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06 February 2024

Turkey remembers thousands who died one year on from earthquake

06 February 2024

Millions of people across Turkey have mourned the loss of more than 53,000 friends, loved ones and neighbours in the country’s catastrophic earthquake a year ago.

To mark what it calls the Disaster of the Century, the government arranged a series of events to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the tremor in southern Turkey.

In Antakya, the capital of the southern province of Hatay, angry crowds jostled with police as officials were led to the commemorations. Mayor Lutfu Savas was greeted with chants calling for him to resign, while health minister Fahrettin Koca was jeered and booed as he gave a speech.

Amid fog by the Orontes River, people chanted “Can anyone hear me?” — echoing the voices of those buried under the rubble a year ago — and “We won’t forget, we won’t forgive”.

“Some of us were buried alive,” said Mustafa Bahadirli, a 24-year-old in Antakya. “We called our government ‘father’ but the government left us without a father. We were abandoned for days and are still abandoned.”

Sebnem Yesil, 22, criticised the government and opposition politicians such as Mr Savas.

“I think they have been extremely disrespectful,” she said. “It has been a year, they never came and now they’re here for a ceremony. You didn’t hear our voices, you didn’t help, at least let us grieve.”

After a moment of silence at 4.17am to mark the time the quake struck, carnations were thrown into the river in an act of remembrance and a local orchestra played a song to honour the victims.

Hatay, which lies between the Mediterranean Sea and the Syrian border, was the worst affected of the 11 southern provinces hit by the 7.8 magnitude quake. Including 6,000 people in neighbouring Syria, the quake left more than 59,000 dead.

Crowds in Adiyaman held a silent march, passing a clock tower that for the past year has shown the time of the earthquake.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later visited newly built homes in Kahramanmaras, the quake’s epicentre, after inspecting the work being done to rebuild the city and rehouse thousands who remain in tents and pre-fabricated containers.

“Today, we are drawing lots for 9,289 houses in Kahramanmaras and handing over their keys,” he said. He added that the government aims to deliver 200,000 homes across the quake zone by the end of the year.

Families who were picked out of the draw were called to the stage to receive the keys to their new homes from Mr Erdogan. The ceremony was broadcast nationally.

Mr Erdogan had earlier posted that the loss from the disaster “continues to burn our hearts as fresh as the first day”, adding: “Thank God, our nation has successfully passed this painful and historical test.”

Opposition politicians are also visiting the region, with the Republican People’s Party leader Ozgur Ozel attending commemorations in Hatay before travelling to Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras.

Schools were closed for the day in many of the quake-affected provinces. In Malatya, the governor banned any marches or other public displays outside officially sanctioned events for three days.

Mads Brinch Hansen, head of the International Federation of the Red Cross delegation to Syria, told reporters in Geneva that there were few prospects for post-earthquake reconstruction in the war-battered country.

“We don’t have the funding to even think of going into larger scale rehabilitation and reconstruction,” he said.

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