By Sultan M Hali
ON 6 February 2023, a Mw 7.8 earthquake struck southern and central Türkiye and northern and western Syria. The epicentre was 32 km (20 mi) west–northwest of Gaziantep. The earthquake left nearly forty thousand dead, nearly a million injured and hundreds of thousands homeless, yet the Turks withstood the devastation bravely. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoðan called the earthquake “the disaster of the century.”
More than a hundred organizations and nations rushed to help the devastated victims and tried to rescue the thousands trapped under the debris. Amidst this, it was heartening to note that Pakistan sent tons of relief goods, including tents, blankets and food, via nine aircraft and more than 100 trained personnel to support the rescue mission in the earthquake-hit regions of Türkiye and Syria. Amazingly, a Pakistani national living in the United States anonymously donated US Dollars 30 million for the survivors of the massive earthquake in Türkiye and Syria.
It is essential for Pakistanis to support the people of Türkiye in their hour of need because there are historical ties that bound the two nations. In 1993, when this I was serving at the Pakistan Embassy at Riyadh, during the summer break, I decided to tour Türkiye with my family by road. Going through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon we entered Turkiye near Iskenderun. When we stopped for refuel the car, a young boy brought glasses of apple juice for my family and me with compliments from the gas station owner, who recognized the Pakistan Embassy number plate. It was our first taste of the love of the Turkish people for Pakistan.
Enroute, whenever we stopped to ask for directions, despite the language barrier, ordinary Turks would not only try to explain the route and failing to do so, board our vehicle to guide us to the correct route (GPS and cell phones were not in vogue yet). Short of Istanbul, we took a wrong turn and were headed for the Greek border. I flagged a Turkish policeman on his motorbike and asked him the directions to our hotel. He beckoned us to follow him. We entered Istanbul in grand style, like VIPs. The friendly constable was flashing the police lights and using the police siren to make way for us all the way to the hotel which was through the city centre and he departed with a friendly smile. At Konya, after visiting Maulana Rumi’s mausoleum, my Nissan Patrol started giving trouble so I drove to a garage but again language was a barrier to explain the problem. The manager of the garage took my family to a retiring room where they were served refreshments and rest. Meanwhile, an English subject school teacher was summoned to serve as interpreter. After the problem was fixed, the garage manager slashed the bill by fifty percent for his Pakistani customer and also gifted a Turkish Paºabache crystal water-set to my wife and apologized for the delay.
In Ankara, my Turkish counterpart who was also on holiday, invited us to a dinner hosted by a prominent Turk family. When I expressed my delight at the warmth displayed by ordinary Turks, the host explained that it should not come as a surprise. He elucidated that Turkish school books mention that during the Khilafat movement, the Muslims of the Indian Sub-continent sent generous donations to their Turk brothers in an effort to salvage the Ottoman caliph as a symbol of unity among the Muslim community.
In 1930, when Atatürk Mustafa Kemal Pasha decided to establish the Central Bank of the Republic of Türkiye (CBRT), the newly established Republic was short of funds. It was once again the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, who not only collected funds but as mentioned in Turkish history, the women donated their jewelry to help fill the shortfall.
War broke out between Türkiye and Greece in 1974, since the Greeks had illegally occupied Cyprus and the Turks wanted to liberate it. Reminiscent of India’s illegal occupation of Kashmir, Pakistan dispatched C-130 loads of medicines, food, blankets and teams of doctor and nurses to help Türkiye and the Cypriot Muslims. I was one of those who was part of the crew to fly the missions close to the war zone. Türkiye not only acknowledged Pakistan’s prompt support but has installed a special plaque commemorating the act in its Military Museum.
Small wonder that every Turk remembers these actions by the Muslims of the subcontinent and after 1947, Pakistan and not only reveres the relationship but is keen to go beyond ordinary hospitality to express the warmth of the ties. – Pakistan Observer
Forty-three years later, my wife and I were invited to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) by its President on the occasion of their Independence Day. When it was disclosed that I had participated in the support missions to liberate TRNC, ordinary citizens wanted to kiss my hands while shopkeepers would refuse payment for our purchases.
In 2005, when Azad Kashmir and the frontier region of Pakistan were rocked by a massive earthquake, Recep Tayyip Erdoðan, who was then the Prime Minister of Türkiye, was the first to call Pakistan’ diplomatic mission in Ankara and sought permission to fly in rescue teams, doctors, geological experts, field hospitals, medicines and food supplies. Within a few hours, an air bridge was established between Pakistan and Türkiye. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Turks rushed to the Pakistan Embassy to donate cash, food, medicines and warm clothing for the earthquake victims. There are heart-rending stories of how school children withdrew their savings from banks to help out their Pakistani brethren in distress.
One touching moment recorded is that of an old Turkish woman, who had knit scores of sweaters and scarves for the child survivors of the earthquake and brought them to the Pakistani diplomatic mission. History repeated itself when Turk women came to donate their precious jewelry stating that they wanted to repay the 100 year old debt when the Muslim women of the subcontinent had donated their jewelry to the Turkish cause. Similar instances were repeated during the deluge in 2010, 2011 and again in 2022, wreaked havoc in Pakistan and the Turks were in the forefront to express solidarity with Pakistan and lead the rescue and rehabilitation teams. With such a rich heritage of deep ties, we Pakistanis must bend backwards to support Türkiye in its hour of need.