News from Turkey, Afghanistan and India

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on October 25, 2011

TURKEY – Earthquake: Death toll could rise to more than 1,000

ISTANBUL – At least 270 people have been killed in eastern Turkey and up to 1,300 more injured after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the region on Sunday. There are fears the death toll could reach up to 1,000.

Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin released the grim casualty figures at a news conference on Monday.

Earlier on Monday Mr Sahin said 117 were killed in the district of Ercis, another 100 died in Van while some 740 people were injured. Hundreds of people are still missing.

Hundreds of rescue teams worked throughout the night searching for survivors among dozens of pancaked buildings, as aid groups scrambled to set up tents, field hospitals and kitchens to assist thousands left homeless.

A man sits on a brick near the debris of a collapsed building after a powerful earthquake in the town of Ercis in Van province, Turkey, on Oct. 24.

The situation in Ercis is more grave, said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayipp Erdogan, adding that many apartment buildings collapsed, raising fears that the toll could increase. …

“We estimate around 1,000 buildings are damaged and our estimate is for hundreds of lives lost. It could be 500 or 1,000,” said Mustafa Erdik, the general manager of [Turkey’s seismology institute], the Kandilli Observatory. …..

Sunday’s earthquake had a relatively shallow depth of 12.2 miles, according to the US Geological Survey, which is likely to increase the damage wrought.

Van province lies several hundred miles east of the East Anatolian fault, one of Turkey’s most seismically active regions.

Although the earthquake reportedly affected the surrounding provinces of Diyarbakir and Erzurum, residents in the capital cities of those provinces told The Daily Telegraph they felt nothing when it occurred.

The earthquake was the largest to strike Turkey since 1999 when two earthquakes with a magnitude of more than 7 hit northwest Turkey, killing 18,000.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai at a press conference on December 20, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

AFGHANISTAN – Afghan ‘beside’ Pakistan if U.S. ever attacks

KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said if the United States and Pakistan ever went to war, his country would back Islamabad, drawing a sharp rebuke Sunday from Afghan lawmakers who claimed the country’s top officials were adopting hypocritical positions.

The scenario is exceedingly unlikely and appears to be less a serious statement of policy than an Afghan overture to Pakistan, just days after Mr. Karzai and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Islamabad must do more to crack down on militants using its territory as a staging ground for attacks on Afghanistan.

“If fighting starts between Pakistan and the U.S., we are beside Pakistan,” Mr. Karzai said in an interview with private Pakistani television station GEO that aired Saturday. “If Pakistan is attacked and the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan’s help, Afghanistan will be there with you.”

He said that Kabul would not allow any nation, including the U.S., to dictate its policies.

Both Washington and Kabul repeatedly have said Pakistan is providing sanctuary to militant groups launching attacks in Afghanistan.

INDIA – 285 Girls Shed ‘Unwanted’ Names

MUMBAI — More than 200 Indian girls whose names mean “unwanted” in Hindi have chosen new names for a fresh start in life.

A central Indian district held a renaming ceremony Saturday that it hopes will give the girls new dignity and help fight widespread gender discrimination that gives India a skewed gender ratio, with far more boys than girls.

Girls dressed in their best outfits sit with certificates stating their new official names during a renaming ceremony in Satara, India.

The 285 girls — wearing their best outfits with barrettes, braids and bows in their hair — lined up to receive certificates with their new names along with small flower bouquets from Satara district officials in Maharashtra state.

In shedding names like “Nakusa” or “Nakushi,” which mean “unwanted” in Hindi, some girls chose to name themselves after Bollywood stars such as “Aishwarya” or Hindu goddesses like “Savitri.” Some just wanted traditional names with happier meanings, such as “Vaishali,” or “prosperous, beautiful and good.” …

The plight of girls in India came to a focus after this year’s census showed the nation’s sex ratio had dropped over the past decade from 927 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of 6 to 914.

Maharashtra state’s ratio is well below that, with just 883 girls for every 1,000 boys — down from 913 a decade ago. In the district of Satara, it is even lower, at 881.

Such ratios are the result of abortions of [unborn female babies], or just sheer neglect leading to a higher death rate among girls. The problem is so serious in India that hospitals are legally banned from revealing the gender of an unborn [baby] in order to prevent sex-selective abortions, though evidence suggests the information gets out.

Part of the reason Indians favor sons is the enormous expense of marrying off girls. Families often go into debt arranging marriages and paying for elaborate dowries. A boy, on the other hand, will one day bring home a bride and dowry. Hindu custom also dictates that only sons can light their parents’ funeral pyres. [NOTE: When a Hindu dies, he/she is cremated on a funeral pyre.  A funeral pyre is a structure usually made of wood, for burning a body as part of a funeral rite. As a form of cremation, a body is placed upon the pyre, which is then set on fire.]

Over the years, and again now, efforts have been made to fight the discrimination.

“Nakusa is a very negative name as far as female discrimination is concerned,” said Satara district health officer Dr. Bhagwan Pawar, who came up with the idea for the renaming ceremony.

Other incentives, announced by federal or state governments every few years, include free meals and free education to encourage people to take care of their girls, and even cash bonuses for families with girls who graduate from high school.

Activists say the name “unwanted,” which is widely given to girls across India, gives them the feeling they are worthless and a burden.

“When the child thinks about it, you know, ‘My mom, my dad, and all my relatives and society call me unwanted,’ she will feel very bad and depressed,” said Sudha Kankaria of the organization Save the Girl Child. But giving these girls new names is only the beginning, she said.

“We have to take care of the girls, their education and even financial and social security, or again the cycle is going to repeat,” she said.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at on Oct 24, on Oct. 23 and on Oct. 22.)