Baseless claim Turkey ambassadors 'evacuated' before earthquake fuels conspiracy theories
Western embassies in Turkey have rubbished claims that they removed their ambassadors from the country shortly before a devastating earthquake on February 6, an accusation shared in social media posts spewing baseless conspiracy theories that the disaster was planned. Media reports and social media activities placed the ambassadors in the country around the time of the quake.
"Planned demolition anybody," reads a Facebook post shared on February 16.
The post shows a tweet by US conspiracy theorist David Wolfe that says Canada, the United States, Britain, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Holland and France "pulled their ambassadors out of Turkey 24 hours before the earthquake".
Similar posts circulated around the world, including in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain, racking up thousands of shares.
Some Facebook users appeared to link the claim to conspiracy theories that the 7.8-magnitude tremor that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria was man-made.
"We should be taking to streets over this mass murder," one comment read.
"Hmmm this is what I thought, something way too suspect about it," said another.
Turkey is one of the world's most active earthquake zones. A combination of factors made February's tremor particularly deadly, including its timing, location and the weak construction of the collapsed buildings, according to experts.
Several posts mentioned the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), a US research station that has been falsely blamed for the tragedy.
"USA also issued terrorist warnings for Turkey. They have equipment that can cause an earthquake. It's called HAARP," said one Facebook user.
Representatives for the Turkish embassies of France, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands all told AFP their ambassadors were in the country when the earthquake struck.
Furthermore, the French and Dutch ambassadors were pictured in Turkey around the time of the earthquake.
The Küçük Kulüp Derneği Franco-Turkish alliance in Izmir tweeted a photo of French ambassador Hervé Magro visiting on February 3.
Dutch ambassador Joep Wijnands was photographed on the same day meeting Turkish politician Ahmet Davutoglu at his party's headquarters in Ankara.
While the US and UK embassies did not respond to AFP's request for comment, social media posts place their ambassadors in Turkey around the time of the quake.
The US ambassador to Turkey Jeffry Flake posted a photo of a half-mast US flag in an Instagram post on February 6 that tagged Ankara as the location at around 9:49 local time.
At around 12:07 am local time the next day, he appeared on CNN from Ankara and spoke to the host Jake Tapper about the quake.
Tweets from the UK ambassaor to Turkey Jill Morris also placed her in Turkey around the time of the quake.
She tweeted a picture of her visit to the British Consulate-General in Istanbul on January 26, a post about the tremor at 8:07 am local time on February 6 -- the day the quake hit -- and a picture on February 13 showing her helping with donations in Ankara for people affected by the quake.
The baseless claim that countries evacuated their ambassadors from Turkey ahead of the earthquake appears to originate from reports that a string of Western nations temporarily closed their Istanbul consulates to the public in February amid concerns of a terror attack.
The warnings followed a spike in diplomatic tensions linked to Turkey's refusal to let Sweden and Finland join the US-led NATO defence bloc.
These have been exacerbated by protests at which an anti-Islamic extremist burned copies of the Koran outside Ankara's embassies in Stockholm and Copenhagen in January.
Turkish officials voiced growing frustration with the Western security alerts and summoned the ambassadors and top envoys of nine Western powers to condemn the act.
AFP reported that ambassadors and senior representatives of Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States attended a foreign ministry meeting on February 2 in Ankara.
Belgium's Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs spokesman said the Belgian consulate in Istanbul was closed to the public due to the "terrorist threat" after the Koran burnings. However, he said the consulate was operational and the Belgian Embassy in Ankara was open on the day of the earthquake.
"All Belgian diplomatic and consular staff in Turkey were fully operational by 5 am on 6 February to deal with the consequences of the earthquake, including the fate of more than 200 Belgians living in the most affected areas," he told AFP.
Social media posts from verified profiles of the eight embassies on February 6 also show that they were working following the earthquake.