Türkiye’s Humanitarian Diplomacy Activities in 2022

Orhan Battır
Karamanoğlu Mehmetbey University, Political Science and International Relations Department

When viewed from the broadest perspective, humanitarian diplomacy correspondents to the efforts made at the international level to produce solutions that prioritize human beings and address issues related to human security. In other words, all processes aimed at persuading decision-makers and actors in the field to use tools that focus on humans and towards finding solutions to humanitarian problems can be considered as humanitarian diplomacy.

In terms of its processes, tools, and actors, humanitarian diplomacy significantly differs from traditional diplomacy conducted by official diplomats in the field of foreign policy. However, both forms of diplomacy progress within their own realms and are complementary to each other rather than being contradictory or alternatives. In this sense, humanitarian diplomacy fills an important gap in the international policy-making process through practices that prioritize fundamental humanitarian values alongside state interests. Additionally, due to its human-centered and human rights-based nature, humanitarian diplomacy can be regarded as one of the highest areas of legitimacy in international politics. Considering all these qualities, it is unquestionable that humanitarian diplomacy is an effective source or soft power and a genuine instrument of foreign policy.

Although the concept of humanitarian diplomacy evokes notions such as humanitarian aid or advocacy for human rights, it is not limited to these alone; it goes beyond them. Depending on the context, humanitarian diplomacy encompasses these concepts while finding meaning within a different and much broader framework. The concept of humanitarian aid, which occupies a certain central position in humanitarian diplomacy practices, includes all kinds of activities aimed at ensuring the survival, security, alleviation of suffering, and ultimately the sustainable resolution of problems primarily for individuals who are exposed to various difficulties they cannot overcome on their own due to reasons such as disasters, poverty, drought, hunger, and war. 

On the other hand, when referring to humanitarian diplomacy, it primarily brings to mind ‘humanitarian’ activities directed towards the protection of human life and dignity in the face of any problem that can be characterized as a humanitarian crisis caused by either natural or human-made factors. These activities include the realization of urgent humanitarian aid measures as a priority, followed by efforts for rehabilitation and sustainable recovery through international cooperation. At this stage, civil society organizations, among others, take the forefront as key actors. Particularly in the context of wars/internal conflicts where humanitarian tragedies are more prominent, the efforts such as rescue and protection of civilians, establishment of dialogue among conflicting parties, mediation initiatives, temporary or permanent ceasefire agreements, and the establishment of peace correspond to the direct ‘political’ dimension of humanitarian diplomacy. In this stage, official actors play a more prominent role, primarily represented by states and supranational institutions.

Humanitarian diplomacy, carried out by both civil and official actors, operates through collaboration and can be categorized into two main instruments: international humanitarian assistance – including development aid – and peacebuilding activities. In other words, regardless of how diversified they may be, it is possible to relate each humanitarian diplomatic activity to humanitarian aid and peacebuilding.

In the context of Türkiye’s humanitarian diplomacy activities conducted by official and civil actors throughout 2022, it would be more meaningful to refer to the explanations provided. In this regard, if we need to separately consider activities related to natural and/or human-induced problems within the year, Türkiye’s humanitarian relief efforts following the earthquake in Afghanistan and the flood disaster in Pakistan can be cited as examples. When it comes to human-induced crises, efforts to find solutions to the humanitarian problems caused by the Russia-Ukraine War would undoubtedly stand out. By briefly addressing the humanitarian diplomatic activities related to these three humanitarian crises, it is possible to concretize the situation.

Afghanistan Earthquake 

Following the earthquake that occurred in Afghanistan in June 2022, resulting in the loss of over 1,000 lives and leaving nearly 2,000 injured, prominent humanitarian organizations such as AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Authority), Turkish Red Crescent, and IHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation) were observed swiftly arriving in the region to provide assistance.

