Was the earthquake in Turkey created by a US military weapon?

By February 9, 2023 February 13th, 2023 Crisis and Disaster, International Politics, Science

We came across the following post in a popular Singapore-based Telegram channel:

The post contains a clip that appears to be from Turkey’s Ihlas News Agency that supposedly shows footage of the video of the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday, 6 February.

The video zooms in on flashing lights that appear in the sky. It is also overlaid with a screenshot of a text message in the Russian language with an embedded link to an Economist article from 20 January titled ‘Turkey’s looming dictatorship’ (the article has been renamed ‘Turkey could be on the brink of dictatorship’ after vociferous criticism in the country).

Translating the Russian text into English, the author of the post suggests that the Economist’s design choice of ‘(Turkish president Recep Tayyip) Erdogan on the background of a full moon’ indicates the existence of a conspiracy. Purporting that the earthquake in Turkey was a man-made attack caused by ‘HAARP’, the author points to images of ‘lightning’ in the sky, as well as the fact that the full moon fell on 5 February, the day before the earthquake.

The narrative appears to be that Western countries were responsible for a military attack on Turkey due to its current political manoeuvring between the western allies and their adversaries, such as Russia. These sentiments are reflected in other supportive messages on the same Telegram channel.

Haarping on a Conspiracy

The core claim of the Telegram posts is that the earthquake in Turkey was caused by a man-made military device called HAARP.

When we looked up HAARP, we found that it refers to the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program, a scientific endeavour that aims to study the properties of the ionosphere, the section of the atmosphere that stretches from about 60km to above 500km above the Earth’s surface.

HAARP was originally created in 1990 as a US congressional initiative jointly managed by the US Air Force and the US Navy, but in 2015 responsibility of the research facility was transferred to the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

HAARP works by using radio waves to heat electrons in small regions of the ionosphere to measure the effects. These can sometimes mimic naturally occurring phenomena by creating ‘weak luminous aurora-like glows’.

The HAARP website’s FAQ section mentions that artificially induced effects introduced by HAARP are ‘quickly obliterated’, leaving no long-term effects of the ionospheric heating experiments.

It also says that the radio waves produced by HAARP are not absorbed in the troposphere or the stratosphere—the two levels of the atmosphere that produce Earth’s weather—and that there is no way to create an interaction that would allow control of the weather.

Despite these assurances, due to its military origins, futuristic design and poorly understood capabilities, HAARP has become a target of conspiracy theories seeking to explain natural disasters.

A factcheck segment called ‘Truth or Fake’ on France 24, a French state-owned international news television network, addressed the conspiracy theories surrounding HAARP on an episode in November 2021. They noted HAARP had been previously blamed for disasters such as the 2021 floods in Germany, and that fake videos had circulated that falsely claimed to show people tearing down HAARP facilities.

An NBC news article also states that the former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez had claimed that HAARP or a similar programme had triggered the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Additionally, conspiracy theorists online have blamed it for the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma in 2013, and a landslide in the Philippines in 2006.

Though conspiracy theories may seek to attribute the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria to HAARP, the reality is that Turkey and Syria are highly prone to earthquakes, and have suffered several major ones in the last two millennia. In the last century alone, five other earthquakes had killed thousands of people each in Turkey, while as early as in 115AD, an estimated 260,000 people died when an earthquake and tsunami hit the border between Turkey and Syria.

Possibly Lightning, but Not Enlightening

The reference to ‘lightning’ in the sky before the earthquake, implied to be caused by HAARP, also appears to have a natural explanation. Earthquakes have been associated with the emergence of strange lights in the sky for centuries, with the lights taking many different forms, shapes and colours.

Currently known as earthquake lights (EQL), the phenomenon remains poorly understood in science and there is a lack of consensus among the scientific community due their rarity and short existence.

While some scientists attribute the effect to common lightning, others doubt the existence of EQL entirely or believe they are caused by a ‘piezoelectric effect’ resulting from ‘electric charges activated in certain types of rocks during seismic activity’.

The US Geological Survey also points out that some reports of EQL have turned out to be ‘associated with electricity arcing from the power lines shaking’.

A Fool’s Moon

One of the clearest indications of the post being a conspiracy theory is the reference to the image in the article from the Economist, a British (and also, therefore, Western) weekly newspaper. Rather than superimposing Erdogan’s silhouette on a full moon, it is highly likely to be contrasted against the crescent in the Turkish flag.

The Russian origins of the Telegram post point to the possibility of this conspiracy theory being manipulated for political purposes, given Russia’s opposition to US support for Ukraine in the latter’s war effort. Moreover, it may be an effort to drive a wedge between Turkey and its NATO partners, with whom it has been recently been at odds over the proposed NATO membership of Sweden and Finland.

Whether or not the conspiracy theory is malicious, it is unfortunate that the human suffering caused by the catastrophe in Turkey and Syria is being overlooked. Given that the claims have scientific explanations and have no factual basis, the assertion that the earthquake in Turkey was man-made is false.

Leave a Reply