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The Turkish Red
Crescent Society,
from past to present

 

With nearly 1.2 million volunteers, the Turkish Red Crescent Society offers a broad disaster response capacity. Its operations within Turkey and all over the world are growing day by day.

 

“AS a family, we have a strong, heartfelt bond to Kizilay,” says Memnune Andicen who volunteers for the Turkish Red Crescent Society (TRCS, also called Kizilay) to boost its blood donations, just as her father Ahmet Andicen did some 50 years ago. Following in her father’s footsteps, she became a regular Kizilay blood donor, helped elderly and poor people and raised funds for the National Society.

Andicen’s father, who established the first Kizilay blood centre with other members in 1957, was a record-breaking blood donor in Turkey with well over 175 donations.

In her early 60s, Andicen now attends Kizilay training in order to pass on her father’s knowledge and techniques on how to motivate people to donate blood as the Red Crescent prepares to become the sole blood collector and supplier in Turkey. Her nephew, a third-generation volunteer, is also a regular blood donor for the National Society.

The Andicen family is not the only one whose bonds with Kizilay are rooted in the history of the Turkish Red Crescent Society. Bayram Selvi, a specialist in Kizilay’s international department, tells how his great-grandfather and his sisters received Kizilay assistance while fleeing to Turkey from the Balkans due to war in early the 1900s.

“There was not a single migrant family who did not receive Kizilay assistance, which varied from shelter to hot meals and clothing in the camps. In return, Kizilay won the affection of those they helped,” he says. Once settled in Turkey, Selvi’s family became regular donors to support the National Society.

While explaining what makes him so motivated about Kizilay, in addition to his family history, he says, “By myself, I can help only another person or a couple of others at most. But as part of Kizilay, I can bring help to thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands who are in need.”

Andicen and Selvi are only two among the tens of thousands of Kizilay workers, volunteers and donors who help people in need at home and abroad. In addition to blood services, health and care, management of man-made and natural disasters and assistance for elderly, orphans, the poor and youth are among the traditional services of the National Society.

Kizilay has 250 active, service-providing branches all around the country and aims to increase the number of its blood centres from 54 to 81 by the end of 2007.

“What makes Kizilay a distinguished National Society,” says Director General Omer Tasli, “is the fact that the values, culture and beliefs of a Kizilay worker, volunteer and donor comply with the principles of our work, of our Movement.”

Deft at handling challenges

Recalling its history which goes back to the 19th century, President Tekin Kucukali says, “Kizilay has always emerged stronger from the difficulties it faced.” The most recent crisis that rocked the National Society was in 1999 when two major earthquakes hit north-west Turkey, killing thousands of people and leaving tens of thousands of others in desperate conditions.

In the face of sharp criticism from the national media and general public that it could not cope with the impact of the disaster, Kizilay launched a restructuring and capacity-building process, with the help of the International Federation and participating National Societies, which assisted Kizilay to help the victims of 1999 earthquakes.

Today, officials assure that the National Society is capable of reaching a disaster zone within the first two hours — thanks to seven regional disaster response and logistics centres. It no longer experiences communication problems with its field teams during operations in and out of Turkey, thanks to its new satellite-linked communications system.

And finally, Kizilay reorganized and standardized its stocks around the country to meet needs properly. It replenishes them regularly. It began responding to floods, village fires and avalanches in addition to small-scale tremors that take place on a more or less daily basis in this quake-prone country. The National Society now runs its own tent production unit and can meet the emergency shelter and nutrition needs of 250,000 people in a major disaster.

With an increased disaster management capacity and a restored public image —which enabled it to attract a large number of public donations — Kizilay turned towards international operations. Starting with relief operations in Iran after the 2003 Bam earthquake, Kizilay responded to the Indian Ocean tsunami in Sri Lanka and Indonesia in 2004, the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 and the war in Lebanon in 2006. It also has had ongoing operations in the Palestinian territories since 2003, in the Balkans since the late 1990s and in Sudan since 2006; it is presently strengthening its cooperation with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.

Kizilay’s President Kucukali tells how they integrated psychosocial approaches into their disaster-response mechanisms at home and abroad. “We try to involve people affected by disasters in our activities as much as possible,” he says. “Helping others helps them to start standing on their own feet.” The National Society also makes all its purchases in the areas affected by disasters in a bid to stimulate economic recovery.

Kizilay’s increasing focus on international operations, which received a lot of attention from the Turkish media, triggered criticism of whether the National Society is able to provide sufficient services at home. Kizilay workers reject such criticism. Some say donations would not flow to the National Society for Kizilay operations abroad if there were no public backing. Others argue that letting Kizilay’s existing capacity remain idle would not comply with the principles of humanitarian work.

The Turkish Red Crescent Society is aware of the increasing competition in the humanitarian field and the need for well-trained, highly qualified staff. Completing its restructuring and branch development process, as well as building a response capacity for newly emerging threats, such as environmental problems and global warming, will enable it to meet future challenges.


These students are part of an extensive network blood donors across the country.
©AHMET ORS / TURKISH RED CRESCENT SOCIETY

 

 


Turkish Red Crescent field hospital in Darfur.
©AHMET ORS / TURKISH RED CRESCENT SOCIETY

 

 


Tekin Kucukali, president of the Turkish Red Crescent Society.
©AHMET ORS / TURKISH RED CRESCENT SOCIETY

 

 

Pioneer of Red Crescents

The Turkish Red Crescent Society is widely known as the National Society which initiated the use of the red crescent in the late 19th century, paving the way for the other Red Crescent Societies to emerge.

In 1868, the International Committee of the Red Cross was informed that an Ottoman member society had been formed, which was then registered as a Red Cross. However, its existence remained on paper only until the 1876-1878 Russian-Ottoman War, when the society became active. The Ottoman society started to use a “red crescent” as its indicative and protective emblem. In 1929, this emblem was adopted in the Geneva Conventions by a diplomatic conference.

“What is interesting is that the Ottoman Red Crescent branches in what was then called the Ottoman Empire territory — those in Lebanon, in Palestine, in the Saudi Arabian peninsula, in the Balkans and other places — were the seeds of what later became the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in those regions,” says Kizilay international department’s Bayram Selvi who is completing a masters degree on the history of the Turkish Red Crescent.


Volunteers of what was to vecome the Turkish Red Crescent in Thessaloniki during the Greek–Turkish war in 1897.
©ICRC

 

Elif Unal Arslan
International Federation communication,
advocacy and marketing officer in Ankara.

 

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