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In Turkey, Why The Public Is So Skeptical About Donating To Earthquake Relief

When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tried to reassure his fellow citizens that they could safely donate to help earthquake victims, many were skeptical. It's a sign of a longstanding mistrust of institutions that affects the nation on the deepest level.

Photo of a mother and two children sitting on the sidewalk.

A mother and two children.

Mehmet Yılmaz


ISTANBUL — In the immediate aftermath of last month's earthquake, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was forced to speak up to dispel the doubts of those who worried about donating to help victims. “Making cash donations through [disasters and emergencies authority] AFAD is a method that would eliminate exploitation and doubts,” he said on Feb. 10.

Haluk Levent, founder of the largest Turkish charity AHBAP, followed that up two days later with a statement that the organization has signed contracts with two independent auditory firms which will inspect each transaction they make.

It was not a coincidence that these two people, the leader of Turkey and the chair of the charity that collects the largest number of donations, made these statements following the public rush to collect material and monetary aid after the earthquakes. Unfortunately, there are always doubts in Turkey about whether charitable donations are in fact used for the reason that they were collected for.

We are very lucky that people never stop donating in spite of their doubts.

Skepticism is not a bad thing in itself, as skeptical people question what they are told. They do not obey blindly. Skepticism, when it comes hand in hand with curiosity, makes people learn new things, ask questions and search for answers.

Mistrust to paranoia

But common “doubt” in Turkey does not stem from such curiosity. This is a form of doubt that feeds from past experiences, but is mostly based on prejudice too. This leads to a “societal paranoia” that paves the path for people to believe even the most ridiculous conspiracy theories and lose trust in each other. Societies like us are described as “low trust societies.” We do not trust each other.

Did somebody pay us a compliment? Did they do us a favor without asking for something in return? We always look for an ulterior motive. The trickster is trying to fool us but thank goodness that we are smart, we wouldn’t buy it. That is also the reason even educated people can easily be scammed on the phone despite all the warnings from the police and the military.

When the scammers identifying themselves as law enforcement say “a terrorist organization has taken over your bank account; withdraw the money and bring it to us” on the phone, everybody complies — educated or not. Because deep down we know that if we get into any kind of trouble with a prosecutor’s office, we can spend a long time in prison before we can explain our situation.

Because we cannot trust the law, we have developed a belief that those tasked to administer justice won’t be doing what is required of their duty.

A divided society full of potential enemies

On top of all this, we cannot trust anyone because of the confusion brought down on us for political means.

It’s our daily routine now to look for conspiracies everywhere. We were confused by the use of “masterminds,” “lobbies,” “those who press the buttons from afar” and “traitors”. We tend to think the abnormal is more likely to happen, not the opposite.

This is only possible in divided societies, where people perceive each other as enemies.

Such a collective psychological mood is only possible in divided societies, where people perceive each other as enemies. We have been living in such a society in Turkey, we are all psychologically disturbed. That’s why we Turks, political stances and world views notwithstanding, are doubtful of whether our donations are reaching their targets.

After the Friday prayers, my late grandfather Yakup used to put some money in the cardboard box placed next to the exit of the mosque for the benefit of “the association to build and preserve mosques.” Then he would look at me and say: “Let’s see how much of it will be spent on the mosque.” The money was collected sometimes in a box and sometimes in a bag, which was reason alone to have doubts.

While my grandfather had strong suspicions that his donation wouldn’t be going to its intended place, he would not abstain from making a contribution despite his limited budget.

Photo of President Erdogan visiting with earthquake victims.

President Erdogan visiting with earthquake victims.

Turkish Presidency/APA Images via ZUMA

A one-man, murky political system 

This does not happen on its own, not without a reason. This situation has been going on for several years and is now carved into our societal DNA. Our psycho-social problem is rooted in the non-transparent quality of our governmental system.

My readers who vote for the government can be at ease, this predates the currently leading Justice and Development Party (AKP). We Turks have founded many states in history but we have never been able to set up an accountable political system.

One-party governments with a one-man rule are never transparent.

This is a solvable situation, a curable disease. The cure is transparency and accountability. The AKP leaders should not immediately equate accountability with being put on trial.

For example, accountability vis-a-vis the earthquake aid would go like this: What kind of policies are to be implemented to compensate the damages caused by the earthquakes? Or what goals are to be reached and in which time frame? How will you provide the people with stable, reliable and understandable information that shows the collected aid and funds are ending up in the right places? Will the free media and NGOs, who will audit the government in the name of the people, have access to the upcoming government projects?

I regret to say that I have zero hope for any of that happening. One-party governments with a one-man rule are never transparent anywhere in the world. It won't happen here either. Therefore, we have good reason to worry about where our donations go.

Weight of nepotism

The distrust among the public goes beyond our doubts about earthquake aid. Being a low-trust society is also the reason that the capital accumulation of Turkey is not at the desired levels; that small enterprises cannot combine and transform into giant companies.

Family companies represent 96% of all existing companies in Turkey. This rate rises to 99% when looking at small and middle sized companies. They may be “stock” or “limited” companies in name but these are not companies in which the capital comes from a wide base of investors. Also, the average lifetime of a company in Turkey is 34 years. Only 30% of the companies are passed on to second generations and those that are transferred to third generations add up to only 12%. Companies that are inherited by the fourth generation are only 3%.

Italy, which has the same amount of family companies as Turkey, has an average lifetime of 104 years for its companies. This means a lot of the companies are being passed down for four or five generations. Selami Sargut, professor of management and organizations at Başkent University, said “stock companies” structures cannot be built in Turkey because it is a “low-trust society.”

Partnerships being transferred to the third generation are also extremely low for the same reason. Even shareholders who are related do not trust each other and therefore arguments on how to run the company can become destructive. There is only a small number of family companies that can be successful in transitions to professional managements.

Nepotism in family companies turn the professional managers into an extension of the families. Because the elder children of the families who have just returned from their studies abroad with no business experience pick the people who they can control with most ease: their cousins!

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Inside The Search For Record-Breaking Sapphires In A Remote Indian Valley

A vast stretch of mountains in India's Padder Valley is believed to house sapphire reserves worth $1.2 billion, which could change the fate of one of the poorest districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

Photo of sapphire miners at work in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district

Sapphire mining in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district

Jehangir Ali

GULABGARH — Mohammad Abbas recalls with excitement the old days when he joined the hunt in the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district to search the world’s most precious sapphires.

Kishtwar’s sapphire mines are hidden in the inaccessible mountains towering at an altitude of nearly 16,000 feet, around Sumchan and Bilakoth areas of Padder Valley in Machail – which is one of the most remote regions of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Up there, the weather is harsh and very unpredictable,” Abbas, a farmer, said. “One moment the high altitude sun is peeling off your skin and the next you could get frostbite. Many labourers couldn’t stand those tough conditions and fled.”

Abbas, 56, added with a smile: “But those who stayed earned their reward, too.”

A vast stretch of mountains in Padder Valley nestled along Kishtwar district’s border with Ladakh is believed to house sapphire reserves worth $1.2 billion, according to one estimate. A 19.88-carat Kishtwar sapphire broke records in 2013 when it was sold for nearly $2.4 million.

In India, the price of sapphire with a velvety texture and true-blue peacock colour, which is found only in Kishtwar, can reach $6,000 per carat. The precious stone could change the socio-economic landscape of Kishtwar, which is one of the economically most underdeveloped districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

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