There is a Turkish saying “Ev alma, komşu al” which loosely translates to “Don’t buy a house, get a neighbour”. This sentiment rings true especially when you’re in desperate need of help.
A neighbour is an integral part of having a strong, resilient, and supportive community that you can rely upon and is sometimes closer than family. They are the first to help in times of need, become your best friend and are the extra hands to get things done. Love thy neighbour as you would love thyself is a fundamental principle in our respective cultures. We saw the love of our Greek neighbours in Türkiye’s darkest hour.
The two massive earthquakes that devastated the southeast of Türkiye and northwest of Syria on 6 February and the subsequent tremors have taken 46,000 lives and left millions homeless. Another earthquake in the region on 20 February has further damaged the ruined buildings and the death toll keeps climbing.
These natural disasters are hard to plan for, but the destruction can be mitigated with proper adherence to building code specifications during construction. The earthquakes have exposed the poor construction standards of new buildings which were erected follwing the 1999 Marmaris earthquake. The government collected a tax to ensure all new buildings would meet the prescribed standards. Even though monies had been collected, the question remains, why weren’t these buildings built with more resiliency?
This is an important year for Türkiye. It is the centenary of the republic, and it is an election year. It was the year to catapult Türkiye to new heights and be a major player on the international stage.
For all the rhetoric of President Erdogan who is bickering with other nations, and has made threats against Greece, it was Greece who was one of the first to come to help Türkiye. To lift survivors – men, women, and children from underneath the rubble.
Greece was one of the first responders. Greek rescue teams went to Hatay, one of the provinces most devastated by the quake to pull survivors from under collapsed buildings. This act of heroism will never be forgotten by the Turkish people.
The rescue team not only gave the survivors a chance to live again, but gave them hope that as a people, we are bound by the same hopes and fears. We feel each other’s sadness and pain and relish in each other’s joy.
We are a mirror to each other, and our collective will to live in peace, side by side is indomitable, irrespective of the rhetoric that comes out of parliament. If we strip away the layers that have been placed on us, there is a fundamental notion of belonging. A belonging to a group of people who are around us – whether they be our family or neighbours. Our neighbours are part of this big family. There are over 8 billion of us on earth. We hear each other’s breath, we feel each other’s hope and we see each other’s presence.
Amidst the pain, the only comfort that can be drawn from this experience is that the human instinct to help our neighbour in distress trumps everything else. These kind acts are not done as an investment for future business opportunities nor are they done to get one over the political establishment in the next round of negotiations. Instead, these kind acts are done because we believe what has happened to my neighbour could happen to me tomorrow. Rushing to the aid of my neighbour is my humane duty. Loving my neighbour is like loving myself. Let’s continue this neighbourly love irrespective of the challenges ahead of us.
If you would like to help the victims rebuild their lives, I along with my community are supporting the relief effort organised by the Australian Relief Organisation https://aro.org.au/home/homepage
I hope you could make a generous donation to help the children left behind without a father and mother to make the most of the life that has been granted to them.
Ahmet Keskin is Executive Director of the Australian Intercultural Society. He was a recipient of the Western Sydney University (formerly UWS) Community Service Award 2013.. He has been actively involved in community activism for over 25yrs, with the last 18 years in the area of intercultural dialogue.