Looking back at 20 years of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in power

After two decades in power as prime minister and as president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping to win a final mandate in the 2023 presidential election next month. But amid mounting anger over his handling of the economy in recent years, the seasoned Turkish politician could be in for a tough fight against his main rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Turkish political scientist Ahmet Insel looks back at Erdogan’s time in power. 

A talented orator and wily politician credited with lifting millions of Turks into the middle class, Recep Tayyip Erdogan transformed the country as only Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, accomplished before him. The 69-year-old Turkish president is now running for a third term. But the upcoming presidential election in May is no cakewalk for the seasoned politician with polls suggesting he could be defeated by opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu

A profound economic crisis coupled with skyrocketing inflation, deep political tensions and mounting anger over his handling of the February 6 earthquakes, which killed more than 50,000 people, could cost Erdogan his place in the Ak Saray presidential palace. Turkish political scientist and publisher Ahmet Insel spoke to FRANCE 24 about Erdogan’s political legacy and the stakes in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. 

FRANCE 24: After two decades of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in power, do Turkish voters still trust him?  

Ahmet Insel: He is not as popular as he was in 2020. In 2018, he won the first round of the presidential election with flying colours, getting 52% of votes. But surveys now show that only 40% or 42% of respondents would vote for Erdogan in the first round of the upcoming election. After 20 years in power, it’s a relative drop but not an insignificant one, given the democratic erosion that has taken place and the ongoing economic crisis.   

He could lose this election because of his decision to change Turkey’s political system to a presidential one, where a candidate needs over 50% of votes to win. If he had kept the parliamentary system, he would certainly win. Despite how he handled the earthquakes, Erdogan still has a surprisingly strong level of support. People also fear the change that would come should the opposition win these elections.   

How would you assess his track record as prime minister and president? 

His track record is negative on three counts. First, he came into a rather authoritarian democratic regime with the promise of establishing a conservative parliamentary democracy and expanding rights. What we see today is an extremely repressive presidential regime that has gutted civil society, gagged the media and made way for an autocracy, justifiable only because elections still exist. Turkey hasn’t made any progress on the democratic front. 

On the economic front, Erdogan implemented a neoliberal stabilisation policy in the 2000s, taking advantage of a very favourable international situation. With the prospect of Turkey joining the EU in a 15-year timeframe, there was plenty of foreign investments. The average income per capita rose from $3,000 in 2002 to $12,000 in 2012, a record high. But since then, it has been declining and is now at $9,000 – the same as it was between 2007 and 2008.   

Turkey’s ongoing economic crisis is largely a consequence of policies that Erdogan has implemented since 2018. The Turkish lira has lost more than 200% of its value in relation to the euro in just four years, which is an astounding rate. Turkey has the second-highest inflation rate worldwide. We reached an official rate of 80-90% last year, but unofficial estimates say the rate was much higher. Our current rate is around 60%. The middle class has become poorer. When Erdogan first came to power, Turkey had been part of the G20 for four years and had the 17th highest GDP in the world. That ranking has now dropped to 20th. There could have been more positive outcomes, but the president wasted the assets he had in his first 10 years as leader.   

Lastly, there is the ideological shift Erdogan made. In the early 2000s, he was culturally conservative and politically liberal, especially regarding gender issues. He supported an open-minded policy on education. But from 2010 to 2011 onwards, he changed his policies and adopted a more nationalistic, “authentic” position, to use his own words. He described himself as a Turkish nationalist who embodies Sunni Muslim values. He started saying his goal was to train a “pious youth”, something unheard of ten years earlier. His nepotism was blatant, he appointed people from “imam schools” – or preachers – to senior positions within his administration. He implemented more religious education in school curriculums. He used the Directorate of Religious Affairs in Turkey (Diyanet) to spread religious ideology. And he transformed the historic Hagia Sophia into a mosque, which was symbolically a big move.   

What about his foreign policy?   

Turkey has become a regional power feared by its neighbours, including Syria, Iran, Greece … Contrary to what Erdogan promised in the 2000s, the country has become a source of many problems, not a solution. He uses the country’s location to position Turkey as an intermediary between Ukraine and Russia. But while Erdogan condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he still cooperates on trade. His stance on NATO is ambivalent. Relations between Erdogan and the EU are completely frozen regarding Turkey’s membership. And he doesn’t respect the decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights.  

How can you explain Erdogan’s ideological shift, especially in terms of religion?  

He was trained in political Islam. He was the first mayor of Istanbul to be a member of the [Islamist] Welfare Party. In the late 1990s, he realised his stance on political Islam would limit him to the political fringes. Along with other politicians such as Abdullah Gul, who became president in 2007, he realised it was necessary to refocus his political agenda and occupy the centre-right. His success in both the 2002 and 2007 parliamentary elections was a consequence of his altogether authoritarian, culturally conservative, economically liberal, and politically rather democratic stance. It’s also what garnered him international support.   

From 2011 onwards, he had a majority in parliament and began implementing religiously conservative policies. And then came the Arab Spring. That’s when we found out he had been in close contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. He saw the Arab Spring as a moment to become the rising star of “democratic” Muslims in the region, from Algeria to Syria. He wanted to be the democratic older brother. He strongly supported Mohamed Morsi [in Egypt], Syrian opposition groups, and Ennahda [in Tunisia]. I think that’s the moment he started changing his stance. When Morsi was overthrown, when the US and France supported [army chief Abdel Fattah] al-Sissi, when Ennahda became an enemy of the state, he became suspicious of western allies. He is very paranoid. 

Then in 2014, he was elected president. After the June 2015 parliamentary elections, he lost his majority. He realised he could no longer win elections on his own and formed an alliance with the far-right nationalist party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). They were once fierce opponents, literally hurling insults at one another. In 2018, their interests converged, they joined forces and went on to win a parliamentary majority. Since then, he has associated himself politically with extremist nationalist and religious views.   

Will the February 6 earthquakes impact how people vote in May?   

The way he handled the earthquake may slightly weaken his chances. According to the polls, those who were convinced they wouldn’t vote for Erdogan are even more convinced now.  

On the other hand, the earthquakes took place in regions where Erdogan has a reserve of back-up votes (aside from Antioch). There may be a loss, but on a national level, the impact seems to be minimal.   

What will happen if his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu wins? Will Erdogan admit defeat?   

Erdogan was the one to appoint all the judges of the High Electoral Council, so people are afraid they will declare his victory before the opposition appeals are filed. All the opposition parties have mobilised on the issue of election security to ensure their observers are everywhere. There are 192,000 voting stations in Turkey, the objective is to have observers in at least 160,000 of them.   

What would dramatically change if the opposition wins?   

The government will start sending more positive messages to the EU and, if they have a parliamentary majority, take the necessary measures to change the nature of the regime. It’s possible to change the criminal code, for example, and go back to a system that ensures fundamental freedoms. Foreign policy wouldn’t change that much because the international situation won’t be shifting drastically anytime soon. Turkey’s [foreign policy] position will go from aggressive to calm. Relations with NATO members will be less tense, Sweden’s membership will no longer be blocked. The opposition would probably cancel the purchase of Russian S-400 missiles, a source of major conflict with the US. And there will be a sense of freedom in the air for a few months. After that, it’ll be up to the ruling parties to play their cards right.  

This article was translated from the original in French

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How the West, Russia see Turkey’s presidential elections

The 2023 Turkish presidential election next month will be eagerly followed in Western capitals – and in Moscow. Russia favours the incumbent, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while the West tacitly prefers his main rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, according to analysts. But an opposition win does not guarantee an obstacle-free path to pivoting Turkey back towards the West. 

Erdogan has attracted much international attention over recent years with his assertive foreign policy – most recently his blocking of Sweden’s NATO accession, after accusing Stockholm of giving safe haven to people allegedly linked to Kurdish militant group, the PKK.

This confrontational approach to projecting power marked a big change from Erdogan’s pro-Western stance shortly after he took power in 2003.

