Why Haluk Levent's quake response is making him Türkiye's most popular person

A rock musician in Turkiye Haluk Levent thanked Madonna after her aid message for the earthquake victims.
A rock musician in Turkiye Haluk Levent thanked Madonna after her aid message for the earthquake victims. Copyright Twitter/ @HalukLevent, @Madonna
Copyright Twitter/ @HalukLevent, @Madonna
By Kerem Congar
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After Madonna's direct appeal for aid for Türkiye quake victims, the spotlight has shone on the rocker turned philanthropist who's leading relief efforts.


After Madonna called for help for both Türkiye and Syria after the Kahramanmaraş earthquakes many people in the world will have heard Haluk Levent's name for the first time.

On Valentine's Day the queen of pop took to Twitter to send a message of love and concluded her post with a plea urging her followers to contribute cash saying: "The Best Place to Donate is ahbap.org".

The founder of "ahbap.org" Haluk Levent is actually one of Türkiye's most famous rock musicians. He thanked Madonna for her support and this social media chat went viral across the country and caught the attention of the world's media. 

As a famous figure in Türkiye, everyone knew his charity organisation "ahbap.org" (close friend in Turkish) before the earthquakes and few are surprised he's played such a pivotal and prominent role in campaigning to collect funds. 

So, let's look at who is Haluk Levent and why his charity has been crucial for Türkiye.

Twitter @HalukLevent, Instagram @Madonna
Madonna's earthquake share, aid call and Haluk Levent's response on Twitter.Twitter @HalukLevent, Instagram @Madonna
I love this man so much. Because he does a lot of charity work.
Cem Özer
A Turkish Stand-Up comeditian.

Let's go back to a TV show in Türkiye in 1996, 27 years ago... The most famous stand-up comedian at the time, Cem Özer is talking with Haluk Levent. They are in the studio with the audience and Özer turns to Levent to smile and sing his praises.

"We're not very intimate, but I love this man so much. Because he does a lot of charity work. He donates almost 80 percent of his earnings from his concerts. He's bought dozens of dialysis machines in the country and donated them to hospitals. God bless you, you work better than the Ministry of Health. Haluk Levent's social security cards will be printed soon." 

In that video 27 years ago, Turkish stand up artist Cem Özer praises Haluk Levent for making huge donations and aid concerts for state hospitals.

Charity begins at home

Frankly, 27 years have passed and there has been no change. Haluk Levent donated most of his money to charity before he was very famous, and not a big earner as he was just starting out in his career. 

By establishing his charity he simply made his life choices official. 

It is not a coincidence that Haluk Levent attracted the attention of Madonna and many others across the world.

After the biggest earthquake in Türkiye's modern history, most people donated to Levent's organisation instead of AFAD, (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency) the body set up by the state to help victims of  disasters.  

The fact that Levent helped everyone, regardless of their political views, regardless of any self-interest, created a great sense of trust in Turkish society.

From pop star to philanthropist

Haluk Levent Acil was born in 1968 in Adana Yüreğir, the eighth of nine siblings. 

He studied at universities in many different cities of Türkiye because of financial difficulties, and began singing in bars and entertainment venues during this period. 

He came to Istanbul in 1992 and released his debut album "Yollarda" (On the roads) a year later. His music genre is called "Anatolian Rock". 

Levent sealed his place on the cultural map with his best selling album "Bir Gece Vakti" (A time at night) which came out in 1995 and sold nearly a million copies. 

At 54, he still performs on stage, mostly for charity concerts, but his benevolent work dominates his agenda. 

Haluk Levent says, "Sometimes a little happiness is everything." Two young girls from the earthquake hit region after they received presents.

1 billion Turkish Liras in 2 weeks, 1 million volunteers

According to the Turkish press, Ahbap has collected close to 1 billion Turkish Liras (50 million euros) in aid over the past fortnight since the first earthquake.  

Levent's charity uses its social media accounts to show how it spends the funds it gathers. Items such as tents, blankets, food, clothes and medicine are all paraded. The aim being to show people the charity is completely transparent.


By contrast, AFAD, established by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2009 after that year's deadly  earthquake, has been subject to fierce criticism for a lack of coordination during the initial search and rescue efforts.

In the first days, many people claimed that financial aid from AFAD almost never reached Antakya, one of the hardest hit provinces where rescue efforts were almost non-existent. 

This situation only served to boost the public's trust and perception of Levent's charity and thus it became the preferred choice for donations. 

The Ahbap Association reached 1 million members right after the earthquake.

From pop star to political target

Haluk Levent worked in the earthquake zone just like a government official. So much so that on the second day of the earthquake, both the National Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and Health Minister Fahrettin Koca met with him for a debriefing on various subjects.

This provoked fury among many ministers and government figures who resented Ahbap being in the spotlight. 

AKP Kırşehir Provincial Executive Board Member Berk Can Doğan said: "The struggle and efforts of tens of thousands of volunteers should not be overshadowed by Levent and Ahbap." 


Sentiments seeming shared by President Erdogan who in one speech said: "Making cash donations through AFAD is a sure thing. We will not allow looting or those who want to turn this pain into political plunder." 

Haluk Levent shares all the details and numbers of Ahbap's account to make sure that the donations receive people in need. Here above, you can see the tents that Ahbap NGO bought for the victims of earthquake.

Since the quake, Levent has continued relief efforts uninterruptedly. Many volunteers who are members of Ahbap have also gained the appreciation of many with their work in Istanbul and the earthquake zone, and those who send money to this association feel certain that financial aid goes to those in need.

If you look at Haluk Levent's Twitter profile, you'll see a black and white photo below of him wearing a leather jacket, earrings, and brandishing a Godin guitar in his hands. 

Since the earthquake, his profile has completely changed. He now looks like a construction site manager, or the head of a large search and rescue team with a hard hat on his head.

Twitter, @haluklevent
Haluk Levent's Twitter main page. Levent is known for his Anatolian rock music style and he is one of the pioneers of this old genre's new waveTwitter, @haluklevent

In the lists he shares on Twitter, Levent details and itemises where the financial aid goes and how many families are provided with basic necessities. In this context, someone who doesn't know him might think he is the minister of state. However, he's a musician. A volunteer who's a benefactor.

Haluk Levent's Ahbap lists clearly show that aids go to the victim of the earthquake. Levent shares all the details in lists every single day. This list is from the 14th day of donations.

A history of donating

Haluk Levent and his team of Ahbap first conquered the hearts of the Turkish nation with their aid work during one of the country's earlier devastating quakes. In 1999, Levent personally worked in makeshift tent camps set up after Izmit was struck. Again, he cheered up families, donated money to victims and performed many charity concerts.

In this video, you can see that Haluk Levent worked for the earthquake victims in 1999, Izmit Turkiye.

Some say his generosity even once led to him being put behind bars. Before becoming famous, Levent signed cheques for his boss at the firm where he worked. It was common practice he argued in court years later but it didn't prevent him from being jailed in 1997 for 10 months for fraud.  However, this fact did not shake Turkish people's trust in Levent.

It is not known how many people have responded to Madonna's appeal, but it's very clear that Turkish people really appreciate the work of Haluk Levent and the Ahbap Association.

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