On March 18, online newspaper Ahval invited journalists and scholars to evaluate the latest situation and the policies of the government on coronavirus pandemic. In a webcast moderated by Yavuz Baydar, Prof. Eser Karakaş participated from Strasbourg, Nurcan Baysal from Diyarbakır, Prof. Nora Şeni from Paris, Prof. Binnaz Toprak from Brussel, Nesrin Nas from Istanbul as well as Alin Ozinian from Yerevan.

You can access the webcast by clicking here (only Turkish): Ahval Forum: ”Güven yok, şeffaflık yok, akılcılık yok ve endişe çok büyük”

Nurcan Baysal, Kurdish journalist from Turkey said that Turkish government started to take more stringent measures for the last 2 days in Diyarbakir, but the seriousness of the situation has not been grasped yet. Especially in the city center, the people are still out there, she said. She pointed out that commercial life in the city continues as before, life continues as usual.

Diyarbakir is one of the cities whose mayor was removed by Ankara from office. She stated that this leads a problem in warning the public about the coronavirus because there is no mayor. The public also has no particular reservations about the corona virus, she added. For her, the number of people in quarantine is said to be large, but the figures are not shared. Preparations in hospitals have just begun. The chairman of the Diyarbakir Chamber of Medicine said that there was not enough equipment to protect health workers. She informed as good news that mask production started in Diyarbakir. She complained that there is no test, the tests are kept in Ankara for analysis, then come to Diyarbakir, the results are unknown. She said, there are still smuggling activities on the border of Van and Hakkari, so people are moving between the countries. People are coming back from their trip to Mekka, the Hajj visits continue which are dangerous for more contamination as she said. All eyes are in Istanbul, she warned, but for the cities close to the borders, the situation is not yet known. In these provinces close to the borders, public and institutions have not taken corona virus measures, she underlined. The expected number of dead is very high, and this is quite worrying, she added. She expects further restrictions on freedoms. Restricting lifestyle freedoms can also cause social explosion in her opinion. Which way to go towards, in her opinion, depends on how high the number of deaths in Turkey and how the government manage this process.

Nesrin Nas, economist, said that people from the central regions of Istanbul are careful, and they avoid going out, and malls are empty. Pharmacy workers, as she observed for example, they were wearing masks and gloves and respecting the distance rules. However, she observed that young people were generally careless. People were continuing in the way they used to, just like in Italy. But it has been changing for two days, she added. “We are all waiting for the government’s announcements. Although we know that the real situation is not fully reflected, we listen to them carefully about the measures to be taken and about the situation in the hospitals. Doctors urge non-emergency patients to stay at home by giving them basic instruction for treatment. Doctors say there are not enough gloves and masks.

Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir are luckier cities, she thinks, because these cities have new mayors elected in the last local elections. Local governments are very important in this period, that’s why Diyarbakir is having problems, because their mayor was removed from the office. She said, we know that these municipalities are trying to get the opportunities they have but they are now allowed by the government to use the available resources. She finds that this is very important, an importance not grasped by the local actors. For example, 2 days ago, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality called 39 district mayors to the meeting to discuss and partner with virus-related measures, but none of them responded positively, she said. Even in these days, where there is a serious public health risk like pandemic, AKP district mayors did not attend this meeting. Nesrin Nas asked “How can we deal with this problem with such a polarization?” For her, this is what really worries people. As she claimed, there is a fear that the medical infrastructure, treatment opportunities, and aid opportunities will be available only for those who support AKP and leave those who are from other political views to die. The most worrying issue is the lack of transparency, there has been such doubts for a long time. There is not enough kit to make tests, but the government is stating that Turkey is exporting test kits to USA, she stressed. Actually, she commented, AKP structure is very weak and can dissolve very quickly, there must be a rational, organized and solidarity-based front to end their power.

Prof. Nora Şeni, professor of geopolitics, said that lockdown in France is very diversely applied. In principle one can get out of home only with a written derogation for buying indispensable food, take some steps around the place you’re living in etc. Otherwise there is a penalty of 135 Eur penalty, she added. Then she shared the recent information: There are 9134 confirmed cases in France since January 23 and 264 deaths. In all of Europe the epidemic continues to spread rapidly, exponentially. She pointed out a dangerous and incoherent decision of the government of not cancelling the local elections of March 15 . For her, because of that reason, the confidence in the government has shaken considerably. The former health minister rightly described the situation as a “mascaraed”. Beside only 30% of the electorate came to vote in these elections.

Regarding the situation in Turkey, she thinks that not rational, but religion-based and superstition-based management style would rise in the following days. She reminded the President Erdoğan’s speech at the end of the Islamic Council a few months ago where he stated that a constitution of Islamic countries will be made, and it should build the base for  the administration of the Ummah, she said. Erdogans’s discourse is as always prioritizing arguments based on belief and not rationality. He enhances the sense of  being a religious community and being privileged for that. Erdogan calls out to his audience as the Father of the State and is very successful in communicating with those who voted for him, Şeni thinks.

