Türkiye: Remembrance and anger one year after the earthquake in Turkey

A year after the severe earthquakes in Turkey, painful memories are coming back to many. People remember the tens of thousands of dead. But anger is also spreading.

A year after the devastating earthquakes, people in Turkey remembered the tens of thousands of dead and vented their anger at the government and local authorities. In the hardest-hit southeastern Turkish province of Hatay, residents remembered the victims at 4:17 a.m. (local time) on Tuesday – exactly at the time when the first of two serious quakes hit the region a year ago. There were also commemorative events in the other eleven affected provinces. Anger against the government also spread.

In the city of Antakya, people chanted in unison, “Does anyone hear our voices?” – rescuers also shouted the same sentence a year ago when they searched for buried people for days. Today he represents the fact that many survivors in the region feel ignored and abandoned to their fate.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had promised to quickly push ahead with reconstruction in the region. On Tuesday he traveled to the earthquake province of Kahramanmara and gave apartments to those affected. But this seems like a drop in the ocean. Hundreds of thousands are still living in emergency shelters, and the local people are still suffering greatly from the consequences of the quake a year later.

On February 6th, an earthquake of magnitude 7.7 hit southeastern Turkey early in the morning, and another quake of magnitude 7.6 followed in the afternoon of the same day. According to government figures, more than 53,000 people died in Turkey alone. Exact information on the victims from neighboring Syria, which is torn by civil war, is difficult to determine. According to unconfirmed information, more than 6,000 people may have died there.

The president and his Islamic-conservative government came under heavy criticism after the quake; they were accused, among other things, of errors in crisis management. The focus also came on so-called black buildings that were built illegally and then later legalized by the government.

Anger against the government

In Hatay, the commemoration was mixed with anger against the government: thousands of people booed representatives and sometimes called them murderers. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca from the ruling AK Party was booed during his speech.

Criticism was also directed at the mayor of Hatay and politician from the country’s largest opposition party, Lütfü Savas. There were chants calling for his resignation. Others posted signs demanding that those responsible in administration and politics be brought to justice.

The people of Hatay also accuse the government of being slow to push ahead with reconstruction in the opposition-ruled province. A participant in the rally told the German Press Agency (dpa) that Erdogan’s government was ignoring the suffering of the people in Hatay. Erdogan himself fueled this discussion during a visit to Hatay at the weekend by saying that anyone who does not work with his central government cannot be properly helped.

On Platform X, formerly Twitter, Erdogan promised not to leave anyone alone. Efforts will continue until “the last citizen whose home has been destroyed or is no longer habitable receives a safe home,” he wrote. During his visit to Kahramanmaras, he rejected opposition allegations that he had not achieved enough in a year.

Experts expected a severe earthquake

Before the disaster, researchers had expected a strong earthquake to hit the region, but were surprised by the high number of victims. According to the German Georesearch Center (GFZ) Potsdam, forecasts had expected around 15,000 victims in the event of such a scenario, i.e. around a third of the official number of victims in Turkey.

Fabrice Cotton, head of the department for seismic hazards and dynamic risks at the GFZ, quotes a guiding principle of earthquake research: “It’s not earthquakes that kill people, but buildings.” Building standards are not applied equally well everywhere, and there are also buildings that were built before the stricter standards came into force.

Shortly after the quakes, Erdogan set the ambitious goal of building around 300,000 residential buildings within a year. This goal was missed; the president is now talking about 200,000 housing units by the end of 2024. According to authorities, almost 700,000 people in Turkey are still housed in containers. Although the government officially states that tent cities have been dismantled, an unknown number of people still live in tents.

Millions of children are dependent on humanitarian aid

The United Nations called for rapid improvements in the accommodation of earthquake victims in Turkey. Although apartments are being built, there are far too few, said Louisa Vinton, representative of the UN Development Program (UNDP), to the dpa. The situation in Hatay is “still apocalyptic.” The UN estimates that at least 3.3 million people were left homeless as a result of the twin quakes. After a year, decent housing and livelihood security remain two urgent needs, said Vinton.

The UN children’s fund Unicef ​​drew attention to the fate of the youngest children: In Turkey, more than four million children were no longer able to learn regularly, the organization said. While the situation of the affected children in Turkey is improving, the humanitarian situation for children and families in Syria is deteriorating. Around 7.5 million children there are still dependent on humanitarian aid. In Turkey, 3.2 million children need vital support.

The organization Doctors Without Borders warned that people in northwestern Syria were still suffering from severe psychological distress and lacked clean water, food and shelter. “Since the earthquake, cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and behavioral problems have skyrocketed, especially among children,” said Omar Al-Omar, mental health supervisor at MSF in Idlib. People in Turkey also suffer from psychological consequences.

Because of the widespread destruction, many people in the region have also become unemployed; As a result, they lack even the money for essentials. At the same time, the local construction sector is booming and is attracting large numbers of workers from all over the country to the region.

Despite criticism of the crisis management, Erdogan was re-elected last May after 20 years in power. Local elections are coming up at the end of March. Earthquake preparedness is the dominant issue in the election campaign, especially in the metropolis of Istanbul. According to experts, a severe earthquake of magnitude 7 or more is overdue there.


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