On the 2023 campaign trail, foreign policy has taken a back seat to more pressing issues. Since 2018, an inflation and currency crisis has sent living standards plunging for Turkish nationals and residents. The divide between Erdogan’s Islamism and Kilicdaroglu’s secularism is another major dynamic in the electoral battle.

“As in most democratic countries, foreign policy is less relevant compared to other themes, particularly economic and identity issues,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat, now an Istanbul-based visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe. 

Russia ‘clearly’ supporting Erdogan

But while foreign policy might be a peripheral issue to the average Turkish voter, the elections are a big deal for various foreign powers.

“They’ll be watching it very carefully,” said Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey specialist at St Lawrence University and the Middle East Institute in Washington DC.

While underlining that the Turkish president is unlikely to upend his foreign policy if re-elected – “Erdogan will still be Erdogan” – Eissenstat observed that “Russia in particular will be hoping for an Erdogan victory”.

With a long history of friction dating back to Tsarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire, the two countries had a diplomatic crisis as recently as 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet over Syria. A formal apology from Erdogan soon ended Moscow’s retaliatory sanctions – creating a rapid deepening of ties that survived Russia and Turkey backing opposing sides in the Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh wars.

The dramatic attempted coup in 2016 inaugurated a chill in Turkey’s relations with the West.

Ankara accused Fethullah Gulen, an Islamist cleric and ex-Erdogan ally living in exile in the US, of masterminding the coup. Gulen denied the accusations amid a Turkish government crackdown on his movement, which extended to critics of Erdogan’s policies. For his part, Erdogan perceived the West as insufficiently supportive in the aftermath of the thwarted putsch.

Erdogan’s rapprochement with Russia led to a full-blown rupture with Washington in 2017, when Turkey agreed to buy the S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia – a red line for a NATO member, prompting US sanctions on the Turkish defence industry. 

This fits into a pattern going back to the Cold War, when the USSR helped Turkey develop infrastructure for heavy industry in the 1970s after the US spurned Turkey’s request for assistance.

Since the Cold War era, Moscow has “always been the second choice for Turkey if it thinks Washington is unwilling” to help, while Moscow has “never lost an opportunity to draw a wedge between Turkey and the West”, observed Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Ankara bureau.

“Erdogan and Putin use each other for their own ends,” added Jeffrey Mankoff, from the Washington DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Since 2015, Russia has seen Erdogan as someone they could do business with. And Erdogan as a leader is now seen as toxic in the West – and that has benefits for Russia.”

In this context, Moscow has done Erdogan a favour ahead of his re-election campaign, Ulgen noted: “Russia has clearly supported Erdogan and they’ve demonstrated this by granting them deferred payments on natural gas purchases – essentially helping Turkey out financially by alleviating somewhat the pressures on the Turkish central bank”.

‘Frustration and exhaustion’

By contrast, Kilicdaroglu’s heterogenous six-party bloc, the Nation Alliance, suggests it wants restored relations with the West.

The Alliance is committed to restarting the EU accession process and following the rulings of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Most significantly, the Nation Alliance said it would “take initiatives” to bring Turkey back into the F-35 fighter jet programme, which allows NATO allies to buy the US stealth multirole combat aircraft. Washington removed Turkey from the programme in 2019 over its procurement of S-400s.

Analysts say that beneath the West’s silence about the election campaign, Europe and the US would welcome Kilicdaroglu’s victory.

“A lot of Western officials and leaders feel a sense of frustration and exhaustion in dealing with Erdogan,” said Mankoff. “They see him as presiding over Turkey’s drift from the West and the move towards a personalised and populist regime. For those reasons, they’d be pretty happy to see the back of him.

“At the same time, because Erdogan has been so effective at mobilising anti-Western sentiment, it pays for the West to be silent,” Mankoff continued. “And he’s a wily operator – a very effective politician – so there’s a reasonable sense that he might be re-elected despite all the headwinds. Why further alienate him?”

EU accession ‘effectively closed off’

But even if Kilicdaroglu wins, deepening ties with the West would take a lot of work.

The EU enlargement impetus has diminished over recent years, after the bloc’s rapid expansion was principally driven by Britain in the 2000s as a perceived means of diluting Franco-German influence. French President Emmanuel Macron vetoed accession talks for North Macedonia and Albania in 2019, suggesting the EU would struggle to integrate two countries from the troubled Balkans.

Bad relations with EU members Greece and Cyprus provide even bigger obstacles to Turkey’s EU accession.

After historic tensions going back to Ottoman rule over Greece, Athens and Ankara patched up relations in 1999 with the “earthquake diplomacy” breakthrough, after both countries suffered brutal quakes in the space of months. But Greece and Turkey have seen resurgent animosity over their Aegean Sea maritime border dispute since natural gas reserves were discovered in the eastern Mediterranean in 2010.

Meanwhile Turkey is the only country in the world that recognises the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus created after the 1974 war divided the island. The Nation Alliance promises to maintain Turkey’s longstanding position on the issue, saying it “will pursue the objectives of protecting the acquired rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.

“Of course tensions between Turkey and the EU would decrease if Kilicdaroglu wins, so Turkey will be less isolated and will use diplomacy instead of threatening to invade Greece,” Unluhisarcikli said. “But even if Turkey meets all the other criteria for EU membership – and Turkey would have a lot of homework to do – Cyprus would still be a big issue, and there would still be questions about Greece.”

“On Cyprus, the opposition’s policy is not terribly dissimilar from Erdogan’s,” Eissenstat added – stating that the “road to Turkish EU accession is effectively closed by this point”.

‘Less difficult, but still difficult’

Restoring ties with the US would be similarly complex, given the low ebb they have reached. Unusually for a NATO leader, Erdogan took several days to congratulate President Joe Biden on his US presential election victory in 2020 as his predecessor Donald Trump baselessly contested the result. Biden reciprocated by taking three months to ring Erdogan. 

“Biden seems to have an embargo on Erdogan,” Unluhisarcikli said, adding that, whoever wins the Turkish presidential elections, “there will be a need to manage crisis-prone US-Turkey relations”.

“Under Kilicdaroglu, I would expect Turkey’s relations with the US to be less difficult, but still difficult,” Eissenstat added.

As things stand, it is hard to imagine F-35s and S-400s co-existing within the same country’s arsenal, since the US says the Russian system is a threat to NATO members’ security.

That said, if Washington and Ankara made a concerted effort to deepen ties after a Kilicdaroglu victory, there could be scope for a compromise on the S-400 issue, according to Ulgen. “If there is a flexible attitudes on both sides, there are other formulas besides the maximalist approach of demanding Turkey get rid of them, such as the US putting conditions on any potential Turkish use of S-400s,” he noted. 

Amid these thorny issues, if Kilicdaroglu wins Turkey and the West would likely concentrate on the low-hanging fruit – such as updating Turkey’s customs union with the EU to reduce trade friction.

Such an approach could also see Turkey resolve its most conspicuous source of tension with the West at present: “If the opposition wins, I would fully expect Turkey to ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO,” Eissenstat said.

If Kilicdaroglu wins, “there’s quite a realistic sense [in Turkey] of what the West could provide in terms of short-term wins for both sides”, Ulgen concluded. “I think there would also be quite an expansive political space for the West to achieve these wins – before it gets tricky.”

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Will Turkey’s inflation crisis damage Erdogan’s re-election chances?

A month before Turkey goes to the polls on May 14, the country’s inflation crisis is a major campaign theme as the six main opposition parties rally around Kemal Kilicdaroglu to create the strongest challenge yet to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But analysts say discontent with Erdogan’s economic management will not automatically translate into votes for Kilicdaroglu – especially given the prominence of cultural issues in Turkish politics.

It was telling that Erdogan focused on economic promises when he finally launched his presidential election campaign on April 11, more than two weeks after the secular CHP’s leader Kilicdaroglu. “We’ll bring inflation down to single digits and definitely save our country from this problem,” President Erdogan told his supporters at a stadium in Ankara.

