Quake Relief Efforts Not Enough

ISTANBUL (Lraper–Reuters)–Almost a week after the 7.4 magnitude earthquake rocked Istanbul and its surroundings–relief efforts are slow to arrive as the number of deaths has been placed at more than 12,000. The Armenian community in Istanbul has also been hard hit by the natural disaster.

As rescue efforts continued–however–Turkish public opinion and anger was directed at the government–especially Health Minister–who is being accused of refusing help from foreign countries–among them offers from Armenia and Greece to send rescue workers to Turkey.

The Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul reported that the Christian Churches of Turkey Steering Committee for Disaster Relief met over the weekend in the Armenian Patriarchate and decided to dispatch to the disaster area latest by Monday afternoon much needed medical and relief supplies including bottled water. The next plenary meeting of the Steering Committee was scheduled to convene Monday.

It was also clarified that none of the local Evangelical churches had any portable kitchen facilities in Cinarcik "serving thousands three meals a day." There were however efforts of food distribution by certain individuals. As one reporter put it–the general effort of all good-hearted concerned citizens could be described as individualistic.

There has actually been little effort to coordinate a relief operation with such a magnitude. Churches and church-related organizations have really been working from day one on an individualistic basis. However–all local church leaders and/or their representatives have been invited to meet in the Armenian Patriarchate during the last few days and decided to set up the above-mentioned ecumenical body through which a centralized relief operation could now start. The Steering Committee–as it is called–has the blessings of all the church leaders in Istanbul.

The Greek and Armenian patriarchs of Istanbul visited the disaster area on Saturday and consulted with municipal officials. On the same day–a memorial service was held in the Armenian Patriarchate Church.

Armenian Patriarch Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan announced that the contorted remains of Zaven and Veronic Melkonian had been transferred to Istanbul for funeral services. They had fallen victims to the earthquake in Cinarcik. Their two children had been rescued alive from underneath the rubble–however the arm of the younger child was amputated. Zaven–a successful young artisan with a workshop in the Covered Bazaar–had been a former student of His Beatitude in the Bakirkoy Church children’s ministry–some twenty years ago. Quite a few people are still missing in the Armenian community.

The costly reparation and renovation work has begun in the Bezciyan Armenian Parish School across the Patriarchate. The Sahakyan Parish School in Samatya must follow before the schoolyear begins in the beginning of September.

Meanwhile–Turkey’s Health Minister said on Monday the country’s earthquake-stricken northwest faced the double threat of an epidemic and acid rainfall from skies polluted by emissions from a large refinery fire.

"At this point there is no infection but there is a risk. There is a danger of an outbreak in the next two-week period," Health Minister Osman Durmus–under fire in the Turkish press that accuses him of insensitivity–told a news conference.

Durmus–of the coalition government’s nationalist wing–has come under fire from the Turkish media for what they said was a lack of respect for local voluntary and international relief efforts.

Soon after the quake Durmus was criticized for saying there was no need to send in medical aid when field workers described acute shortages.

"Enough–Shut Up and Go," ran the banner headline on the Radikal daily on Monday–which said the minister had spurned aid offers by Greece and Armenia–both age-old Turkish foes.

"I take being called ‘ignorant and racist’ as a compliment and thank them but is it a mistake to oppose those who say there is quarantine and make propaganda when there is no infectious disease?" he said.

"How could I refuse Armenia–Russian–Greek–American aid? It is not true."

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