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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Turks Reject Armenian Offer of Aid After Quake




ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Hours after Turkey's massive earthquake last Tuesday, the government of Armenia readied a team of 100 disaster specialists and loaded 10 trucks with rescue and relief supplies for the stricken zone, less than a day's drive away.


Aside from proximity, Armenia offered expertise gained from its own disaster in December 1988 f when a 6.9-magnitude quake killed 25,000 people. The Rapid Deployment Unit, subsequently formed by the Armenian Emergency Situations Directorate, has saved lives of quake victims in Iran and China.


But as more than 2,000 relief workers flew to Turkey last week from 51 countries, Armenia's elite rescuers waited for a go-ahead. And waited. Then Saturday, Turkey told Armenia that it had plenty of help already and did not need more.


The real reason for the snub, not stated openly but widely understood in both countries, is Turkey's unwillingness to move toward normal diplomatic and trade relations with its eastern neighbor.


While Turkey has welcomed blood donations, rescue teams and other quake aid from rival Greece, Armenia is a different story. Turkish-Armenian relations remain poisoned by the 1915 Armenian genocide and the more recent conflict between Armenians and Turkey's ethnic cousins in Azerbaijan.


Armenian officials said Monday that Turkey's move frustrated a humanitarian impulse and wasted a chance to improve relations. An Armenian presidential assistant said the aid offer still stands.


"Grief has no borders,'' said Ara Papyan, Armenia's Foreign Ministry spokesman. "We know quite well what it means for you when the entire world wants to help you.''


A Turkish official said Armenia's offer went first to Turkey's Foreign Ministry, which urged Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to accept it. But the official said that Ecevit failed to persuade the National Action Party, the most militantly nationalist of three parties in his ruling coalition.


Hard-line nationalists in each country have blocked rapprochement. Armenian nationalists have waged a worldwide campaign to force Turkey to admit that Ottoman rulers committed genocide in 1915; successive Turkish leaders have refused to do so. In the 1970s the dispute was so intense that Armenian gunmen began killing Turkish diplomats.


Since 1993 Turkey has closed its border with Armenia, joining Azerbaijan in a blockade of Armenia until it returns land seized from Azerbaijan in fighting over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh enclave. News of the shunned Armenian aid fueled public outrage here over the Turkish government's tardy, disjointed response to the 7.4-magnitude quake, which killed at least 18,000 people.


"The foreigners have helped us more than the Turkish state has,'' said Hasan Askin, a resident of Golcuk whose home was destroyed by the quake. "For a politician to exclude the Armenians was immoral. We need help; it doesn't matter where it comes from.''


Stung by such criticism in recent days, the government has begun to mount a more energetic relief effort and to speak more confidently of its abilities.


Health Minister Osman Durmus, a member of the militant government faction that vetoed the aid, said that Turkish hospitals can handle all the injured and that foreign medical teams, such as those arriving Monday aboard a U.S. Navy hospital ship, were no longer needed.