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One year after the Türkiye earthquake, the streets are filled with rubble and people are living in tents

One year after the Türkiye earthquake, the streets are filled with rubble and people are living in tents


The village in Turkey that Barış Yabar once inhabited now appears to be anything but.

Yabar is from Samandag in the southern province of Hatay, the region of Turkey that bore the brunt of last year's devastating and deadly earthquake.

Located just outside the city of Antakya, Samandag is a cultural gem of Turkey with revered historical sites and people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds.

“Right now it looks like rotting land,” Yabbar told As It Happens host Neil Coxall.

“[There’s] Debris that has not yet been removed. The smell still hasn't gone away. The water is still not clean. The more you walked, the more you inhaled this horrible dust into your lungs and your eyes started to get a little red. And you just feel lost.”

Tuesday marks one year since a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southern Türkiye and Syria. More than 59,000 people were killed, including 6,000 in neighboring Syria.

While the government organized nationwide events to mark the somber anniversary, residents protested that much of the region remained in poor condition, with hundreds of people still missing, and thousands more still displaced in tents and makeshift shelters.

Working in a parking lot

Yabar lives in Cyprus where he studies at university. But he was visiting his parents in Samandaj when the earthquake struck.

His parents' house was severely damaged, but they were able to escape. But his grandparents were not so lucky. Their apartment, located a few blocks away, was reduced to rubble, and they were trapped underneath.

On the night of the quake, Yabar spoke to As It Happens from a parking lot in Samandaj, where he and his parents took shelter inside their car.

Barış Yabar says his father's office is a tent in this parking lot in Samandag, Turkey, where many people have been staying since last year's earthquake forced them from their homes. (Submitted by Barış Yabar)

A year later, he says his father is still working in a tent in the same parking lot. His office was destroyed in the earthquake and has not yet been reopened. Many others are living in that area – either in tents, mobile homes or temporary shelters.

The earthquake forced about 2.4 million people to flee their homes into temporary settlements, according to the charity Save the Children. Today, more than 761,000 people – including 205,000 children – have yet to return to their homes.

Yabar's parents also lived in a tent for five months after the earthquake, until they found a one-bedroom apartment to rent in Antakya.

An aerial view showing the container city in İskenderun, in Hatay Province, Türkiye. Thousands who were displaced by last year's earthquake have not yet returned to their homes. (Umit Bektaş/Reuters)

Meanwhile, he says there was no time to mourn.

“[The] “The earthquake gave people the privilege to grieve appropriately,” he said. “After, for example, we found my grandparents [remains]It was just a big race to get them to the morgue and then get them out the next day and bury them and then get back in the car and then try to figure out how to survive.

Not everyone had even that much closure.

Salah al-Din Kaban, head of the Association for Solidarity with Earthquake Victims and Relatives of Missing Persons, said that 140 people, including 38 children, are still missing since the earthquake.

Day of mourning

On Tuesday, millions of people in Türkiye took time to mourn and protest.

On the occasion of what it calls the “disaster of the century”, the government has arranged a series of events to commemorate the first anniversary of the disaster.

In Antakya, there was a moment of silence at 4:17 a.m., the time the earthquake struck, after which people threw flowers into the river in remembrance, while a local orchestra played a song.

Crowds in Adıyaman held a silent march, past the clock tower that over the past year has shown the time of the earthquake.

People throw carnations into the Orontes River on the occasion of the first anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake that struck the country in the city of Antakya. (Metin Yuksu/The Associated Press)

But the day was not entirely calm and dreary.

In Antakya, crowds clashed with police, called on the city's mayor, Lettu Savas, to resign, and booed and booed during a speech by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.

Amidst the fog on the banks of the Orontes River, people chanted, “Does anyone hear me?” – echoing the voices of those buried under the rubble a year ago – and “We will not forget, we will not forgive.”

Sibnem Yesil, 22, criticized the government and opposition politicians such as Savas.

“I think they were very disrespectful,” she said. “It's been a year, they never came, and now they're here for a party… You didn't hear our voices, you didn't help, at least let us grieve.”

People chanted in protest during a gathering to mark the first anniversary of the earthquake in Türkiye. (Metin Yuksu/The Associated Press)

In Cyprus, Yabar watched these events unfold via live video.

“I couldn't really sleep,” he said. “It's been a very rough morning.”

Broken promises and a new house lottery

As part of the anniversary events, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan oversaw a lottery for newly built houses in Kahramanmaras, the epicenter of the earthquake. Families selected from a lottery were called to the stage to receive the keys to their new homes from Erdogan in a ceremony broadcast nationally.

While handing them their keys, Erdogan said the government aims to hand over 200,000 homes across the earthquake zone by the end of the year.

People walk in front of houses destroyed by last year's earthquake in Hatay province. (Umit Bektaş/Reuters)

Yabar is skeptical that will happen. He says that since the earthquake, the government has made a series of broken promises.

“Once the election was over, it became all about the earthquake and all the promises and so on, as if everything was frozen in time. So, it's only people, if they have enough money and opportunities, who are rebuilding things for themselves to have a sense of normalcy.” “, As he says.

In Syria, too, the rebuilding process looks increasingly unlikely. Mads Brench Hansen, head of the International Federation of the Red Cross delegation to Syria, told reporters in Geneva that the chances of post-earthquake reconstruction in the war-torn country are few.

He added: “We do not have the necessary funding to even think about undertaking reconstruction and rebuilding on a larger scale.”

Yabar, a master's student in psychology, lost his grandparents in the 2023 Turkey earthquake. His parents also lost their home. (Submitted by Barış Yabar)

Yabar says his parents want to rebuild. But the government confiscated their home under a controversial new law passed late last year that allows the federal government to seize homes it says are at risk of disaster.

“Suddenly my father woke up one morning and received an SMS [text message] Saying that your property has been approved to be transferred to the Ministry of Heritage.”

He says no one has been able to tell them what this means for their future.

“Are we going to be sent back to our homes, to our own locations? Or will we be sent back somewhere else? Or will we be sent to a different area?”

Yabar says he would like to return home after he finishes his studies, but he doesn't know whether he will have one to return to.

“I still can't go back and build a future for myself,” he said. “Everything seems a little up in the air.”




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