Thinking About Turkey

Leslie Cagan


sit and watch in horror as the toll continues to rise from the earthquake in

Turkey. Today they say over 12,000 dead and with 35 – 40,000 people still

missing it’s clear this number will grow in the coming days. The Turkish

government has already ordered tens of thousands of body bags.


the story is worse. Hard to imagine, but much worse. The earthquake’s damage

translates into homelessness and disease, into hunger and pain. I, along with

millions of people around the world, watch the pictures of people stunned by

their loss and confused about their future. It touches me very deeply.


I sit, a lifelong political organizer committed to fighting injustice,

overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy. It’s not just that the earth

shifted, reminding us again of the force of nature. I had a similar feeling when

we learned of the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch in Central

America last year, and other times when natural disaster hits so hard that it’s

difficult to make any sense of it all.


I do know is that the enormity of the nightmare the Turkish people face cannot

be assigned solely to Mother Nature. Why was housing built in an earthquake zone

that did not meet any earthquake-resistant standards? For all of the

international aid going to Turkey, why are the so-called developed

nations…especially our own…unable to pour in the medicines, housing, food

and other resources the people so desperately need?


now I’m sounding naive, even a little silly. How could I forget that buildings

are built by land developers and contractors whose main purpose is to make

money? How could I forget that stock piling bombs, building new weapon-delivery

systems and indeed, new weapons of mass destruction are a greater priority than

life-saving medical equipment or mechanisms for purifying contaminated water



few months ago, a brochure announcing two mid-June conferences under the title

"Business Opportunities in Global Reconstruction" was mailed to me.

(Believe me, I have no idea how I got on the list of the organizers, The Center

for Reconstruction and Development based in Washington, DC.) This caught my eye

and I read further. To quote:


Balkan Assistance & Reconstruction Conference, June 15, 1999. Recognizing

that lasting stability in the Balkans requires that all countries in

Southeastern Europe are economically secure, this all-day conference will

provide detailed information on regional U.S. assistance funding passed by

Congress in May and the $30 billion 5-year regional reconstruction program

discussed at the Bonn Summit on May 27th. This funding will translate into

substantial business for many companies and organizations…….."


Central American Reconstruction Conference, June 22, 1999. Responding to the

devastation caused to Central America by Hurricane Mitch, this all-day

conference will provide detailed information on the $1 billion in U.S. funding

passed by Congress in May and the $8 – 10 billion discussed at the Stockholm

Donors’ Conference in late May. This funding will translate into substantial

business for many companies and organizations. The U.S. State Department has

declared that corporate involvement in long-term reconstruction is



fact, it’s all summed up on the outside of the brochure: "Open Immediately

for Information on $40 Billion in Reconstruction Financing for Central America

and the Balkans and How Your Firm or Organization can Participate!"


conferences were to include high level government representatives of the various

countries affected, as well as people from the U.S. State Department, U.S.

Department of Commerce, USAID, Overseas Private Investment Corporation,

Export-Import Bank of the United States, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and

just to make sure every entrepreneur has a fair shot, the U.S. Small Business



I await a new brochure, announcing a new conference on how your company can

"assist in the reconstruction" of Turkey. None of this is very hard to

understand. Disaster happens – either caused by nature or man (and I use that

word very consciously) – and great money-making opportunities open up.


of course, this is what feeds my intense sadness as I watch those pictures from

Turkey flash on the TV news. It’s not just the ravages of nature…it is the

greed of capitalism which is so overwhelming. No, none of this is new, and I

assume the folks who read these commentaries already share this point of view.

But I write about all of this as a way to deal with the news every day.

Sometimes the news make me so sad that I wonder why I watch it (or read the

papers). Of course I know that cutting myself off from the news won’t make

anything better, and it probably won’t even make me feel better.


all of this leads me back to the question I seem to ask over and

again…whatever the news. When do we, the left in this country and

internationally, move past whatever it is that holds us back, and begin to

intervene and change the world we live in? How do we grow strong enough to

change priorities so housing is built that can withstand the forces of nature

and rescue procedures can be as thorough and swift as military operations? When

do we become serious players in the events that shape peoples’ lives, whether

war or earthquake or…… 



Cagan Decades long organizer in a board range of peace and social justice

movements, Leslie is presently involved in struggles to defend Open Admissions

at the City University of New York (CUNY). She is a co-chair of the National

Committees of Correspondence and is on the board of the Astraea National

Lesbian Action Foundation. Leslie is also part of the growing effort to

re-invigorate a left/progressive presence in the

lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgender movement.


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