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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NEWS ANALYSIS: Quake Shows Turkey's Third World Side




ISTANBUL, Turkey -- She is a yuppie from Istanbul, a 30-something Turk who speaks fluent English, favors attractive European fashions and works on a computer in a sleek modern office at a private university. She is, like so many middle-class Turks, thoroughly Western.


But when she joined a small army of freelancers and private relief organizations who rushed to assist the victims of Turkey's earthquake the other day, the response she encountered was thoroughly Third World.


"Call back tomorrow," said the desultory Turkish soldier who answered her phone call at a local crisis center, when she asked where to deliver emergency medicine and supplies. "We closed at 5 p.m."


Her experience was telling, for the staggering quake east of Istanbul last week f or rather the country's response to it f has reminded many people here of Turkey's split personality, and its unique position straddling east and west, First World and Third.


Moslem, embattled, military-dominated, callous on human rights and burdened by high inflation, Turkey does not much resemble the prosperous nations of Western Europe. Many Turks acknowledge their country is a poor fit with the continent's wealthy democracies f that it is too big and too poor, perhaps, and certainly too Moslem.


Yet most are adamant that Turkey f democratic, largely secular and intensely commercial f somehow belongs in Europe. Even if just 3 percent of its land mass is west of the Bosporous, the narrow strait separating Europe and Asia, and its application for membership in the European Union has repeatedly been rejected, Turkey still does the vast majority of its trade with Europe and the United States, and only a modest and ever-dwindling amount with the Moslem world. When Turkey's latest bid to join the EU was rejected two years ago, the country erupted in anger.


The contradiction in Turkish attitudes f between acknowledging their distance from Europe, yet insisting on their right to join it f reflects geography and history in a country straddling two continents and, to an extent, two cultures.


That contradiction was visible from the outset following the earthquake that has left nearly 12,500 people dead by the latest official count.


In some respects, the country's collective response bore an unmistakable resemblance to Western liberal democracies.


Turkey's freewheeling newspapers embarked on an immediate hunt for scapegoats, a spasm of criticism, soul-searching and finger-pointing that would be unimaginable in the docile media in most of Turkey's Arab and Islamic neighbors in the Middle East.


Building contractors, government ministers and even the much-vaunted army have been raked over the coals. Demands for resignations and top-down reorganization are commonplace. The sense that someone should be held accountable seemed distinctly Western and democratic, analysts said.


Nonetheless, Turkey's eastern and Third World aspects were, arguably, even more pronounced than the Western face it turned toward the worst disaster to befall the country in decades.


The interior minister, Saadettin Tantan, decreed that restaurants and night clubs should play no music for 45 days. Most entertainment establishments complied.


The army, which has forced four governments from power by military intervention or pressure in the past 40 years, let it be known that it had considered declaring martial law.


And some government officials, perhaps seeking to avert panic, gave low and misleading estimates of the ultimate number of dead.


There were reminders, too, in the demographic pattern of the quake's devastation, of Turkey's status as a part of the developing, not the developed, world.


Much of the death and destruction occurred in industrial cities of western Anatolia swollen with working-class Turks who had migrated from the poorer and more rural east in search of jobs and better lives.