Turkey does indeed need saving from inflation. While growth is robust, the most recent official statistics show inflation running at over 50 percent year-on-year in March, after it reached a quarter-of-a-century peak at over 85 percent in October.

Few doubt that the real figures are much higher: “It’s very clear that the government has been playing with the numbers; the real experience of everyday citizens is considerably more dire,” said Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey specialist at St. Lawrence University and the Project on Middle Eastern Democracy in Washington, DC.

The Turkish lira fell to an all-time low against the dollar in March – the latest of its periodic collapses in the currency and inflation crisis that has racked the Turkish economy since 2018.

Experts blame the crisis on Erdogan’s belief – against all economic evidence – that high interest rates fuel inflation, which has prompted him to cut rates when tight monetary policy is needed to reduce inflation.

‘Really dire’

All this marks a colossal change from the economic outlook in the early years of Erdogan’s rule, back when the Western commentariat lauded him as a forward-thinking reformer.

Erdogan’s moderate Islamist AKP party pulled off an extraordinary feat in the 2003 Turkish elections, overcoming the secularist hegemony cemented in the 1920s by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The 2001 Turkish economic crisis was a major factor behind the AKP’s victory – and when Erdogan became prime minister in 2003, he set about reviving the economy and turning it into a powerhouse.

Bolstered by IMF support and buoyant conditions in Europe, Turkish GDP growth averaged 7.2 percent from 2002 to 2007. Many voters in Erdogan’s core constituency – working-class, socially conservative Muslims in the heartlands of Anatolia, the Asian part of Turkey – joined the ranks of the middle class.

But over the past five years, the inflation and currency crisis has affected all segments of Turkish society, from Istanbul’s Europhile bourgeoisie to pious, working-class voters in the Anatolian heartland.

“The daily lives of Turkish citizens are being squeezed in very fundamental ways,” Eissenstat said. “People who think of themselves as middle-class are having tremendous difficulty maintaining a basic standard of living. And for the vast majority of Turks who live week-to-week and month-to-month in the best of circumstances, the situation has become really dire; just putting food on the table has become a major struggle.”

Unreliable polls?

Polls suggest the president is losing support in the current economic context. Erdogan and the AKP repeatedly sailed to re-election over the past twenty years – but the latest survey by Mediapoll puts Kilicdaroglu slightly ahead for the first round, at 42.6 percent compared to 41.1 percent for Erdogan.

“I want change,” Selman Deveci, a voter in Konya, a traditionally AKP-supporting territory in the Anatolian heartland, told the Financial Times. “They’ve screwed the economy.”

But Deveci was not impressed with the opposition either: “I don’t have faith in them.”

Analysts say this attitude of disillusionment with Erdogan but scepticism towards the opposition looks to be quite widespread – casting doubt on Kilicdaroglu’s lead in some polls.

“I’m not sure I’m very trusting of the polling,” Eissenstat said. “A lot of outside observers tend to just assume that … because the economic situation is bad, people will jump ship – but not necessarily. I suspect a fair number of AKP voters will return to them, after flirting with the idea of doing something else.”

After all, many Western observers underestimated Erdogan the last time around, in 2018 – expecting then-CHP leader Muharrem Ince to push the president into a second-round runoff after a spirited campaign. Ultimately, Erdogan clinched the necessary majority in the first round with 53 percent, winning 10 million more votes than Ince.

Culture war

The economy’s consequence in determining elections is one of the oldest rules in politics, most famously encapsulated by the cliché “It’s the economy, stupid!”, a mantra for staffers created by Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville during the successful challenge to George HW Bush for the US presidency amid 1992’s deepening recession. But not every electoral campaign takes place in the kind of context the US had in 1992, when pervasive political tribalism was confined to its past and future.

A fissure has run through Turkish society ever since the early 1920s, when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk severed the profound links between Islam and politics that characterised the Ottoman Empire.

After coming to power, Erdogan slowly but surely brought Islam back into the heart of Turkish public life, eroding the power of Kemalism (so named for the secular philosophy espoused by the republic’s founder) and the “deep state” military-judicial nexus that had long buttressed it.

The anger of Turkey’s largely metropolitan secularists attracted international attention during the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul – but Erdogan retained his popularity among his millions of supporters in the Anatolian heartland, many of whom welcomed his triumph over the old establishment.

This cultural divide has many different characteristics from those seen in Europe and the US. But “culture war stuff matters in Turkey as it does in the West”, Eissenstat underlined.

And the technological changes of the last decade are amplifying this phenomenon, he added: “In a world of social media – of experiencing the world through news sources of our political choosing – political identification and ideology play a greater role in voting behaviour than before, as we’ve seen not just in Turkey but France, the US and the UK.”

All that said, as the presidential candidate uniting a heterogenous bloc of opposition parties, Kilicdaroglu has adopted a far more pragmatic stance on Turkey’s culture wars than his CHP predecessors.

Last year, Kilicdaroglu shifted the CHP’s position on women’s headscarves, a totemic issue in Turkish politics. Ataturk had discouraged the wearing of headscarves in the 1920s and his successors gradually introduced explicit bans applying at public institutions, which Erdogan then reversed in several stages.

Not only did Kilicdaroglu say the CHP had “made mistakes in the past” by supporting headscarf restrictions, he also endorsed a constitutional amendment upholding women’s right to wear it.

This strategy will make it easier for Kilicdaroglu to emphasise the economy, suggested Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Ankara bureau. “The culture war is the main driver of Turkish politics, but not the only one,” he said. “Kilicdaroglu has softened the impact of polarisation with his conciliatory discourse. Therefore the economy will play a more significant role than usual in these elections.”

Return to orthodoxy?

Kilicdaroglu’s economic platform is a return to orthodox monetary policy and central bank independence. Beyond that, the opposition has avoided getting into the nitty-gritty details of economic policy.

But while it is a simple answer to the inflationary crisis, returning to economic orthodoxy is not such an easy sell for the Turkish opposition.

“The opposition is promising a return to confidence and normalcy, but their problem is that confidence and normalcy requires short-term pain,” Eissenstat noted. “That means they’d rather keep the conversation about how Turkey got into this mess, keeping the election as a referendum on Erdogan, without too many questions about what the opposition in power would look like.”

“Providing economic confidence and returning to governing fundamentals is what Turkey needs,” he concluded. “But it wouldn’t necessarily be popular or easy.”

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‘Save You’: Online platform helps French expatriates who are victims of domestic violence

To mark International Women’s Day on May 8, FRANCE 24 looks at an online platform dedicated to helping expatriate French women who are victims of domestic violence. Seeking help can be more difficult when women are living abroad with their abusers and are cut off from a support system of friends and family. Launched in October, Save You has already helped more than 100 women break their silence to share their horrific stories.

“I didn’t hit you hard enough last time. I feel like you’re asking for more,” shouts a large Turkish man, slamming the door on his way out. Nour* is overcome by anxiety. That week, two earthquakes hit Mersin in southern Turkey where she has been living, isolated from everyone for more than a year. A few days later, Nour herself was shaking. “I have to get out of the house tonight. He is armed, I feel like I’m going to die when he comes back,” she whispers over the phone to Caroline B.

Caroline B., president of the Coeurs de Guerrières (Warrior’s Hearts) association, also runs the Save You online platform. Nour and other French expatriate women who are victims of domestic violence can seek comfort from her soothing voice over the phone for free, wherever they are in the world, 24/7. On the other end of the line, volunteers help them resolve some extremely complex situations, even helping them “avoid the worst” – as they did that evening with Nour.

Save You is the first of its kind. Dedicated to French expatriate women and their children, the platform offers women (and some men) who are victims of violence a place to tell their stories. Some 43 percent of the women who phone in suffer from psychological violence while 19 percent are victims of physical violence. Launched in October 2022, it was created by France’s Sorority Foundation, which also invented The Sorority app – an app that enables women to help each other by alerting other users using geolocation if someone nearby is in danger.

