fter the May 14 elections in Turkey, disturbing comments emerged on social media platforms aimed at earthquake survivors. How earthquake survivors would affect the election outcome had been heavily speculated, and many had criticized the government for the way it handled the disaster. Foreign and domestic opposition media alike considered that the earthquake would shake support for incumbent president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the earthquake-hit provinces, yet the results of the election proved otherwise. This prompted supporters of the opposition to share hateful remarks towards the earthquake victims who voted for Erdoğan. Such actions were condemned by government officials and investigated by the police.
How the earthquake-stricken region voted
Seven out of the ten earthquake-stricken provinces of Turkey showed preference for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In Kahramanmaraş, the epicenter of the earthquake, Erdoğan received a whopping 71.88% of the votes against Kılıçdaroğlu’s 22.20%. Other provinces, where Erdoğan maintained a large lead from his main opponent were Malatya (69.39% Erdoğan, 27.02% Kılıçdaroğlu), Gaziantep (59.76% Erdoğan, 34.65% Kılıçdaroğlu), Adıyaman (66.33% Erdoğan, 31.09% Kılıçdaroğlu), Osmaniye (62.33% Erdoğan, 30.70% Kılıçdaroğlu), Şanlıurfa (62.01% Erdoğan, 36.06% Kılıçdaroğlu), Elazığ (67.19% Erdoğan, 28.19% Kılıçdaroğlu), and Kilis (65.62% Erdoğan, 26.87% Kılıçdaroğlu). In these districts, the votes for Erdoğan and the People’s Alliance only slightly dropped compared to the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections.
Kılıçdaroğlu emerged victorious in the remaining three provinces. In Hatay, one of the provinces with the most extensive destruction, Kılıçdaroğlu’s and Erdoğan’s votes were neck and neck with Kılıçdaroğlu winning by a 0.04% margin. Kılıçdaroğlu dominated in Diyarbakır with 71.96% of the votes, while Erdoğan received 26.48%. Adana also witnessed a competitive race between the two candidates with Kılıçdaroğlu collecting 50.89% of the votes against Erdoğan’s 43.92%. The turnout rate for the region was 80%.
Insults towards earthquake victims are investigated
Social media was flooded with posts aimed at earthquake victims by opposition supporters ranging from profanities, cursing, and insults to threats and victim-blaming. They claimed their support for Erdoğan was the reason for the devastation of their cities, and some said that they would never bother sending aid or financial assistance to them. A TikTok influencer who said “We will not do anything for you as of now. First, we’ll ask who you voted for” was arrested and later released on accusation of insult. A man shared a video swearing at the earthquake victims and asking how it was possible to vote for Erdoğan in the wake of the disaster.
Several social media users labeled the earthquake victims as “ungrateful” for the humanitarian aid poured into the disaster zone by the CHP-run municipalities and supporters of the opposition. Angered by the reaction, certain earthquake survivors even sent money to Kılıçdaroğlu “paying back” the aid. There were tweets that went as far as saying that the earthquake survivors who voted for the ruling party should have died in the deadly February 6 earthquakes.
Figures from the CHP were among those who shared insulting comments. In a post she shared on Instagram, CHP Ezine District Women’s Branch Chairwoman Cansu Doğan wrote, “I wouldn’t even throw my snot at you, you’ll regret it like a dog, you’ll die hungry.”
“Well, as the saying goes ‘If you pity, you will be pitied,’ damn the human love in us… So they buried their dead well instead of letting them live,” Nevriye Cura Gir, the head of the CHP’s women’s branch in the Darıca district of Kocaeli, said.
Tuba Gelincik Dinçer, wife of CHP’s Çine District Mayor Enver Salih Dinçer, shared a post saying, “Our earthquake survivors have forgotten about their dead loved ones and embraced living in tents … What can I say? Mustafa Kemal Atatürk has saved the wrong nation.”
On May 18, President Erdoğan criticized “the mindset which lost its balance after the election defeat.” “They knew the outcome, but staged a play that night, pretending to win,” he said referring to the controversial remarks by prominent names of the opposition who claimed the official results were distorted or missing and that they were ahead of Erdoğan and the People’s Alliance. “They did not even apologize to their supporters or the public they deliberately misled. This same mindset launched attacks that won’t align with humanitarian values, let alone political motivations, against citizens who did not vote for them,” he continued.
The Department of Combating Cybercrime has started an investigation on the matter and is actively monitoring social media platforms to identify provocative tweets while perpetrators from across the nation were arrested and those whose statements were taken have been released.
Kicking earthquake victims when they’re down
A striking incident took place in the Tekirdağ province governed by the CHP. Earthquake survivors accommodated by the municipality received a statement that their stay would be ended on May 21. Mayor Kadir Albayrak denied the claims that the decision was associated with the election outcome, and announced that their stay would be extended. He made accusations of a “perception operation,” by pro-government people. The accusation was ill-received by earthquake victims.
Melahat Karaman, who was injured during the earthquake in Hatay when a column fell on one of her legs, spoke to Demirören New Agency and said that they do not fabricate perception. Stating that she arrived in Tekirdağ three months ago, she said, “A column fell on my leg, I stayed in the rubble for two hours. Since I could not be treated in Hatay, I underwent surgery at Istanbul Bağcılar State Hospital. I have three platinum rods in my leg. I am currently staying in a house provided by a philanthropist. I did not stay at a hotel. My grandchildren and my daughter are in a hotel, my granddaughter called me crying. I came here when she said, ‘They kicked us out, where are we going to go?’ Yesterday evening, we were told that we were being subjected to a perception operation. Can you show Mr. Kadir [Albayrak] my leg?”
“Am I in the position to fabricate perception? I am already an earthquake victim; my wounds, my fears are enough for me. I will now return to Hatay, I have no home. The only thing I trust is my state. What was he trying to do by taking us out one day after the election? Were we being looked after for votes? Since we didn’t get the votes, we were fired. Now, did I do the perception operation or did he do it? I don’t have a seat to lose.”
Analysts say Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s vow to rebuild devastated cities reassured voters in the earthquake-stricken region, which are mostly AK Party strongholds, accompanied by doubts about the opposition’s ability to meet voters’ expectations. The runoff presidential election will show how reactions toward the earthquake survivors translate to the ballot box.