By Faruk Zorlu
ANKARA (AA) – Established in 1868 as the Society for Aiding the Wounded and Ailing Ottoman Soldiers, the Turkish Red Crescent on Friday celebrated its 153rd anniversary.
With an international network through which the country's largest humanitarian organization provides relief to other nations in need, "Kizilay acts as an international organization since its establishment," Kerem Kinik, head of the Turkish Red Crescent or Kizilay, told Anadolu Agency.
Over the years, it has been known as the Ottoman Red Crescent Society (1877), Turkey’s Red Crescent Community (1923), Turkish Red Crescent Community (1935), and finally, the Turkish Red Crescent Society (1947).
The name Kizilay (red crescent moon) was given to the institution by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish Republic's founder.
Sending aid ships to Greece during the German occupation in World War II is viewed as one of the agency's international mission initial examples, Kinik underlined.
"Kizilay sent aid six times to the Greek island of Piraeus with a ship called Kurtulus when Greece suffered from starvation during a period called the Great Famine during World War II. In the seventh expedition, the aid ship crashed into a rock off the sea of Marmara and sank," he said.
– Focal points of activities
Defining its mission as an endeavor to be a "proactive institution" to provide help for the needy in times of extraordinary situations, the charity's duties are built on three core fields, including disasters, community health care, and humanitarian aid, Kinik underlined.
Additionally, the field of disasters are classified as natural disasters and man-made disasters by Kizilay, he said, adding: "Through our plan for National Disaster Management, with disaster management and logistic systems established all around the country, the agency's mission is to provide nutrition-based supports at the time of natural disasters such as flooding and earthquake."
In the case of man-made disasters, he said the Turkish aid group operates intensively in many conflict zones and provides humanitarian support especially in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Libya.
"The activities we have carried out for people who have been forced to flee their homes (with a population approaching 80 million in the world) due to conflicts today are among the most comprehensive protection programs in the world," he added.
He went on to explain that Turkey is the country hosting the largest number of refugees in the world. With its activities, the agency not only provides protection and human support to this large mass but also runs multidimensional orientation programs.
When it comes to community health care, aiming to meet the country's total blood needs through its Regional Blood Centers, Blood Donation Centers, and mobile blood donation vehicles, "the agency operates perfectly the national safe blood supply program, initiated in 2005," he said.
Approximately 3 million blood donations are collected annually at around 300 blood donation centers across the country. These are distributed to more than 1,500 hospitals in the country every day. Around 3,500 employees actively operate in the Red Crescent Blood Services, he said.
The Turkish Red Crescent, which has expanded its success with 800,000 donors in providing safe blood to the fields of marrow transplant and stem cell therapy, is carrying out the TURKOK Project — the Turkish cord blood and bone marrow storage bank — in collaboration with the Health Ministry.
"We have approximately 800,000 stem cell donors," he said, adding that around 4,000 bone marrow transplants have matched, reaching the point that largely meets our national needs.
Concerning the third field of disaster categorized by Kizilay, he said in the humanitarian aid sphere, the group provides food aids, fights against poverty, education scholarships, protection, and housing supports, particularly in Turkey and around the world.
In 2020, the agency reached 37 million people, around 8.5 million of them abroad.
– Organizational chart
The agency presently has 600 branches or representatives across the country, with a goal of 1,000, covering all provinces and districts, and is now going out to towns and small communities to assist the people.
Kinik emphasized the importance of the Red Crescent's foreign assistance, stating that the organization now has delegates in 18 countries and that the number of permanent delegations abroad will be extended to 20 this year.
While it is organized throughout the Middle East, the Balkans, Africa, the Caucasus, and Asia, countries and regions such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Rohingya refugees and Bangladesh are crucial for the organization, he said and added, "We are present there with personnel and physical capacities."
Kizilay has intended to build its entire organization on voluntarism, Kinik stated, adding, "In this sense, we have launched an online platform for volunteers, gonulluol.org, as part of a Turkish Red Crescent project."
Participants will be able to complete their development with training and will be able to receive and contribute to different agency projects via the platform.
Strengthening volunteer projects, especially those aimed at increasing society's resilience, empowering individuals, and preparing for disasters, he said people serving in all of its branches are volunteers.