>> Read more: French app fighting violence against women brings a ‘revolution’ to Morocco


On the day she called Caroline B. in tears, Alice* had been subject to both kinds of violence. A little over a year ago, Alice left France for Manchester with her English partner. Last September, she gave birth to a baby girl. Alice said his attitude completely changed a few months later: he tried to prevent her from caring for their daughter and began tearing the baby from her arms. The British man’s kicks were punctuated by threats and insults. Alice told FRANCE 24 over the phone what her partner had said: “Leave the baby here and go back to France, we don’t need you anymore. Go, you witch.”

Alice is trapped in this situation – she is unemployed, does not speak English well, is economically and legally dependent on her partner, and is living far from her family.

Nour found herself trapped in similar circumstances, as have the more than 120 other people who have reached out via Save You, says Caroline B. Some of the women she is in contact with have been held prisoner by their partners for 15 years. The situation becomes particularly challenging in cases where the woman broke off ties with her family when she left her country. Victims often sink into a deep depression after they witness the violent transformation of a man for whom they had left everything behind.

Triggering element

Alice says that her former partner’s “explosive” brutality came out of nowhere. During the last few weeks of her pregnancy, the father of her child had been extremely supportive. So how did he become so violent that the British police had to intervene? “I still don’t understand,” says the 40-year-old.

These sudden and brutal “metamorphoses” are often triggered by childbirth, explains Caroline B. In some cases, the father feels that the mother and child have become his property. It is as if he is thinking, “You can never leave because there is a child. And if you leave, I’ll keep it,” says Caroline B.

This is essentially what Alice’s partner yelled at her, insisting she had no rights in England. Unfortunately, his words were not far from the truth. If Alice does not succeed in obtaining a French passport for her baby, she will never be able to leave the UK legally with her child.          

Nour was also raising a child from a previous marriage during her long period of isolation in Turkey. Rescued by Turkish policemen alerted by Save You, the young woman managed to escape from her former companion, arriving at Adana airport from Mersin. She spent many long, difficult hours there, as the chaos caused by the earthquake had grounded all flights to Paris. With no money and after several layovers, Nour finally landed at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. She had finally returned home from what was originally meant to be a weekend trip, but which had turned into 10 months of captivity. Exhausted, considerably thinner and destitute, Nour had lost everything. “He took away all my self-confidence,” the young woman said, before bursting into tears.

Overwhelmed by the flood of calls for help, Caroline B. is overcome with indignation, as she feels that French authorities should tackle the problem head-on. Out of more than a million expatriate French women, how many are living in similar circumstances, she wonders. This type of gender-based violence is not included in any official statistics.

Constrained by local laws

Although the French foreign ministry has set up a dedicated unit, it suffers from a severe lack of personnel, says Amélia Lakrafi, the MP who represents French nationals living abroad. “To respond to a problem effectively, one needs to be aware of it,” says Lakrafi. In France, she says, “the popular imagination tends to imagine French expatriates as being wealthy and living wonderful, happy lives”.

The other challenge is trying to apply French policies in other countries. “Our national representatives are not allowed to do what they want. And we all remain extremely constrained by local laws,” she says.

Lakrafi, who has been telling decision-makers for years that this type of gender-based violence needs to be addressed, was a fan of the online platform from the start. Save You is “the tool we have been waiting for”, she says.

She says associations such as The Sorority Foundation have more latitude than a government administration, which is weighed down by its own procedures. However, she adds, “Save You will only gain traction if it works alongside French government institutions abroad, like the French foreign ministry and the interior ministry.”

This relationship seems to have already begun taking shape. “The French foreign ministry often allows us to move forward more quickly, we are lucky that they support us,” says Priscillia Routier-Trillard, founder of The Sorority Foundation. Within a few months of its launch, government offices such as the French foreign ministry posted a link to Save You. This has greatly benefited women like Nour and Alice, who may not have otherwise been aware of the platform.

Knowing you are not alone

Alice still has many legal obstacles to overcome before she can live in peace. However, the support that she receives from Caroline B. and others at Save You helps her believe in a better tomorrow. Barriers that seemed insurmountable before now seem to be crumbling, and Alice was able to move to a new home – although she will not disclose its location due to fears that her ex-partner will come take her daughter away.

Since its launch, lawyers, doctors, social workers and other professionals have offered their services to Save You in various countries around the world. This growing network has helped ensure that more women are made aware of this platform. “Sometimes we simply serve as a link to a local solution, which the victim has been desperately seeking for months without success,” Caroline B. explains.

Simply by lending a sympathetic ear, Caroline B. gave Alice a priceless gift. “She listened to me. It was like I could see a way out from the black hole I was in,” says Alice.

Like Alice and Nour – and hundreds of thousands of French women every year – Routier-Trillard and Caroline B. were once victims of domestic violence. For a long time, they felt trapped in silent guilt.  

“What gets me through is providing the support I would have liked to have,” Caroline B. says.

We are social beings, Routier-Trillard adds. “Nothing in the world is more powerful than knowing that you are not alone.”

*Names have been changed

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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Being a digital nomad isn’t just for singles. Here’s how families make it work

To many, the lifestyle of a “digital nomad” is an aspirational one — you can live anywhere in the world, visa permitting, with your laptop as your office.

Forget the daily grind of the rush hour commute. As long as there’s decent Wi-Fi, simply pick a coffee shop, park or pool and get to work.

The lifestyle has become more popular in the wake of the Covid pandemic, which accelerated the trend of remote working. The number of American digital nomads increased 9% in just 12 months from 2021 to 2022, to a total of almost 17 million, according to the jobs platform MBO Partners.

But one factor deters many from the lifestyle: kids.

Whether it’s schooling, health and safety concerns, or the question of a child’s ability to develop lasting friendships, parents face multiple barriers.

But some have taken the plunge anyway. Two families tell CNBC Travel how they’ve made it work.

Keller family: French Polynesia

Sam Keller is the founder and CEO of Working Without Borders, which calls itself “the world’s first company providing coworking retreats for families with culturally immersive programming for kids and teens.” 

He’s also a dad of two kids under the age of 12.

Sam Keller, founder of Working Without Borders, which organizes coworking retreats for families.

Working Without Borders

“My wife and I each had living abroad experiences, but we couldn’t figure out how to make it happen” again, he said. “Then we had kids.”

The couple scoped out a school while on vacation in French Polynesia, thinking it could be “the place where we can go live,” he said.

Another factor worked in their favor: Keller’s wife Pascaline Cure works for Airbnb, which allows her to work anywhere she wants.

So together they made a big move from California to French Polynesia. And not just at any time — they moved during the pandemic.

“The stars aligned, we made it onto the plane and decided we’re going to make lemonade out of lemons of this pandemic.”

Sam Keller with his family in Bora Bora.

Working Without Borders

Education is regularly cited as the biggest challenge for digital nomads with children. Navigating an unfamiliar school system, often in an entirely new language, can be a struggle.

“We found that [in French Polynesia] there are a fair number of private schools that will accept kids for as short a time as a couple of weeks or a month. Then there are plenty of schools set up to provide online support, or online-only schools with really good teaching and instruction and curricula,” Keller said.

Homeschooling is another option for some, but Keller prefers to call it “world schooling,” which he says “embraces this notion of viewing the world as your classroom.”

“From the playground you could see stingrays swimming by,” he said. “Kids are out as part of the curriculum, so we’re paddling outrigger canoes in the lagoon, seeing sea turtles and dolphins. It was just magical in so many respects.”

He added that now more resources exist to help people learn about the digital nomad lifestyle, thanks to its growing popularity. Companies, like this own, let families “dip their toes in the water,” and some Facebook groups for world schooling have more than 50,000 members — so there’s always someone to answer a question, he said.

Elledge-Penner family: 20 countries

The beautiful Indonesian island of Bali, famed for its laidback lifestyle, is a popular destination for digital nomads.

Martin Penner and Taryn Elledge-Penner from the boutique travel agency Quartier Collective call it home, along with their three children, aged between seven and 12.

Since leaving Seattle in 2018, the family has visited nearly 20 different countries, including Japan, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey and Sri Lanka. Sometimes they stay a few weeks, but typically they’re in one place for one to three months.

