Friday was the 153rd anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay), which has evolved from a small society to a global charity aimed at communities in need and the main source of blood donations across the country. Although it gained its current name in the 20th century, the charity dates back to its roots in 1868, when it was established as the Society to Help the Wounded and Sick Ottoman Soldiers.
With an international network through which the country’s largest humanitarian organizations provide aid to other nations in need, “Kızılay has been acting as an international organization since its inception,” said Kerem Kınık, current head of the Turkish Red Crescent.
Over the years it became known as the Ottoman Red Crescent Society (1877), the Turkish Red Crescent Society (1923), the Turkish Red Crescent Society (1935), and finally the Turkish Red Crescent Society (1947). The name Kızılay was given to the institution by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.
Sending aid ships to Greece during the German occupation of World War II is seen as one of the agency’s first international missions, Kınık said. “The Turkish Red Crescent sent aid six times to the Greek island of Piraeus with a ship called Kurtuluş when Greece starved during a period called the Great Famine during World War II. During its seventh expedition, the aid ship collided with a rock . the sea of Marmara and sank,” he said.
Defining its mission as an effort to be a “proactive institution” to provide help to those in need in times of extraordinary situations, the charity’s duties are built on three main fields – disasters, community health care and humanitarian aid – Kınık underlined.
In the case of man-made disasters, he said the Turkish aid group operates intensively in many conflict zones and provides humanitarian support – especially in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Libya. “The activities we carry out for people who have been forced to flee their homes (some 80 million people globally) due to conflict are now among the most comprehensive protection programs in the world,” he added.
When it comes to community health care, the Turkish Red Crescent aims to meet the country’s total blood needs through its Regional Blood Centres, Blood Donation Centers and mobile blood donation vehicles. “The agency perfectly operates the country’s safe blood supply program, which started in 2005,” he said.
Approximately 3 million blood donations they are collected annually at about 300 blood donation centers across the country and distributed to more than 1,500 hospitals across the country. About 3,500 employees are actively working in Red Crescent Blood Services.
The Turkish Red Crescent has expanded to 800,000 donors who provide safe blood for the areas of marrow transplant and stem cell therapy. The charity is also performing TÜRKÖK Project, Turkish umbilical cord blood and bone marrow storage bank, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. “We have approximately 800,000 stem cell donors,” Kınık said, adding that about 4,000 bone marrow transplants were matched, achieving the a point that largely meets national needs.
On the disasters, Kınık said that in the realm of humanitarian aid, the group provides food, fights poverty and offers scholarships, protection and housing – especially in Turkey – but also worldwide. In 2020 alone, the agency reached 37 million people, around 8.5 million of them abroad.
The agency currently has 600 branches or representatives across the country, with a goal of 1,000, covering all provinces and districts, and is now going to cities and small communities to help people.
Kınık emphasized the importance of Red Crescent foreign assistance, stating that the organization now has delegates in 18 countries and that the number of permanent delegations abroad will be extended to 20 this year. Although it is organized across the Middle East, the Balkans, Africa, the Caucasus and Asia, countries like Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh – in addition to the plight of Rohingya refugees – are crucial to the organization, he said. “We are present with personnel and physical capacity”.
The Turkish Red Crescent is one of the top five organizations in the world among 192 national societies in terms of budget, number of beneficiaries and projects, said Kınık, who is also vice president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) )
The Turkish Red Crescent has received the only aid contract in the history of the European Union. “The budget for our contract with the EU is over 2 billion euros ($2.43 billion),” he said. In addition, most charitable migration services in Turkey are funded by the EU, he said.
As the Red Crescent is a major player in human mediation and diplomacy internationally, the aid group is now in a considerably more decisive position in the international arena, he added.