and 7.6 on the Ritcher scale, were not exceptions to this approach. In parallel with the previous pledges of Türkiye to other nations, governments displayed solidarity and resilience to eradicate the devastation of the destruction. Inherently foreign policies of states prioritize humanitarian support during natural disasters rather than quarreling about national agendas, specifically in the case of the earthquake in Türkiye.
It is clear that Türkiye will further strengthen its “humanitarian” foreign policy, as mentioned in the manifesto of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with a harmonious stance. In this sense and within reciprocity, Türkiye will be in debt to the ones helping to shoulder the burden of the February 6 earthquakes.
Türkiye and other states with competing interests experienced a psychological turning point after the disaster. A significant step was seen in the opening of communication channels based on empathy. This political environment may promote the desire to overcome incompatibilities, compromise on the least terms of a probable status quo, and freeze or delay tense issues in question. Within this cooperative atmosphere, political tensions may be managed by diplomatic means, pushing the military options to the backburner. In the realm of post-earthquake reality, Syria and the Caucasus will be on the agenda for a perpetual compromise.
Contrary to the political and military crises in this part of the globe, all societies must prepare themselves for natural disasters, like pandemics, wildfires, earthquakes, or floods. At the end of the day, both Türkiye and the other countries, sharing this earth, will be exposed to many natural disasters. Hence, all states are obliged to design a livable and habitable world. They can do this by jointly contributing to the survivability of all species against the destructive power of nature, rather than losing time immersed in political issues.
SETA Foreign Policy Researcher
Following the Kahramanmaraş earthquakes that took place on February 6, new questions have arisen about the dynamics that will shape Türkiye’s foreign relations. Of course, Türkiye’s confrontation with the worst disaster of the last century may have important effects on foreign relations, as well as effects on many areas, but a structural change should not be expected. After all, Türkiye is a country that always strives to help the whole world and ranks first in terms of international humanitarian aid according to GDP. The efforts of many countries to help Türkiye after the earthquake should be seen as a result of this policy.
When we evaluate the process in the context of earthquake diplomacy, I believe that the earthquake disaster can accelerate the related efforts by creating a catalyst effect, especially in terms of ongoing regional normalization efforts. Ultimately, while governments intend to open new political chapters based on interests, they also prepare public opinion for relevant political steps. The earthquakes that hit Türkiye and the aid provided in the aftermath supported the process in question. However, it should be taken into account that there will be no structural change and that the current processes will accelerate. We can use the visit of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his following statements as a good example of earthquake diplomacy. In terms of the ongoing but interrupted Türkiye-Egypt normalization process, there seems to be new momentum after the earthquake. Again, it is necessary to evaluate the helping hand of Israel, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia extended to Türkiye after the earthquakes in this context. But at the end of the day, the structural, real issues will still be decisive.
The earthquake brought to light the shortcomings of the UN and the international system in Syria. The situation has turned into an area of opportunity for the Syrian regime. Although the regime accessed international aid through the airports of Damascus, Aleppo, and Latakia, the areas controlled by the opposition remained completely helpless. Humanitarian aid was able to enter Idlib about two days after the earthquake. However, the fact that the aid did not include earthquake debris response vehicles and was routine humanitarian aid rendered these efforts meaningless.
On the other hand, the PKK terrorist organization’s Syrian wing, the YPG, also sought to gain a political advantage from the aid. The Syrian Interim Government’s position and the aid provided by local tribes to people living in opposition-controlled areas reached the region, albeit days later. However, there was no assistance for the priority search and rescue activities following the earthquake.
It is important to note that the normalization process between Türkiye and the Syrian regime is a complex issue that involves not only the two countries but also various regional and global actors. The earthquake in Syria has not significantly altered the existing dynamics of the conflict or the positions of the key actors involved. The statement by the Russian deputy foreign minister regarding a four-way format with Iran’s participation suggests that Russia is attempting to shape the post-earthquake process in a way that aligns with its interests. It remains to be seen how Türkiye and other regional actors will respond to this initiative and whether the Syrian opposition will be sidelined in the process.