In the southern Turkish city of Antakya, Behzat put a blanket and an umbrella over his father, who was trapped under the rubble after one of the most devastating earthquakes in recent history hit the town and destroyed Behzat’s childhood home. He dug his father out with his bare hands and promised the old man, whose legs were stuck under a concrete block, that help was on the way.

Twenty-four agonizing hours later, Behzat asked his wife, my sister Gokce, to check on him. “I cannot look him in the eye anymore. I told him help was coming. It isn’t.” Behzat’s father died, as did his mother, his cousins, and thousands of others, because there was no one there to provide the needed help.

It wasn’t just loved ones who were buried under the rubble but also the promises of good governance, a corruption-free country, and a state that is responsive to the needs of its people.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made those promises after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to power following another devastating quake in northwestern Turkey in 1999, when thousands of people died due to the government’s slow response. He blamed all the ills of the 1990s on widespread corruption, dysfunctional governments, and unresponsive state institutions and pledged that, under his rule, things would change radically.

They have, and they have not. Gone are the days when internal squabbling among coalition partners paralyzed government decision-making. In his two decades at the helm, Erdoğan has centralized power in his own hands. To do that, he hollowed out state institutions, placed loyalists in key positions, wiped out most civil society organizations, and enriched his cronies to create a small circle of loyalists around him. The culmination of all those things paved the way for the tragedy that struck my country on Monday.

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