AFAD teams promptly reached the most affected area of the earthquake, the Giyan district in Paktika province, where they provided food aid to 250 families whose homes were destroyed or damaged.1 Additionally, based on on-site assessments, plans were made for various types of assistance including setting up tents, providing blankets, beds, food, and hygiene materials. In coordination with TCDD and AFAD, a ‘train of kindness’ consisting of six groups organized by contributions from 10 different civil society organizations was sent to Afghanistan from Ankara Central Station on August 24, 2022.2

The Turkish Red Crescent mobilized its teams in the region’s delegation to address the needs of the earthquake victims and delivered food packages to 500 families in coordination with Afghan Red Crescent. Turkish Red Crescent teams also provided support at hospitals for the injured in the earthquake, and continued urgent humanitarian aid activities by transporting food and non-food assistance materials after conducting needs assessments.3

IHH Afghanistan Representation immediately took action, first distributing hot meals to over 1,500 earthquake victims and then providing tents, blankets, and other relief supplies to sustain their aid efforts.4

Pakistan Flood Disaster

Following the flood disaster caused by heavy rainfall in Pakistan, the first country to arrive in the region for humanitarian aid was once again Türkiye.

Within the framework of cooperation between AFAD and Turkish NGOs, over 7,500 tons of relief supplies were sent to Pakistan. In the initial stage, 34,452 family tents, 442,892 food and hygiene kits, nearly 3 million medical supplies, over 43,000 shelter materials, 10,000 kitchens, over 50,000 clothing items, 2 large mobile health units, and 50 boats carrying relief supplies were delivered to the affected areas of the disaster. AFAD teams set up 28,808 tents in 21 different regions, providing temporary shelter for nearly 180,000 people residing there.5

The Turkish Red Crescent, taking action from the early hours of the flood in the most affected regions of Balochistan, Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan, Punjab, and Kashmir, supported the healing process of Pakistan by providing locally procured relief supplies in Pakistan, aid sent from Turkey by road, the ‘Train of Kindness’ prepared under AFAD coordination, and humanitarian aid materials placed on cargo planes.6 The Turkish Red Crescent continues its assistance in terms of food, clothing, hygiene, and shelter needs for several months.

IHH, from the very beginning, actively participated in relief efforts by providing hot meals, food packages, clothing and hygiene materials, blankets, mosquito nets, healthcare services, and medicine supplies to thousands of affected families. 

Russia-Ukraine War

The two phenomena previously mentioned serve as examples of ‘international humanitarian assistance’ from a human diplomacy perspective, while the activities aimed at solving the multidimensional humanitarian problems caused by the Russia-Ukraine war have highlighted Türkiye’s pioneering role in both ‘international humanitarian aid’ and ‘peacebuilding.’ Starting with air and missile attacks targeting pre-determined objectives in Ukraine by Russia on February 24, 2022, the war immediately overshadowed many issues and became the most important agenda item in international politics. From the very beginning of the war, Türkiye’s stance has developed within the framework of the strong and frequently emphasized understanding of ‘Entrepreneurial and Humanitarian Foreign Policy.’ 

International Humanitarian Assistance

As in other humanitarian crisis situations, it has been observed that Turkish official and civil humanitarian aid organizations are at the forefront of the rescue and protection of civilians affected by Russia’s attacks. In this regard, the activities of the same institution can be cited as examples.

Within a few days following the start of the war, humanitarian aid materials prepared with the support of relevant institutions, organizations, and NGOs under the coordination of AFAD were delivered to the Ukrainian people and Turkish citizens in the region to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the Ukrainian people. On the Romania border of Ukraine, in Poland, and Maldova, approximately 10,000 people per day were provided with nutrition support in the area created by the AFAD team.7

The Turkish Red Crescent initiated the Ukraine Humanitarian Aid Operation in response to the request for assistance from the Ukrainian Red Cross. Since the beginning, humanitarian aid has been delivered in response to the health, shelter, protection, food, and hygiene needs to affected civilians both within the country and along evacuation and migration routes by the Red Crescent teams deployed in Ukraine and neighboring countries, in collaboration with operation stakeholders. The assistance has continued to increase over time.8

In order to meet the urgent humanitarian needs in Ukraine, IHH took action and provided support by supplying humanitarian aid materials such as bread, hot meals, food packages, and blankets to civilians living in bombarded Kiev and refugees in neighboring countries.9

Activities Towards Peacebuilding 

Peacebuilding activities are multidimensional and can take place in various categories and levels of interaction. These include establishing peace between states, resolving internal conflicts among state actors, combating terrorism, and other related areas. However, peacebuilding processes always require mutual communication and contacts between conflicting parties or parties with the potential for conflict.

