By Nilay Kar Onum
ISTANBUL (AA) – The 14th anniversary of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, which mostly hit Indonesia's northern province of Aceh, was marked at a conference in Istanbul.
“Thank you Turkey” brought together representatives from Turkish aid agencies and journalists including Turkey’s well-known photo-journalist Coskun Aral, who shot a documentary on Indonesia which was shown at the event.
The event — organized by the Center for Ottoman-Malay World Studies (OSMAD) at Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakif University and the Acehnese community in Turkey — shed light on impressions and experiences of Turkish aid agencies maintaining its aid efforts in the region.
Herry Sudradjat, Consul General of the Republic of Indonesia to Istanbul, described the tsunami in Aceh as a “human tragedy,” saying it also brought global citizens together in humanitarian response.
On Dec. 26, 2004, a magnitude-9.1 earthquake struck the eastern coast of Sumatra, causing a tsunami that killed around 230,000 people — mostly in Aceh — as it tore along the coasts of Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
“Forty-four countries sent personnel and assistance, working side by side and under the coordination of the Indonesian government,” Sudradjat said.
“Turkey, with its Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), was among the first countries in the world to respond a plea from the Indonesian government to provide humanitarian and emergency support to the quake-hit island of Aceh.”
Sudradjat voiced his hope to improve the knowledge of disaster management, calling on people “to always remain on the alert for possible disasters to prevent any unnecessary loss of life.”
Recalling the recent quakes and tsunamis in the country, he said: “We’ve learned so much from our experience in dealing with several natural disasters.
“However, we need a more proper response in the event of a disaster. In this regard, we are always open to any assistance from our friends, the people, and government of Turkey,” he said.
The consul general expressed his gratitude for Turkey's "genuine" support and for "all dedication and perspiration in helping Indonesia in difficult times."
Last week, a tsunami struck Indonesia’s, Sunda Strait, killing over 350 people.
On Sept. 28, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake had struck Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island, triggering a tsunami that towered up to 10 feet (3 meters) high and killed over 2,000 people.
Indonesia lies within the Pacific Ocean’s "Ring of Fire," where tectonic plates collide and cause frequent seismic and volcanic activity.
- Kizilay and IHH's aid activities
Huseyin Can, secretary general of Turkish Red Crescent (Kizilay), said that his aid agency did not stay aloof from the disaster that occurred very far away from Turkey.
“By setting up tents in the quickest way, we met people’s urgent needs initially,” he said. “We had to do our homework that day and we did not expect neither a fee nor admiration.”
“After the disaster, there were many important things to do. We set up over 1,000 classrooms there, established orphanages and post-disaster period, we did not leave Aceh.
“Establishing community centers, we explored ways to employ people from different professions by educating them," he said.
Kizilay teams continue its aid efforts in the region, he added.
Osman Atalay, board member of Istanbul-based IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) — who went to the disaster-hit area a short time after the tsunami — said that what he saw there was “doomsday”
“The area was very chaotic. One thing that I cannot forget is a big ship sitting on three houses,” Atalay said.
“We, as IHH, initially provided a safe place for children and then tried to provide tents to families.”
IHH later established prefabricated houses for needy people, he said. “We also placed around 50 children, who lost their mothers and fathers to a safe place and met their needs.”
The aid agency also set up an orphanage complex, named Aceh Istanbul Orphanage, which hosts 95 children now, he said.
“Some of the children, who grew up there, came to Turkey and are studying here. One of them is Vildan. Her dream is to become a teacher at the orphanage.”
“IHH has still been meeting the expenses of the orphanage for 14 years,” he added.