An American seismologist said that the Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) distorted her comments on the 6 February earthquakes that caused great destruction in ten provinces in Turkey, indicating that the government held no responsibility for the disaster.
AA published an exclusive story on Friday with several international seismologists’ views on recent earthquakes. The story featured seismologist Dr Judith Hubbard’s comments: “You might think this earthquake was unusual. Because a magnitude of 7.8 is greater than any previously detected on this fault system.”
On her Twitter account on Sunday, Hubbard protested against AA’s story, saying that as an earthquake scientist, she was used to people getting her statements wrong.
“But the idea that a gov’t might misuse my words to push a misleading narrative is new & dismaying,” Hubbard said. “The earthquake was inevitable, not the scale of the disaster.”
Replying to Hubbard, another scientist from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Douwe van Hinsbergen, said that he had had a similar experience with Turkey’s state news agency, but that they had not published his views because he had “realised what was going on during the interview and didn’t play ball”.
Simon Stähler, a seismologist from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, said that a journalist from AA wanted to interview him and sent him direct questions such as “Do you agree that this earthquake was the largest disaster of our times?”
“I declined the interview because I’m no expert on either Turkey nor seismic hazard, but the direction of the questions confused me,” said Stähler.
The devastating disaster sparked considerable public anger against the Turkish government. The reasons for this anger include the rescue teams’ inadequate and very late arrival to the regions that suffered great destruction, the collapse of a lot of new buildings which were not built in accordance with the regulations, and the government’s previous construction amnesty that legalised hundreds of thousands of illegal buildings across Turkey.
The government, on the other hand, did not accept responsibility for the destruction despite criticisms of lack of preparation and negligence. Although President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan admitted on Wednesday that their initial response had not been quick enough, he has denied the accusations against him, arguing that the state was well-prepared and has a good record for fighting natural disasters, but this was such an unexpected and great disaster that it was impossible for any state to handle.
While anger against the government was increasing and late rescue efforts were still continuing on the fifth day after the earthquakes, a multi-follower Twitter account with the name “Asrın Felaketi” (Disaster of the Century) posted a video iconographically explaining how unusual and massive the 6 February earthquakes were, with a professional voiceover.
According to the video, this was “a disaster equivalent to a country’s being exposed to the world’s most powerful nuclear bomb 50 times on the same day and at the same time.”
“International disaster management authorities state that the scale of this disaster will exceed the capacity of each country,” it claimed.
There was no signature on the video, but it soon became clear that the account was a multi-follower account which was renamed before the sharing of the video.
According to the news/commentary blog Serbestiyet, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s election campaign team commissioned the video from Kalyon Agency, owned by a high school friend of the President’s son, Bilal Erdoğan. The first person to share the video was also a board member of a foundation close to the government.
The video, which was believed to be government propaganda, was removed after a huge backlash to it. Soon the account itself was completely closed. However, media outlets close to the government continue to refer to the 6 February earthquakes as “the disaster of the century”.