Official and civilian humanitarian diplomacy actors assume roles such as peace diplomacy, mediation, and most importantly, persuading decision-makers and opinion leaders to take action in order to eliminate political, military, economic, and other conditions that contribute to conflicts.

Throughout 2022, efforts towards achieving a ceasefire followed by a permanent and fair peace agreement have become Türkiye’s top priority in its foreign policy agenda. Türkiye has been one of the few countries capable of directly engaging in high-level talks with both Russia and Ukraine. As a result, it has successfully played a role as a mediator and facilitator in negotiations between the two countries since the beginning of the war, leading to positive outcomes in peacebuilding. 

While the war continues with full force, Türkiye, Russia and Ukraine Foreign Ministers came together at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum on March 10. With the participation of Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, the trilateral meeting provided the first direct political contact between the parties. Then, on March 29, technical teams met again in Istanbul and significant progress was made in the negotiations. It can be said that these two meetings formed the basis for the ongoing ceasefire and peace negotiations in the future. 

President Erdoğan’s intensive diplomatic efforts at the leaders’ level, as well as the triple contacts established by the foreign affairs and national defense ministers, have made it possible to prevent both existing and potential humanitarian crises. In this context;

  • Opening a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of civilians from areas of active conflict,
  • Safely brining Turkish citizens living in both countries, especially in conflict zones, to Türkiye,
  • Signing and implementing the ‘Grain Corridor Agreement,’ which serves to prevent potential food crises on a continental scale outside the warring parties, and addressing occasional problems through direct negotiations at the leaders’ level,
  • Ensuring large-scale prisoner exchanges between Russia and Ukraine through mediation and facilitation efforts,
  • Conducting discussions between the Russian nuclear company Rosatom and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Istanbul to protect the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, from conflicts,10

Each of these diplomatic activities should be considered as humanitarian diplomacy practices conducted by Türkiye within the framework of peacebuilding.

In conclusion, considering the performance exhibited in the aforementioned examples, Türkiye has increasingly strengthened its humanitarian diplomacy capacity and, as a result, pursued a people-centered foreign policy within the international system.

1. Anadolu Agency (2022). AFAD’dan depremden etkilenen 250 Afgan aileye gıda yardımı https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/dunya/afaddan-depremden-etkilenen-250-afgan-aileye-gida-yardimi/2633008. 

2. AFAD (December 24, 2022). Kardeş ülke Afganistan’a 6. Grup iyilik trenleri uğurlandı https://www.afad.gov.tr/kardes-ulke-afganistana-6-grup-iyilik-trenleri-ugurlandi. 

3. Turkish Red Crescent (2022). Kızılay Afganistan’daki Ekipleriyle Depremzedelere Yardım Ediyor https://www.kizilay.org.tr/Haber/HaberDetay/6936.. 

4. IHH (2022). Deprem sonrası Afganistan’a acil yardım https://ihh.org.tr/haber/ deprem-sonrasi-afganistana-acil-yardim. 

5. Anadolu Agency (2022). AFAD, Pakistan’a 7 bin 500 tonun üzerinde insani yardım malzemesi gönderdi https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/gundem/afad-pakistana-7-bin-500-tonun-uzerinde-insani-yardim-malzemesi-gonderdi/2709439. 

6. Turkish Red Crescent (2022). Pakistanlı selzedeler Kızılay çadırlarına yerleşmeye başladı https://www.kizilay.org.tr/Haber/HaberDetay/7045. 

7. AFAD (2022). Türkiye’den Ukrayna halkına yardım eli https://www.afad.gov.tr/ turkiyeden-ukrayna-halkina-yardim-eli.

8. Turkish Red Crescent (2022). Ukrayna’ya insani yardım https://www.kizilay.org.tr/Bagis/ BagisYap/284/ukrayna-ya-insani-yardim.

9. IHH (2022). İHH’dan Ukrayna’ya insani yardım https://ihh.org.tr/haber/ihhdan-ukraynaya-insani-yardim. 

10. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2022). 2023 yılına girerken girişimci ve insani dış politikamız https://www.mfa.gov.tr/site_media/html/2023-yilina-girerken-girisimci-ve-insani-dis-politikamiz.pdf. s.13-15.

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