Prof. Binnaz Toprak, professor of political studies and former deputy of CHP, said, in Brussels, where numbers and precautions hardened rapidly, the government closed stores on weekends initially, but when it was not enough they closed also food services. Brussels is a ghost town now, she said. She underlined that not relying on government applies everywhere. She said that Trump belittles one day and then announces that the situation is very serious in the other. For her, UK, very surprisingly, follows a social Darwinist policy based on “survival of the fittest”. She thinks that, this coronavirus pandemic, as a plague epidemic of the 21st century, would harm those who believe in democracy, who believe in freedoms, who believe in justice and fair distribution.

Governments would use the coronavirus conditions as an excuse and increase the bans, she said and added that the already-conservative governments, would become even more conservative. In addition, for her, there will be increased racism: Last week, the child of the Belgium-born Chinese girl was insulted and attacked as the “dirty corona virus” on streets. In Turkey, she remined, there is already racism against the Syrians, this would  further increase. These are all can also be reduced to the discourse of “it happens to us because of those who do not pray” she warned.

Alin Ozinian, is journalist in Agos Armenian newspaper in Turkey and of Ahval, summarized the recent infected numbers in Armenia: There were 121 cases in total, 1 recovery and 1 stable pneumonia case. Yerevan, the capital is empty, people take the situation very seriously. On March 1, the virus was detected in a citizen from Iran, anxiety started after that day, he was taken back home. The first quarantine zone was a 5-star hotel. There were 8 cases until March 16, that started to rise rapidly. This is because an Armenian citizen from Italy attended a family wedding despite all the warnings. It caused it to spread among the relatives. She was ridiculously announced as the official representative of the corona virus in Armenia on social media. An infectious incident was also seen in the textile workshop. As good news, the health ministry said that 121 cases spread from 3 cases and that the spread was under control. 500 people are in quarantine, tests are being carried out, the State is taking drastic measures, the society is very careful. Customers do not shop from those who do not wear masks and gloves. State of Emergency was declared but the curfew was not declared, she thinks there is no need for curfew.

She commented on the economic aspect on the pandemic and stated that Prime Minister Pashinian assigned 200-thousand-dollars loan for the employers and welfare aids. She said that a corona anti-virus fund was opened, and the Prime Minister Pashinian  donated his salary to this fund along with some businesspeople. The Paşinyan government tried to be transparent and Armenia is very careful right now because Paşinyan will be in the elections soon and wants to vote again, she commented. On the contrary, she thinks, no vote concerns of the AKP government in Turkey. So, they do not hesitate to act so irrationally. The construction of the 4th hospital started here in Armenia, and she said that this is because the government have to tell people that you are worrying about them. For her, the government does not carry such a responsibility in Turkey now. On the other hand, she added, society in Turkey has lost common sense. The tendency to perceive reality through religious motives is very strong in her opinion. When a medical doctor comes out and tells them to wash their hands five times a day, the vast majority will not find it realistic but President Erdoğan can be convincing when he connects it with prayer and ablution, she criticized.

Ozinian thinks that when this corona virus pandemic will end she thinks (by noting that this can be considered as a “wishful thinking”) that people of the world will understand how ridiculous things like racism are and how blind it has taken us, and despite the losses, the world will cross a threshold.

Prof. Eser Karakaş from Strasbourg said that the situation is quite bad in the east of France. He added that it got worse after a ceremony  with a very high participation in a church. There is a Citroen factory in this region and most of its employees are Turkish and so, there is a great fear among the Turkish community, he said. Field hospitals started to be established, certain patients suffering from oxygen shortage are moved to other cities hospitals by military aircraft, he added.

He commented that Turkey has mismanaged this process, as it is seen in the situation of people returning from Mekka, but China managed it badly as well. He pointed out that the largest state in the world, the United States, faces a great deal of trouble on the similar issues. The British are very late, the situation of the Italian is obvious, France is the same, he added. For him, this is not a coincidence. He also commented on the highly popular slogan in these days: “the problem is global; the struggle is national”. For him, it is not possible to find a national solution to a global problem. He stated that, one can resist to a global “public bad” by producing a global “public good”. However, for him, this approach has no institutions yet. The World Health Organization has no such authority and enforcement. He gave an example to explain it and said that when the Iranian government refused to quarantine the city of Kum (the possible reason of spread to the Middle East), there must be a global power who can quarantine this place despite Tehran government. It sounds bad, but there’s no other way, he added. For him it is impossible to find an international solution to a global solution. He reminded the environmental councils in the recent years and their ineffective results. He underlined the importance of the European Union, which is a supra national structure, not international. For him an institutionalization is needed to generalize EU structure worldwide. How is this done? This will probably be the biggest problem of the 21st century, he ended.