Turkey’s International Humanitarian Aid in 2020: The Pandemic and Beyond

Murat Çemrek
Prof. Dr., Necmettin Erbakan University Political Science and International Relations Department
Büşra Yılmaz
Res. Assist., Necmettin Erbakan University Political Science and International Relations Department

We think we have all been subjected to the famous ancient Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times!” 2020 has been an interesting year for our planet in every sense. In fact, it has been chaotic, gloomy, and even Kafkaesque. For that reason, it would not be bad to start our theoretical framework with Realism. According to realist theory, humans who are evil by nature are ego-centric creatures who act out of pure self-interest. However, since human beings are the subject and object of humanitarian aid, realism is not at all healing. This is because human beings can provide financial and moral support to fellow victims of a negative development where they themselves are not directly impacted while housing the good within multidimensional versatility. As the name suggests, humanitarian aid puts the human being at the center of all issues and places altruism, not egocentrism, at the foundation of being human. Since human beings are etymologically associated with consonance, they can only preserve their existence, which is the result of socialization in ontological contexts, only by entering into solidarity with society. As normal as it is for people to help and collaborate with one another, solidarity among all communities and societies of which humans are a part is a requirement of its nature.

Throughout the history of humanity, natural disasters or human, social, political and economic crises and wars have made people need each other’s help. In this context, it would not be an exaggeration to claim that the history of humanity, in a way, is the history of humanitarian aid. While this type of assistance made humanely by humans to their fellows  is defined in the Turkish Language Association Dictionary as “aid made on issues of basic human needs such as health and shelter in times of natural disaster,” another definition expands it to include social and endemic disasters by associating it with “aid activities undertaken by states during traditionally natural disasters with transitory qualities such as earthquakes, floods, fires, and droughts.”1 As the main purpose of humanitarian aid is to relieve the distress of people in need, no problem is seen in including aid for the damage caused by human disasters in the category of humanitarian aid. In this respect, aid to communities affected by wars and economic crises are also included in the category of humanitarian aid.

While humanitarian aid has increasingly become a popular concept on the global agenda, not having any economically developed countries be prominent in this context is not surprising. What is interesting is that regardless of Turkey’s share in global wealth, it has an attitude that sets an example to the world in humanitarian aid. The following highlights can be listed for the country’s recent humanitarian aid activities: Assistance efforts were carried out after the Southeast Asia earthquake at the end of 2004, the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon in 2006, the Gaza Crisis at the end of 2008, the 2010 Haiti and Chile earthquakes and floods in Pakistan, the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the 2013 Philippines typhoon, the 2014 floods in the Balkans and the attack on Gaza, the 2015 Nepal earthquake and the conflict-induced humanitarian crisis in Iraq, the 2015 and 2016 humanitarian crises in Yemen and Libya, and the 2016 floods in Macedonia.2 According to the UK-based organization Development Initiatives, Turkey was the country to conduct the most humanitarian aid, spending over US$7 billion in aid.3 Thus, Turkey has come to the position of the most generous country with its humanitarian aid corresponding to 0.85% of its national dividend. Coming to the forefront in this regard, the Turkish Red Crescent has also intervened in natural and man-made disasters in 138 countries over the last 10 years, and with its experience since the day it was established, has extended a helping hand to 147 countries across the globe.4 Meanwhile, as stated in its 2019 annual report, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) provided emergency and humanitarian assistance to people in need in Colombia, disaster victims in Somalia, earthquake victims in Albania, and people in need in Iraq and Afghanistan.5 As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made 2020 a very challenging year and turned into a global problem, as of 30 November, 2020, the number of people who have lost their lives worldwide has exceeded 1,431,000 and the number of cases exceeded 60 million.6 While people have retreated to their homes on an individual level with the pandemic that has transformed societies, states, and interstate relations locally, nationally, regionally, and globally, states have attempted to adapt to the so-called new normal by implementing international entry-exit bans. By internalizing that no other way is possible now beyond mandating the use of masks and curfews, countries have faced difficulties in terms of masks, disinfectants, health equipment, and personnel, especially in the early days of the epidemic, and have even seen economic problems arise. Thus, flexible working and distance education have not only become widespread, they have practically become the only format. During such a period, Turkey immediately extended humanitarian aid to the states in need of the aforementioned materials.  

By April 2020, Turkey delivered various medical supplies including test kits, medical supplies, gloves, and masks to 54 countries.7 Some of these countries include China, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, the U.S., Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Iran, Iraq, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (BBC News Türkçe 2020). In addition to the situations where aid has been provided as stated above, people who have been victimized by human causes such as economic reasons should also be evaluated within the subject of humanitarian aid. Therefore, medical supplies distributed by Turkey to other countries in order to eliminate the negative effects- whether natural or human related- of the pandemic, and to save human life, are also evaluated within the framework of humanitarian aid.

As a result, it is not surprising to see that Turkey emerges as one of the first countries that comes to mind when analyzing data on humanitarian aid made pre and post-pandemic and during the pandemic. In this sense, through TİKA, AFAD, the Turkish Red Crescent and other institutions, Turkey has been able to extend a helping hand not only to its own region but to distant geographies. In addition, the fact that Turkey often leaves behind more prosperous countries in terms of humanitarian aid spending illustrates that the country provides this aid on a voluntary basis. In addition to these, despite being quite adversely affected by the pandemic itself, the fact that Turkey did not remain indifferent to the calls for help of other countries is concrete evidence of the country’s dedication and sensitivity to humanitarian aid. However, fulfilling public diplomacy with this aid has been of great significance both for the purpose of setting an example for developed countries on increasing aid spending as well as overcoming any misconceptions about Turkey in other countries. This orientation is not only a requirement of Turkey as a soft power but also a requirement of smart power.

1. Evans, G. & Newnharn, J. (2007). Uluslararası İlişkiler Sözlüğü (Tran. H. A. Utku). İstanbul: Bilimevi Basın Yayın.

2. Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Dışişleri Bakanlığı. Retrieved November 29, 2020 from https://www.mfa.gov.tr/turkiye_nin_-insani-yardimlari.tr.mfa

3. Global Humanitarian Assistance Report, https://devinit.org/resources/global-humanitarian-assistance-report-2019/

4. Türk Kızılay. Retrieved November 29, 2020 from https://www.kizilay.org.tr/neler-yapiyoruz/uluslararasi-yardimlar

5. TİKA, T.C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı. 2019 Faaliyet Raporu. Türk İşbirliği ve Koordinasyon Ajansı, 2019.

6. BBC News Türkçe. 28 Nisan 2020. Retrieve November 30, 2020 from https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-52459231

7. TRTHABER. April 25, 2020. Retrieved November 29, 2020 from https://www.trthaber.com/haber/gundem/turkiye-54-ulkeye-test-kiti-ve-tibi-malzeme-


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