Cyprus Mail

In polarized Turkey, political feeling steers earthquake donations

aftermath of the deadly earthquake in antakya, hatay province
The earthquake in Turkey

An NGO started by a Turkish rock star and endorsed by pop star Madonna has raised 1 billion Turkish lira ($53 million) for earthquake victims, after many opposed to Turkey’s government said they prefer not to donate to state-run organisations.

Turkey’s state Disaster and Emergency Management Authority AFAD, affiliated to the Interior Ministry, was criticised by people living across the earthquake-hit south for taking too long to arrive and not responding adequately. It has also faced accusations that it has become excessively centralised.

AFAD dismissed the comments, saying it provided the right response from the first moment. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged however that search efforts were not as fast as they would have liked them to be.

Hande A., a Turkish citizen living in Lithuania, said she had told friends to donate to AHBAP, founded by musician Haluk Levent in 2017, because she didn’t trust the government and AFAD.

However, AHBAP, which has raised huge funds, has also faced criticism from government figures over exactly how it will spend its donations and over its mission.

Levent said in the past he started it more or less by accident after friends jokingly told him to start a political party, and he said he’d rather start an NGO.

The death toll from the devastating quake has risen to 43,500 in Turkey and millions of people have been displaced. Donations from across Turkey and the world have poured in for AFAD and the Turkish Red Crescent Kizilay, but also other smaller local groups and international organisations.

AFAD and Kizilay raised 115 billion lira in a television campaign, with more than 80 billion lira coming from public institutions, including the Central Bank and public banks.

Both organisations are now supporting those left homeless. AFAD has sent 300,809 tents and provided millions of meals.

AHBAP said it has provided 3,600 containers, 13,250 tents, and 480,000 meals.



Gulfem Saydan Sanver, an expert in political communication, said people who feel pushed aside by Erdogan’s policies want to donate to organisations they feel are ideologically on their side.

“There is a lack of trust when it comes to these [state]organisations and people gravitate towards organisations civilians are involved in,” she said.

On Feb. 14, Madonna made a post on Instagram telling her 18 million followers the best place to donate was to AHBAP.

“Everyone is talking about love on Valentine’s Day!! Let’s send all our love and healing energy to Turkey and Syria,” she posted.

Nasuh Mahruki, founder of NGO AKUT, said after Turkey’s 1999 earthquake, social consciousness increased and people have turned to NGOs like AHBAP as they mistrusted state-run groups.

A 53-year-old Turkish man, who declined to give his name, said, “I have no doubt that the money I donated to AHBAP will be used for victims of the earthquake.”

Levent has responded to criticism of his NGO’s accountability by naming institutions that would audit its funds. He has also said he donated 500,000 liras to AFAD.

Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party and coalition partner to Erdogan’s AK party, criticised AHBAP. “It is wrong to push the state aside and collect aid through a friends network.”

Levent has stated many times that AHBAP works with AFAD and the government. After Bahçeli’s remarks he said, “AFAD represents the state and AHBAP represents volunteers as an NGO.”

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