Earthquake in Turkey: Rubble, grief, trauma – One year after the earthquakes

Earthquake in Turkey
Rubble, grief, trauma – one year after the earthquakes

Two men walk past a completely destroyed row of houses in Antakya. In the center of the city, countless houses were destroyed or damaged in the earthquake a year ago. photo

© Boris Roessler/dpa

The earthquakes in Turkey killed more than 53,000 people in 2023. A year later, hundreds of thousands of people continue to live in containers. President Erdogan is trying to use this to his advantage.

In central Antakya, excavators are digging through the rubble of the city, which the rain that day has turned into thick mud. Between the construction equipment, Feride combs through the rubble for anything that can be used. Since the After the earthquake that destroyed hundreds of thousands of buildings in Turkey’s southeast a year ago, the 14-year-old has gone from being a schoolgirl to a metal collector and is trying to turn scrap metal into a bit of money.

The rubble that Feride and several others are searching through the city buried thousands of people on February 6, 2023. A year later, life has slowly returned to the city. Traders in the historic market sell cookies, there are lucky tickets on the banks of the river, while Antakya’s center remains in ruins. Hatay province, whose capital is Antakya, was the hardest hit by the quakes.

Everyday life between rubble

Almost 200 kilometers further in the center of the city of Kahramanmara, the reality looks completely different a year after the quakes. Here too, the catastrophe is still present. People sit in cafés and restaurants between construction sites where new residential buildings are being built. A fruit and vegetable dealer sets up his stand on a side street. He shouts: “The legend is back!” – and by that he means himself.

Here too, thousands of people died in the rubble. For days, rescuers and volunteers combed through the tons of rubble, hoping to save lives.

At that time, Hatice Yalcimin had almost said goodbye to her little daughter Fatma Nur. People had already expressed their condolences when the girl was finally rescued from the rubble after 56 hours.

A year later, the catastrophe continues in her head, says Yalcimin. Daughter Fatma Nur is still wetting the bed, and at the slightest jolt she screams in panic, “There’s an earthquake!” Mother Yalcimin also says she is afraid. Today the family lives with their father Mustafa in an almost idyllic container village. There is a playground and an artificial lake – and psychological support. But people talk a lot, so she rarely goes there so as not to be suspected of being “crazy.”

Erdogan visits Hatay

For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the reason for the different speeds of reconstruction is clear. On Saturday he explained in Hatay province that anyone who does not work with the central government cannot be properly helped.

In contrast to Kahramanmaras province, Hatay is governed by the opposition. Nationwide local elections will take place on March 31st, which Erdogan wants to win with his candidate in Hatay. He festively staged the inauguration of new buildings in the region. While many blame the building structure and a lack of administrative controls for the devastating death toll, the government often speaks of a once-in-a-century catastrophe for which no one could have been prepared.

The organization Human Rights Watch recently criticized the legal process. While those involved in the construction have been indicted, “not a single official, elected mayor or city council member” has been brought to justice for their role in approving numerous construction projects that fell far short of safe building standards.

According to the government, the damage amounts to 1.4 billion dollars (around 1.3 billion euros). The government has now revised downwards its promise to rebuild 319,000 buildings within a year. According to the Urban Development Ministry, 110,450 employees are currently working on reconstruction at 930 construction sites in eleven cities. A year after the quake, 690,000 people are living in containers

Glossing over reality?

According to the government, there are no longer any people in tents. The reality in Antakya is different. Paper collector Hüseyin Girgen says he is still waiting for a container.

Gülseren Bügür also lived in a tent camp until a few days ago. Then the gendarmerie came and drove them away. “They said Erdogan is coming, the tents have to go,” says the 50-year-old through tears. Your remaining belongings are now rolled up on the side of the road.

She lost everything a year ago. She set up her tent opposite the rubble where her family died. The tent city was quickly moved into a container village before Erdogan’s visit. After the earthquake, several million people left the region. Leaving this place with all its memories behind was out of the question, says the 50-year-old.

That was never an option for Gönül Poyraz either. The single woman in her mid-fifties experienced the earthquake in her hometown of Adiyaman and lost her sister and nephew. On Fridays and Sundays she comes to the grave, which she has decorated with personal items from the dead. Leaving the region also means leaving the dead behind, she says – and breaks into tears.


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