Turkey mourns its tens of thousands dead, surrounded by the ruins of last year’s earthquake

By Mucahit Ceylan And Andrew Wilks, The Associated Press

ANTAKYA, Turkey (AP) — Millions of people across Turkey on Tuesday mourned the loss of more than 53,000 friends, loved ones and neighbors 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 disaster 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 the 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, criticized both the government and opposition politicians such as Savas, the mayor.

“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 4:17 a.m. to mark the time the quake struck, carnations were tossed into the river in an act of remembrance and a local orchestra played a song to honor 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 the 6,000 people killed in neighboring Syria, the quake left more than 59,000 dead.

At a cemetery for the remains of unidentified victims just outside Antakya, Ayten Tuncer, 60, was seeking information about her younger sister, Nesrin.

“On this painful day, the real reason I came to the cemetery for unidentified people is, ‘Maybe I’ll find her, maybe I’ll get some information, maybe someone saw her.’ Because all the families who have people missing come here and one of them may see her, know her.”

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 oversaw a drawing for chances to own newly built homes in Kahramanmaras, the quake’s epicenter, 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,” Erdogan said. He added that the government aims to deliver 200,000 homes across the quake zone by the end of the year.

Then families that were picked out of the drawing were called to the stage to receive the keys to their new homes from Erdogan. The ceremony was broadcast nationally.

Earlier, in a social media post at 4.17 a.m., Erdogan said 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 the commemorations in Hatay before traveling 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.

Meanwhile, 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.


Wilks reported from Istanbul. Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

Mucahit Ceylan And Andrew Wilks, The Associated Press

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