Taryn Elledge-Penner and her son Viggo in Ahangama, Sri Lanka.

Quartier Collective

Penner said his children were part of the reason they decided to leave the United States.

“We traveled a lot as individuals and just felt that the world was this big, wild place — and that our world in Seattle had shrunk in a way,” he said. “We had to show them the world and didn’t want to miss this connection to something bigger.”

Elledge-Penner said they wanted more time with their kids, to make their journey sustainable and, critically, to connect with other families.

“When we left it was lonely for families like ours on the road,” she said. “Now that has really changed and a lot of families have realized this is an option, going longer and deeper.”

The family of five have enjoyed a range of experiences: living on a farm in Japan where they slurped soba noodles from a 30-foot hollowed-out bamboo pole; making pottery in Mexico; and taking in a shadow puppet show in the Cyclades in Greece — though they didn’t understand a word.

Penner said the key to making the lifestyle work for them is “connecting with people” and not approaching places “as a travel highlight hit list.”

Martin Penner walking with two of his children in Japan.

Quartier Collective

But it’s not all fun and games. There are also practicalities to be reckoned with, Elledge-Penner said.

“One of the challenges has been finding a balance with time and space on our own — and away from each other and the kids,” she said. “We’ve gone such long periods being together, every waking moment of a day.”

“We all need a break and space, normally by going to work or school. Even though this is what we’re choosing, it still requires some balance and that can be difficult to find and that can lead to tension.”

The pre-teen marker is a natural point when pressures mount.

She also touches on what she calls “decision fatigue.”

“The time to plan out the logistics, getting from A to B, where to stay, it can literally be a full-time job and really exhausting,” she said.

Once again, education is one of the biggest questions for global nomads with kids, but — like Keller — Elledge-Penner said there are plenty of options.

“Things have changed a lot from when we first set out. It’s tenfold the number of options you can find and plug into as a world schooling family,” she said.

“We’ve dropped into schools in different countries around the world. There are accredited distance learning programs too and home-schooling pods. For literally anybody who wants to untether from their current school system, it’s totally possible to find whatever you’re looking for.”

The couple noted that the family dynamic has changed since they started traveling in 2018. Their daughter, for example, now wants more long-lasting friendships, while the idea of having a dog — and a bedroom she doesn’t have to share with her brothers — is a big draw.

“The pre-teen marker is a natural point when pressures mount. Lots of families we see stop traveling when [kids] are that age. Now they want to spend more time around friends [which is] a big shift from when we started out.”


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People in Turkey got emotional while bidding us goodbye: Indian Army’s medical team members

Tears in eyes, warm affection and a deep sense of gratitude — this is how emotionally moved Turkish citizens, bid farewell to a medical team of the Indian Army when they were departing from Turkey after rendering humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the quake-ravaged country.

The 99-member self-contained team that successfully set up and ran a fully equipped 30-bedded field hospital in Iskenderun, Hatay Province, has returned to India to a hero’s welcome.

Some of the team members PTI interacted with, shared their experiences and challenges and spoke of the warmth and cooperation they received from Turkish people, despite “a language barrier”.

“They [Turkish citizens] were crying when we were leaving. It was a very emotional moment for us as well. They hugged us to say thank you, it was a humbling experience,” said a member of the team, on the condition of anonymity.

“What we saw there was painful, scenes of devastation and destruction left by the massive earthquake and its powerful aftershock on February 6,” he said.

Also Read:Death toll rises to eight from new Turkey-Syria earthquake

The medical team of 60 Para Field Hospital provided assistance to quake-affected people in Turkey from February 7-19.

Army Chief General Manoj Pande on Feb. 21 said the force is proud of its medical team for rendering humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to quake-hit Turkey, and asserted that the mobilisation of a field hospital in short time indicates the team’s excellent operational preparedness.

He said this after interacting with members of the medical team here.

The field hospital treated about 3,600 people, conducted numerous major and minor surgeries, including one amputated and life-saving surgery, he said.

“The hospital was mobilised at a short notice of six hours, and they moved to Turkey, and they landed there at Adana airfield on February 8 and within a short period of time, the Indian Army medical team established a 30-bed field hospital at Iskenderun in Hatay region,” General Pande told reporters.

“It was the timely decision and excellent inter-agency coordination among all stakeholders, due to which they were among the first few medical teams to reach Turkey,” he said.

India launched ‘Operation Dost‘ to extend assistance to Turkey as well as Syria after various parts of the two countries were hit by a devastating earthquake on February 6 that has killed over 30,000 people.

Another member of the medical team said many Turkish people just came to “see and meet us” knowing an assistance team had arrived from India.

“One man had even travelled a very long distance by road to reach the field hospital that was set up in a school, and he told us that he had come just to meet people from ‘Hindistan’ [India],” the team member recalled.

Turkish people refer to India as ‘Hindistan’, he said with a smile.

Asked how they managed to tide over the language barrier, the medical team member said “there were interpreters to aid us”.

“English language teachers also helped us in interacting with Turkish citizens, and vice versa,” he said.

General Pande on Feb. 21 also said the medical team is extremely appreciative of the assistance and cooperation extended to them by Turkish citizens.

“Mobilisation of field hospital in such short time in Turkey also indicates the excellent operational preparedness they maintain at all time,” General Pande said.

Also Read: Earthquake of 3.6 magnitude hits Dharamshala

India’s ’60 Para Field Ambulance’ unit has an illustrious track record and it had also provided crucial medical support to the injured during the Korean War in 1950s.

“We are proud of our medical team for rendering humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to quake-hit people in Turkey,” General Pande said.

India sent relief materials as well as medical and rescue teams to Turkey following the quake. As part of quake assistance, India also sent relief materials and medicines to Syria.

The Ministry of Defence in a statement on Feb. 20 had said the Indian disaster relief team, comprising 99 personnel of Indian Army Field Hospital and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) returned home on February 20, after putting in a “stupendous effort” to provide medical relief to disaster victims in Hatay Province of Turkey, hit by earthquake.

Also Read: NDRF personnel rescue six-year-old girl in earthquake-ravaged Turkey’s Gaziantep

The medical team comprising 99 personnel, including various specialist medical officers and paramedics, established their field hospital at Iskenderun on Turkey on February 8, which included a fully functional operational theatre and trauma care centre, it said.

The specialists include medical specialist, surgical specialists, anaesthetists, orthopaedicians, maxillofacial surgeon and community medicine specialist for rendering medical assistance to earthquake victims. Besides, a woman medical officer was also sent for rendering medical care to women patients, the statement said.

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Live: Death toll in quake hit Turkey and Syria nears 40,000, as UN launches appeal for Syrians

As the death toll from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria approached 40,000 on Wednesday, the UN launched an appeal for $397 million to provide “life-saving relief” for nearly five million Syrians affected by the latest disaster. Follow FRANCE 24’s live coverage of the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria. All times are Paris time (GMT + 1)

8:50pm: UK makes it easier for aid agencies in Syria to avoid breaching sanctions

Britain is issuing two new licences to make it easier for aid agencies helping earthquake relief efforts to operate in Syria without breaching sanctions aimed at the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Relief efforts in Syria have been hampered by the legacy of a civil war that has splintered the country and divided regional and global powers.

The British government said the temporary new licences would “strengthen the timely and effective delivery of relief efforts by removing the need for individual licence applications”.

“UK sanctions do not target humanitarian aid, food, or medical supplies, but we recognise that the current requirements for individual licencing are not always practical during a crisis response,” Minister of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell said in a statement.

The licences provide broad protection to organisations to allow them to operate by authorising activities which would have otherwise been prohibited.

6:55pm: Northwest Syria now area of ‘greatest concern’, says WHO

The World Health Organization says it is particularly concerned about the welfare of people in northwestern Syria, a rebel-held region with little access to aid.

“It’s clear that the zone of greatest concern at the moment is the area of northwestern Syria,” WHO’s emergencies director, Mike Ryan, told a briefing in Geneva.

