Turkey's Tragedy — the Political Aftershock

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While it may be too early to accurately predict the political consequences of the devastating natural disaster that hit Turkey last week, the country's leaders are bracing for a firestorm of dissatisfaction. Calls for the resignation of cabinet ministers look set to snowball, and the more efficient relief effort in regions run by the opposition Islamic Virtue Party presents a substantial political challenge to Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. "Once the initial shock wears off, the political recriminations will grow," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "Poor construction work in a region known for earthquakes caused a death toll that was far higher than it might have been had stricter standards been enforced." On Monday, as officials in the capital, Ankara, ordered up 45,000 body bags, more misery appeared in the form of rain, which threatened to exacerbate the health crisis facing the stricken areas.

"The quake sought out not only weaknesses in the earth, but also — with vicious accuracy — strengths and weaknesses in Turkish society," says TIME Istanbul reporter Andrew Finkel. If anything good has come of the disaster, it’s been the human solidarity both within Turkey and from abroad. Turkish rescue teams have worked alongside those sent by such old enemies as Greece and Russia, and even where the Turkish state’s own response had been inadequate, local communities rose to the challenge. "There’s still a strong sense of community in Turkey," says Finkel. "It was neighbors, not civil defense units, who began digging through the rubble, many with their bare hands." That sense of community may be essential to managing the fallout from the disaster, and to the economic reconstruction that will follow. Whatever lessons are learned in managing the present disaster may well be tested again some time in the future. The country's largest city, Istanbul, whose population has doubled every 10 years since 1955, sits along a fault line and has long been warned to expect a devastating earthquake. "As bad as last week’s earthquake was," says Finkel, "experts agree that it wasn’t the ‘big one’ that Istanbul’s been warned about."