For example, he noted that approximately 17,000 people in Turkey volunteered for the Turkish Red Crescent to help victims of a powerful earthquake that shook Izmir and Elazig.
In 2020, a magnitude 6.6 tremor rattled the country's third-largest city of Izmir and killed at least 115 people and injured over 1,000 more.
And the 6.8 magnitude quake shook the eastern Elazig province in 2020, killing 41 people.
– Among world’s top organization
The Turkish Red Crescent is one of the top five organizations in the world among 192 national societies in terms of budget, number of beneficiaries, and projects, said Kinik, who is also vice president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
The Turkish Red Crescent was given the only aid contract in the history of the European Union. "The budget of our contract with the EU is more than €2 billion ($2.43)," he said.
Besides, the majority of Kizilay's migration services in Turkey are funded by the EU, he said.
The Red Crescent is an important player in mediation and human diplomacy internationally. So, the aid group is now in a considerably more policy-making position in the international arena, he added.
– Migration policy
Meanwhile, touching upon Kizilay's role in the migration policy of the country as it provides aid assistance and social cohesion programs for people living under temporary protection in Turkey, Kinik said: "There are over 5 million refugees in Turkey, including over 3.85 million from Syria and 1.5 million from 70 different countries."
"We provide support to 2.4 million refugees from 70 different nationalities in the basic humanitarian support programs, while nearly 600,000 children have received financial support for schoolings," he said.
In addition to these activities, many different programs help Syrians integrate with the local community in the community centers that have opened in Turkey, he said, stressing that these centers have set an example for international communities.
The charity plays a significant role in the country's migration policy as it provides aid assistance and social cohesion programs for people living under temporary protection in Turkey, who also receive psychosocial support through the aid agency.
As a result of these efforts, the crime rate among asylum seekers is less than half of the overall crime ratio in the country. Red Crescent's initiatives played a great role in creating this environment, he underlined.
Nearly 2,000 people work in centers for migration, he said.
Most notably, the Turkish Red Crescent also produces tents for use during disasters, enabling the charity to rely on its own resources while helping those in need, especially displaced in conflict-stricken areas, including northern Syria.
– Responding pandemic
Regarding a question on the ongoing pandemic, Kinik said: "We have become stronger during the COVID-19. This process has enabled us to recognize and improve our weaknesses. It has created some opportunities for the post-COVID-19 period, and we are evaluating these opportunities."
Highlighting the importance of increasing the agency's effectiveness during the pandemic, he said: "Before COVID-19 cases were reported in Turkey, we prepared a risk and strategic action plan against the pandemic."
He went on to say: "Our digital transformation project, initiated in 2015, provided us great opportunities on moving our agency's governance to a digital platform. This helped us to adapt easily to flexible working hours. Through digitalization, we made a flexible schedule permanent during the COVID-19."
"We have also established mask production factories. We produced and continue to distribute sanitizer. We provided support to people and sectors that became impoverished due to the COVID-19," he added.
The first immune plasma was provided to COVID-19 patients in early April 2020 after the first cases were reported in the country in early March. To date, more than 150,000 units of immune plasma have been provided to patients, he added.
– Strategic plans for 2030
Meanwhile, the aid group head said: "We made the biggest investment in the field of good governance. We have integrated our vision, job descriptions, values, principles, quality standards, strategy, goals, and objectives with the charity."
Until 2015, the agency's strategic plans were formed for three-year periods and then planned out over five-year. In 2020, it was created for a 10-year period. "We have largely realized our previous 5-year strategic plans, and even exceeded the targets in some areas," he underlined.
He added: "Our 2030 Strategy Plan was designed in line with Turkey's goals of 2023 and 2071, as well as the 2030 targets of our Red Crescent and Red Cross federations."
Kerem Kinik said commemorating the 153rd anniversary is both a responsibility and a milestone for all of us.
Expressing his greetings to those who have contributed to this charity since its establishment, Kinik said Kızılay has a structure that always serves its nation and supports its state. This structure rises with the power of volunteers.
The charity is a national organization that relies on donations only and does not get any share in the state budget.