“The impact of the earthquake in areas of Syria controlled by the government is significant, but the services are there and there is access to those people. We have to remember here that in Syria, we’ve had ten years of war. The health system is amazingly fragile. People have been through hell.”

Efforts to distribute aid have been hampered by a civil war that has splintered the country for more than a decade. Civil war enmities have obstructed at least two attempts to send aid across frontlines into Syria’s northwest, but an aid convoy reached the area overnight.

5:50pm: Destruction ‘is everywhere’ in Turkey’s quake-stricken Nurdagi

In Nurdagi, a southeastern Turkish town near the epicentre of the January 6 earthquakes, practically all buildings have been flattened or severly damaged, with plans now in place to completely demolish those still standing and rebuild the town anew.

Meanwhile, those left homeless by the disaster are still waiting for aid and a place to live.

FRANCE 24’s special correspondent Thameen Al Kheetan has more.


4:15pm: Two women pulled from the rubble in Turkey’s Kahramanmaras

Two more women have been pulled from the rubble in Turkey’s southern city of Kahramanmaras, even as hopes of finding survivors dwindle.

Rescuers could be seen applauding and embracing each other in a video posted to social media as an ambulance carried away a 74-year-old woman rescued after more than nine days trapped in rubble.

Earlier in the day, a 46-year-old woman was rescued in the same city, close to the epicentre of the quake.


2:35pm: Turkey says earthquake diplomacy could help mend Armenia ties

Humanitarian aid sent by Armenia for victims of last week’s devastating earthquake in Turkey could boost the neighbouring countries’ efforts to normalise their relations, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said.

A border gate between the long-feuding neighbours was opened for the first time in 35 years to allow aid for quake victims in southern Turkey. Armenia also sent a rescue team to Turkey to help in the search for survivors.

“Armenia has extended its hand of friendship, showed solidarity and cooperation with us in this difficult time … We need to continue this solidarity,” Cavusoglu said at a joint news conference in Ankara with his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan.

“The normalisation process in the southern Caucasus region is going on. We believe that our cooperation in the humanitarian field will support this process,” Cavusoglu added.

Mirzoyan said through a translator that Armenia remained committed to “the full normalisation of relations and complete opening of the border with Turkey”.

11:56am: Turkey arrests 78 for ‘sharing provocative posts’ on social media over earthquake

Turkish police said they have arrested 78 people accused of creating fear and panic by “sharing provocative posts” about last week’s earthquake on social media, adding 20 of them were being held in pre-trial detention.

Turkey‘s General Directorate of Security said it had identified 613 people accused of making provocative posts, and legal proceedings had been initiated against 293. Of this group, the chief prosecutor had ordered the arrest of 78.

The directorate added that 46 websites were shut down for running “phishing scams” trying to steal donations for quake victims and 15 social media accounts posing as official institutions were closed.

Last October, Turkey’s parliament adopted a law under which journalists and social media users could be jailed for up to three years for spreading “disinformation”, raising concerns among rights groups and European countries about free speech, particularly ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due this summer.

11:57am: Armenian foreign minister visits Turkey, Ankara hails quake diplomacy

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan arrived in Ankara Wednesday for rare talks with his Turkish counterpart as the two countries seek to normalise relations after decades of animosity.

At loggerheads since Armenia gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the neighbouring nations have never established formal diplomatic relations.

At a press conference in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said humanitarian aid sent by Armenia for earthquake victims could help boost ties between the two countries.

A border gate was opened for the first time in 35 years to allow aid for quake victims in southern Turkey. Armenia also sent a rescue team to Turkey to help in the search for survivors.

“Armenia has extended its hand of friendship, showed solidarity and cooperation with us in this difficult time…We need to continue this solidarity,” said Cavusoglu.

10:40am: Woman rescued from ruins in Turkey 222 hours after quakes

A 42-year-old woman was rescued from the rubble of a building in the southern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras on Wednesday, almost 222 hours after devastating earthquakes struck the region, Turkish media reported.

TV footage sowed rescue workers carrying the woman, named Melike Imamoglu, strapped onto a stretcher, to an ambulance.

4:45am: Combined death toll nears 40,000

The confirmed death toll from the quake stands at 39,106 as officials and medics said 35,418 people had died in Turkey and at least 3,688 in Syria. Following the disaster, residents faced the harsh realities of surviving in cities turned to ruin in the middle of the winter freeze.

1:30am: New aid convoy route to rebel-held Syria opens with UN

An aid convoy  passed through a newly re-opened border crossing into rebel-held northwestern Syria, where help has been slow to arrive since last week’s earthquake.

A convoy of 11 UN trucks entered Syria through the newly-opened Bab al-Salam border point, after Damascus agreed to let the world body use the crossing for aid.

The UN has so far sent more than 50 trucks of aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

Following international pressure, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allowed the use of two more crossings, Bab Al-Salam and al-Raee, for an initial period of three months.

Activists and local emergency teams have decried the UN’s slow response to the quake in rebel-held areas, contrasting it with the planeloads of humanitarian aid delivered to government-controlled airports.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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Live: Syria could open more border crossings for quake aid, WHO says

Issued on: Modified:

The death toll from the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria has now reached approximately 33,000 reports stated Sunday, with the UN warning that the final number could rise by “double or more”. Also on Sunday, a new UN convoy arrived in Syria to deliver deperately needed international aid. Follow FRANCE 24 for live updates. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

6:28pm: Syria may consider to open more border crossings for quake aid, WHO says

The World Health Organization chief said Sunday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had voiced openness to more border crossings for aid to be brought to quake victims in rebel-held northwestern Syria. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters he had met with the Syrian president in Damascus on Sunday afternoon to discuss the response to the devastating earthquake.

“This afternoon I met with His Excellency President Assad, who indicated he was open to considering additional cross-border access points for this emergency,” Tedros told a virtual press conference from the Syrian capital.

Rebel-held areas in northwestern Syria, which has been ravaged by more than a decade of civil war, are in a particularly dire situation. They cannot receive aid from government-held parts of Syria without Damascus’s authorisation, and the single border crossing open to shuttle aid from Turkey saw operations damaged in the quake.

Aid began trickling through the border crossing again on Thursday, but there have been mounting calls to open more crossings to speed up the aid delivery.

While Damascus had given the all-clear for cross-line aid convoys to go ahead from government-held areas, Tedros said the WHO was still waiting for the green light from the rebel-held areas before going in.

3:11pm: Death toll rises above 30,000 in Turkey, Syria earthquake

The death toll from the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria reached 33,000 on Sunday, with the United Nations warning that the final number may double.

Officials and medics said 29,605 people had died in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, bringing the current total to 33,179

2:28pm: UN warns of aid failure for Syria

The UN denounced Sunday a failure to get desperately needed aid to war-torn regions of Syria. A UN convoy with supplies for northwest Syria arrived via Turkey, but the agency’s relief chief Martin Griffiths said much more was needed for the millions whose homes were destroyed.

“We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria. They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived,” Griffiths said on Twitter. “My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as fast as we can.”

Aid has been slow to arrive in Syria, where years of conflict have ravaged the healthcare system, and parts of the country remain under the control of rebels battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is under Western sanctions.

The UN convoy of ten trucks crossed into northwest Syria via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, according to an AFP correspondent, carrying shelter kits including plastic sheeting, ropes and screws and nails, as well as blankets and mattresses.

1:22pm: A new UN convoy arrives in Syria

A UN convoy of ten trucks crossed the border with Turkey at the Bab-al Hawa crossing point in northwestern Syria. The trucks carried materials for emergency shelters like plastic sheeting, blankets, mattresses, ropes and even nails and screws.

12:15pm: Syria quake aid held up by Islamist group ‘approval issues’, says UN

Earthquake aid from government-held parts of Syria into territory controlled by hardline opposition groups has been held up by approval issues with the hardline Islamists group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a United Nations spokesperson told Reuters on Sunday.

The Syrian government last week said it was willing to send aid into the northern zone, which is largely held by the HTS and was devastated by Monday’s earthquake.

