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Turkish Red Crescent under fire for selling tents following earthquakes

Aid organisation criticised for caring about profit rather than victims by selling tents to a charity trying to help earthquake survivors
Workers produce containers at Kizilay System Construction Factory after Turkish Red Crescent increase its production to 50 containers per day following powerful earthquakes, on 13 February 2023 (Anadolu)

The Turkish Red Crescent is facing a backlash over selling tents to Turkish aid organisation Ahbap in the first few days following the 6 February twin earthquakes which claimed the lives of nearly 45,000 people in southern Turkey

Ahbap, an informal word for "friend" in Turkish, said on Sunday in a statement that it purchased 2,050 tents from Red Crescent subsidiary Kizilay Cadir ve Tekstil A.S. (Red Crescent Tent and Textile Corp) on 10 February, for nearly 46 million Turkish lira ($2.4m).

The Turkish opposition criticised the Turkish Red Crescent for prioritising money over aid during a national disaster. 

"From the Red Crescent that healed the earthquake wounds, to the Red Crescent that acts as an earthquake opportunist,” said Faik Oztrak, the spokesperson for main opposition party CHP.

The opposition argues that the tents should have already been sent to the earthquake zone, as thousands of people whose homes were destroyed were looking for shelter. 

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Turkish nationalist Iyi Party leader Meral Aksener said the Red Crescent has lost its purpose with monetary motivations. 

The Red Crescent has, meanwhile, made contradictory statements to explain the situation.

Kerem Kinik, the charity's elected president, said on Sunday that Red Crescent Tent and Textile was only trying to use the profits gained from the tents to buy raw material, reproduce more products and distribute them to the earthquake survivors.

He added that the charity does not receive any state aid and is only funded through donations and corporations.  

However, during televised comments on Monday, Kinik said that his colleagues took the decision alone to sell the tents to Ahbap and he was not consulted beforehand. 

"If they had asked me, I would tell them to get transportation support from Ahbap for the tents [rather than selling them]," he said. "I criticised my colleagues, their instincts were wrong."

Red Crescent corporation

Ahbap emerged as one of the most trusted aid organisations in Turkey following the earthquakes, as more people became distrustful of the government due to its slow response to the disaster. 

Ahbap, led by rockstar Haluk Levent, operates in more than 60 provinces but was a relatively small group before the disaster. 

Many people on Twitter, which has become an important tool for Turkish rescue and aid efforts, began to push for donations to Ahbap over the official Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (Afad), claiming that the latter, as an arm of the state, could not be trusted.

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Levent also revealed that Ahbap purchased 30,000 meals from another Red Crescent subsidiary. But the revelations put him in a difficult position since many donors prefer Ahbap for its non-governmental operations. 

Yesim Salkim, a prominent singer, said that Levent should not have bought the tents from the Red Crescent.

"Levent has made as big a mistake as the Red Crescent,” she said. 

Founded in 1868, the Red Crescent has long been viewed as a neutral and able aid organisation by Turkish society. The aid organisation changed its regulations in 2009 that enabled it to establish corporations to make profits that could be used in aid activities. 

Tekin Kucukali, the former chairman of the Red Crescent, said the decision to establish 11 corporations changed the organisation’s nature, and made it look like a holding. 

"Turning the Red Crescent into a corporation removed the civil initiative from it,” he said. "Why did civic initiatives like Ahbap appear? " 

Meanwhile, Afad's decision to also use the Red Crescent as their tent suppliers, and replacing its logo with Afad's logo, was criticised as well. The absence of the Red Crescent logo on tents had made it seem like the aid organisation was not on the ground providing aid. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the critics as "sycophants" on Monday, reminding the public that the Red Crescent had already provided thousands of tents to the survivors while serving hot meals to the victims in multiple provinces.

The Iyi Party and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) called on Tuesday, in separate statements, for the Red Crescent’s Kinik to resign.

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