She is a yuppie from Istanbul, a thirtysomething Turk who speaks fluent English, favors attractive European fashions and works on a computer in a sleek modern office at a private university. She is, like so many middle-class Turks, thoroughly Western.

But when she joined a small army of volunteers and private relief groups that rushed to assist the victims of last week's devastating earthquake, the response she encountered was thoroughly Third World.

"Call back tomorrow," said the Turkish soldier who answered her phone call at a local crisis center when she asked where to deliver emergency medicine and supplies. "We closed at 5 p.m."

Her experience was telling, for the staggering quake east of Istanbul--or, rather, the country's response to it--has reminded many people here of Turkey's split personality and of its unique position straddling east and west, First World and Third.

Muslim, embattled, military-dominated, callous on human rights and burdened by high inflation, Turkey does not much resemble the prosperous nations of Western Europe. Many Turks acknowledge that their country is a poor fit with the continent's wealthy democracies--that it is too big and too poor perhaps, and certainly too Muslim.

Yet most are adamant that Turkey--democratic, largely secular and intensely commercial--somehow belongs in Europe. Even if only 3 percent of its land mass is west of the Bosporus--the narrow strait separating Europe and Asia--and its application for membership in the European Union has repeatedly been rejected, Turkey still conducts the vast majority of its trade with Europe and the United States and only a modest and steadily dwindling amount with the Muslim world. When Turkey's latest bid to join the EU was rejected two years ago, the country erupted in anger.

The contradiction in Turkish attitudes--acknowledging the country's distance from Europe, yet insisting on its right to join it--reflects geography and history in a country straddling two continents and, to an extent, two cultures. That contradiction was visible immediately following the earthquake, which killed more than 12,000 people.

In some respects, the country's collective response bore an unmistakeable resemblance to Western liberal democracies. Turkey's freewheeling newspapers embarked on an immediate hunt for scapegoats replete with criticism, soul-searching and finger-pointing that would be unimaginable in the docile media of most of Turkey's Arab and Islamic neighbors in the Middle East.

Building contractors, government ministers and even the vaunted Turkish army have been raked over the coals. Demands for resignations and top-down reorganization are commonplace.

"Murderers," screamed the headline in Hurriyet, a leading Turkish newspaper that has led the charge against contractors it blames for shoddy construction of buildings that the quake quickly reduced to rubble.

"What is this thing called the state?" sneered Radikal, a paper with an intellectual bent that launched a frontal assault on the alleged incompetence of the authorities. Some analysts suggested that the media have been too aggressive. "They were too tough on public officials," said Ilter Turan, a political scientist who is president of Istanbul's Bilgi University. "[The officials] were doing their best under terrible conditions."

Still, no matter how proper the search for a culprit appeared, the sense that someone should be held accountable seemed distinctly Western and democratic, analysts said. "If you're not stepping on the taboos regarding [ethnic Kurdish] separatism or [Islamic] fundamentalism or the persona of Mustafa Ataturk [the founder of the Turkish state], there is virtually no limit" to public debate on an issue, said Alan Makovsky, Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It's no holds barred."

Ordinary Turks, outraged by the government's sluggish, disjointed response to the disaster, also took up the cry. Many told anyone who cared to listen exactly what they thought of the authorities, then helpfully spelled their full names for journalists.

There was also something distinctly reminiscent of Western society in the massive response to the quake by Turkish individuals, non-governmental groups, entrepreneurs, companies, universities and other institutions--a response that took many Turks by surprise.

"It was a cliche about Turkey for decades that civic associations don't work and that people sit back and wait for the state to do everything," Makovsky said. "That's a cliche in the process of being erased from the Turkish lexicon."

Historically, Turkey has had uneasy relations with its Arab and Iranian neighbors, whom many Turks regard with thinly disguised hostility. It is telling that no university in the country has a department of Middle Eastern studies, despite a plentiful supply of academics who specialize in the field.

Nonetheless, Turkey's Eastern and Third World aspects were, arguably, even more pronounced than the Western face it turned toward the greatest disaster to befall the country in decades. Interior Minister Saadettin Tantan decreed that restaurants and night clubs should play no music for 45 days. Most entertainment establishments complied.

The army, which has forced four governments from power by intervention or pressure in the past 40 years, let it be known that it had considered declaring martial law. And some government officials, perhaps seeking to avert panic, issued low and misleading estimates of the number of dead. Yesterday, Turkey's broadcasting watchdog agency shut down a television station for a week, charging that its coverage of the earthquake had been unduly provocative. The station, Channel 6, had broadcast reports critical of the government's response to the disaster and of contractors it accused of substandard construction.

There were reminders, too, in the demographic pattern of the quake's devastation, of Turkey's status as a part of the developing--not the developed--world.

Much of the death and destruction occurred in industrial cities of western Anatolia that are swollen with lower-income people who had migrated from the poorer and more rural east in search of jobs and better lives.

In a typical Third World pattern, their presence in rapidly expanding urban areas intensified the demand for cheap housing. The result was the proliferation of apartment buildings, hastily erected with substandard materials. These scruffy buildings collapsed into what rescue workers called "pancakes" when the quake struck a week ago. Few of the survivors were insured.

The government's crisis response was woefully inadequate in the eyes of many Turks and even some Turkish officials, and critics suggested that Turkey could take some lessons from the West. In interviews, many Turks praised the efficiency of Western rescue teams and criticized the efforts of their own emergency crews.

The comparisons may have been unfair and may also betray an inferiority complex that has long figured into Turkey's complicated relations within the West. "They compare themselves with Germany and France and see how far behind they are," Makovsky said. "But an outsider can't help but be struck that whatever direction you come from, when you arrive in Turkey you feel like you've entered the other world."

CAPTION: Turkish women cover their noses to block the smell of decaying bodies as they pass coffins stacked outside the hospital morgue in Adapazari.