8:49am: Greek foreign minister visits Turkey’s quake-hit region

Greece‘s foreign minister arrived in Turkey on Sunday in a show of support after the country was hit by a devastating earthquake seven days ago, the ministry said, despite a longstanding rivalry between the two NATO countries.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was met with a warm embrace by his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, according to footage on state-run ERT TV, before they boarded helicopters to visit quake-hit regions.

His arrival marks the first visit by a European minister to Turkey since the earthquake.

The two ministers are in Antakya, where Greek rescuers are helping with search and rescue operations.


7:18am: EU says ‘absolutely unfair’ to be accused of not providing aid to Syria

The European Union’s envoy to Syria said early on Sunday that it was not fair to accuse the bloc of failing to provide enough help to Syrians following the devastating earthquake that hit swathes of Syria and Turkey last week.

“It is absolutely unfair to be accused of not providing aid, when actually we have constantly been doing exactly that for over a decade and we are doing so much more even during the earthquake crisis,” the head of the EU delegation Dan Stoenescu told Reuters in written comments.


7:07am: Turkey-Syria quake death toll surpasses 28,000, UN expects toll to double

UN relief chief Martin Griffiths said he expected the death toll to at least double after he arrived in southern Turkey on Saturday to assess the quake’s damage.

Tens of thousands of rescue workers are scouring flattened neighbourhoods despite freezing weather that has deepened the misery of millions now in desperate need of aid.

Security concerns led some aid operations to be suspended, and dozens of people have been arrested for looting or trying to defraud victims in the aftermath of the quake in Turkey, according to state media.


(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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West must move faster to prevent a catastrophe in northern Syria

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

On the “treacherous night” of the deadly earthquake that shook northern Syria, Idris Nassan, a Kurdish official living in Raqqa, was startled awake as his apartment swayed.

“My body was trembling, noise filled the place; the building turned into a swing, leaning left and right,” he said.

With his wife and mother in tow, Nassan scrambled down three flights of stairs, joining neighbors who, “like birds fleeing snakes of prey,” made their chaotic exit. The stairwell echoed with the cries and screams of terrified children.

The scenes outside were “beyond endurance,” Nassan said — telling, coming from a man who witnessed the siege of Kobani and the vicious battles between Kurds and the Islamic State militants there. But, he added, the “pain of the earthquake has been “deepened by the failure of others to help.”

Of all the places to be tested by the grinding of tectonic plates, this is one that just didn’t need to suffer more pain and grief.

The Syrians of Idlib and northern Aleppo, many displaced from elsewhere in the war-ravaged country, have endured barbaric conflict, a gruesome descent into hell, for over a decade. They’ve suffered barrel bombs; their hospitals and markets have been targeted; they’ve been starved; and they’ve been preyed upon by the jihadists of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Idlib was turned into a large “kill zone” by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers, as rebels and their families were funneled into the area, corralled like cattle awaiting slaughter.

Adding insult to injury, since 2018, Turkish authorities have been deterring Syrian asylum seekers from crossing the border and declining to register them. Turkey has also mounted unlawful deportations and coerced some to return to northern Syria, while the European Union — fearful of another migration surge — has raised few objections to this breach of the Geneva Convention.

Along the arc of northern Syria, the widespread complaint by Arabs and Kurds alike is that since the defeat of the Islamic State, they’ve been abandoned by the international community. That sense of desertion is now being compounded as they dig mass graves and grapple with the effects of a devastating earthquake.

Since the deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake flattened towns, destroyed homes and crushed thousands of lives on February 6, the world’s focus has mainly been on Turkey — that’s where Western media and international rescue crews, aid and equipment have been heading.

But across the border, there’s been scant assistance.

Sent into rebel-held Idlib, a member of Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization, said, “What sticks in my mind is that some people were standing above the rubble and hearing the voices of their families and relatives a few meters away, but they could not do anything to rescue them due to the lack of equipment and the absence of an international response to help.”

Predictably, Moscow and Beijing haven’t been lagging in their efforts to try to spin the events in Syria. “The sanctions imposed by the US and its allies are hampering relief and rescue work . . . such a humanitarian disaster is not enough to melt the cold-blooded heart of the US,” goaded the Global Times, the English-language mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused the “collective West” of ignoring what’s taking place in northern Syria, blaming the economic sanctions against the Assad government for prolonging suffering.

Of course, these are crocodile tears coming from a Chinese Communist government that’s incarcerated over a million Uyghurs since 2015. It’s also strikingly indecent of Russia to claim sympathy for the north of Syria, where it shunned the laws of war and rehearsed the bombing campaigns and egregious tactics it’s now using in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, one doesn’t have to be a Russian or Chinese propagandist to question the West’s sluggishness in anticipating the scale of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in northern Syria, or in developing an action plan to ease the suffering in Idlib and northern Aleppo.

Last week, EU officials slammed the complaints of neglect coming from northern Syria. “I categorically reject the accusations that EU sanctions may have any impact on humanitarian aid. These sanctions were imposed since 2011 in response to the violent repression of the Syrian regime against its own civilian population, including the use of chemical weapons,” European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič told reporters. “There is nothing there that would hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid and emergency assistance, especially not in the situation in which Syrian people find themselves after this terrible earthquake,” he added.

The EU says it’ll provide additional emergency support to both Turkey and Syria, and emergency humanitarian assistance worth €6.5 million. But officials say the bloc will also require safeguards to ensure aid effectively reaches those in need and isn’t misused by the Assad government — something that’s plagued humanitarian assistance in the past.

Indeed, funneling aid into northern Syria is fraught with logistical and political nightmares. Idlib is controlled by a variety of feuding rebel groups, with a large part held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an Islamist militant group that’s been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and, much like the Assad government, has been accused of manipulating international aid.

Additionally, of the five border crossings from Turkey into northern Syria, only one has been authorized by Turkish authorities to handle humanitarian aid — although Ankara has now said it’s considering reopening more crossings to allow aid into both opposition-held and Assad-controlled areas.

But time is of the essence, and the scale of the crisis unfolding requires a momentous step change.

Mercy Corps reports that there aren’t enough structural engineers in northern Syria to inspect buildings, and even small aftershocks risk further collapse. There’s also very little coordination on the ground, with extremely limited information available on shelter options for survivors.

Fuel for heating and cooking is becoming a major challenge as well. “There is limited availability, and what is available is of poor quality and very expensive. People are burning trash to stay warm, and aid deliveries will be dependent on consistent access to fuel for trucks,” said Mercy Corps. Meanwhile, food is hard to procure, prices are skyrocketing, and access to clean drinking water is becoming a critical problem, with assessment teams worried about pollutants leaking into water sources.

On Friday, the United Nations warned that over 5 million Syrians may be left homeless after the earthquake. “That is a huge number and comes to a population already suffering mass displacement,” said Sivanka Dhanapala, the Syria representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Thankfully, in the past few days, 20 U.N. aid trucks have crossed into rebel-held areas, but most were carrying pre-planned provisions that had been delayed due to the earthquake. And on Friday, the U.N. announced it was releasing an additional $25 million in emergency funding for Syria, bringing the total to $50 million so far.

However, NGO assessment workers say this is far short of what’s needed — and they argue that Western powers will have to rethink the sanctions regime.

While humanitarian aid isn’t barred by Western sanctions, there are plenty of other things desperately needed in northern Syria that are, including fuel and construction equipment critical to rescue efforts, to prop up battered buildings and to rebuild, so the displaced aren’t left to shelter in tents.

The United States has moved faster than the EU in recognizing that sanctions risk impeding quake assistance, issuing a six-month waiver for all transactions related to providing disaster relief to Syria.

 Navigating the political dilemmas all this will bring — getting in front of Assad exploiting the earthquake to force a normalization of relations, getting Turkey to coordinate with the Kurds of northern Syria, and dealing with HTS and the other feuding rebel groups — is undoubtedly going to be a tall order.

Aside from the imperatives of compassion, a slow and inadequate Western response will also feed into African and Middle Eastern countries’ perception — kindled by Moscow and Beijing — that Western powers only pay attention to them when they want or need something.

And if these challenges aren’t confronted, the immediate humanitarian crisis risks turning into a catastrophe.

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Survivors still being rescued five days after Turkey-Syria quake as toll tops 28,000

Rescue crews on Saturday pulled more survivors, including entire families, from toppled buildings despite diminishing hopes as the death toll of the enormous quake that struck a border region of Turkey and Syria five days ago surpassed 28,000. Rescuers also pulled a two-month-old baby and an elderly woman from the rubble on Saturday. Read our live blog to see how all the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1). 

This live page is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, click here.

10:27pm: Death toll tops 28,000 as some aid operations are suspended due to security reasons

Officials and medics said 24,617 people had died in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria. The confirmed total now stands at 28,191.

Although many rescues happened on Saturday, security concerns led some aid operations to be suspended, and 48 people have been arrested for looting or trying to defraud victims in the aftermath of the quake in Turkey, state media reported.

Tens of thousands of rescue workers are still scouring through flattened neighbourhoods despite freezing weather that has deepened the misery of millions now in desperate need of aid.

8:38pm: Turkey arrests 48 for looting, defrauding quake victims, state media says

Turkish authorities have arrested 48 people for looting or trying to defraud victims after a powerful earthquake hit Turkey, state media reported on Saturday.

The suspects were held in eight different provinces as part of investigations into looting after Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the region, news agency Anadolu said.

It later reported that 42 suspects were held for looting in southern Hatay province, while six were arrested over defrauding a victim in Gaziantep by telephone.

7:03pm: Survivors still being rescued five days after quake, including entire families and children

Rescue crews on Saturday pulled more survivors, including entire families, from toppled buildings despite diminishing hopes as the death toll of the enormous quake that struck a border region of Turkey and Syria five days ago surpassed 25,000. Rescuers also pulled a two-month-old baby and an elderly woman from the rubble on Saturday.

Dramatic rescues were being broadcast on Turkish television, including the rescue of the Narli family in central Kahramanmaras 133 hours after the quake struck early Monday. First, 12-year-old Nehir Naz Narli was saved, then both of her parents.

That followed the rescue earlier in the day of a family of five from a mound of debris in the hard-hit town of Nurdagi, in Gaziantep province, TV network HaberTurk reported. Rescuers cheered and chanted, “God is Great!” as the last family member, the father, was lifted to safety.

In the city of Antakya, a two-month-old baby was found alive 128 hours after the quake, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Tens of thousands of local and international rescue workers are still scouring through flattened neighbourhoods despite freezing weather that has compounded the misery of millions now in desperate need of aid.

3:52pm: Death toll rises above 25,000 in both countries

The death toll from a catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria climbed to more than 25,000 on Saturday, as rescuers worked in freezing weather to find people alive.

Officials and medics said 21,848 people had died in Turkey and 3,553 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the confirmed total to 25,401.

3pm: Turkey detains 12 over collapsed buildings after quake, media reports

Turkish police have detained 12 people over collapsed buildings in the southeastern provinces of Gaziantep and Sanliurfa, local media reported on Saturday, following the huge quake that hit Turkey.

Those taken into custody included contractors, DHA news agency said. At least 6,000 buildings collapsed after a 7.8-magnitude tremor hit the region, killing more than 25,000 people, sparking anger over the poor quality of housing.

There are expected to be more detentions after the public prosecutor in Diyarbakir, one of 10 southeastern provinces affected by the quake, issued arrest warrants for 29 people on Saturday, state news agency reported.

One of those detained Saturday was a contractor for a building in Gaziantep, the agency said, adding he was found by police in Istanbul.

1:27pm: Armenia-Turkey crossing opened for first time in 35 years after quake

A border crossing between Armenia and Turkey opened for the first time in 35 years on Saturday, to allow humanitarian aid through after a massive earthquake hit the region, an official said.

Five trucks with aid including food and water arrived in Turkey from the Alican border crossing, Serdar Kilic, Turkey’s special envoy for dialogue with Armenia, said on Twitter. State news agency Anadolu said this was the first time it had opened since 1988.

12:23am: Turkey to act against those involved in looting, says Erdogan

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday the government would take action against those involved in looting and other crimes in the region affected by this week’s devastating earthquakes.

Speaking during a visit to the quake zone, Erdogan said hundreds of thousands of buildings were uninhabitable across southern Turkey and that authorities would take steps to start rebuilding damaged cities within weeks.

The death toll in Turkey has risen to 21,043, he said.

12:10am: UN aid chief says earthquake is region’s ‘worst event in 100 years’

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths described on Saturday the devastating earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northwestern Syria as the “worst event in 100 years in this region”.

Speaking during a news briefing in the Turkish province of Kahramanmaras, Griffiths also lauded Turkey’s response to the disaster as “extraordinary”.

He also told Reuters he hoped in Syria aid would go to both government and opposition-held areas, but that things with this regard were “not clear yet”.

11:44am: Turkish company to send ships to house 3,000 in earthquake zone

Turkey’s Karadeniz Holding said on Saturday it would send two humanitarian aid ships that can each house 1,500 people to help the relief effort in the southern province of Hatay, hit by a major earthquake that has claimed more than 20,000 lives.

“The company is working with the authorities to send lifeships Suheyla Sultan and Rauf Bey to Iskenderun-Hatay,” the company said, adding this would be its first humanitarian mission.

The so-called lifeships, built for humanitarian aid missions, have accommodation, fridges, TVs and heating, as well as facilities for education, healthcare and food, the company said.

11:44am: Austrian army suspends Turkey quake rescue

The Austrian army on Saturday suspended rescue operations in quake-ravaged Turkey due to a worsening “security situation”, a spokesman said.

“There have been clashes between groups,” he told AFP without giving details. 

The spokesman said the 82 soldiers from the Austrian Forces Disaster Relief Unit were sheltering in the southern Hatay province “in a base camp with other international organisations, awaiting instructions”.

They had arrived in Hatay on Tuesday with 45 tonnes of equipment and were able to rescue nine people from rubble.

9:30am: ‘Anger is brewing amid the grief’

“Authorities aren’t letting people return home even if their damaged residences are still standing,” reports Shona Bhattacharya from Osmaniye, Turkey. She adds that last Friday, the minister of urban planning announced 4,000 experts would be examining buildings to determine if they were safe to return to or not. 


Turkish rescue workers carry Ergin Guzeloglan, 36, to an ambulance after pulled him out from a collapsed building five days after an earthquake in Hatay, southern Turkey, early Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. © Can Ozer, AP


9:09am: Earthquake compounds Turkish leader’s woes as election nears

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power 20 years ago riding a wave of public outrage toward the previous government’s handling of a deadly earthquake. 

Now, three months away from an election, Erdogan’s political future could hinge on how the public perceives his government’s response to a similarly devastating natural disaster. 

“It is going to be a big challenge for Erdogan, who has established a brand for himself as an autocratic figure but an efficient one that gets the job done,” said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute and the author of several books on Erdogan. 

The aftermath of a massive earthquake isn’t the only parallel to the election of 2002. Back then, Turkey was in the midst of a financial crisis that was punishing its economy.

7:22am: Aid trickles in as Turkey-Syria quake toll passes 24,000

A winter freeze in the affected areas has hurt rescue efforts and compounded the suffering of millions of people, many in desperate need of aid.

At least 870,000 people urgently needed food in the two countries after the quake, which has left up to 5.3 million people homeless in Syria alone, the UN warned.

Aftershocks following Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor have added to the death toll and further upended the lives of survivors.

A convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid to earthquake victims, sent by a Kurdish charity organisation, enters Syria through the opposition-held Bab al-Salama crossing with Turkey in the northern Aleppo province on February 10, 2023.
A convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid to earthquake victims, sent by a Kurdish charity organisation, enters Syria through the opposition-held Bab al-Salama crossing with Turkey in the northern Aleppo province on February 10, 2023. © AFP

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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