Türkiye’s Earthquake Anniversary: Renewed Frustration

Türkiye’s Earthquake Anniversary: Renewed Frustration
via Unplash by Çağlar Oskay


Mariana Mayor Lima

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

On February 6, 2024, crowds gathered in Türkiye to remember the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that struck the country, which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has labelled as the “disaster of the century” for the nation. [1] According to the Official Report from Türkiye’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), with a magnitude of 7.7 and 7.6, two earthquakes resulted in the death of 50,783 people in Türkiye and left 115,353 people injured. [2] The most affected region by the earthquake was the Hatay region, bordering Syria, resulting in the deaths of nearly 6,000 people in the neighbouring country. [3]

One year after this disaster, dissatisfied and mourning crowds gathered in Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, demanding the resignation of Mayor Lütfü Savaş amid boos for Health Minister Fahrettin Koca. [4] On Hatay’s main square, many protesters shouted, “Can anyone hear my voice?” referring to the pleas of those trapped under rubble for days awaiting help. This delayed rescue led to the deaths of many people who did not perish due to building collapses but rather from the prolonged wait under rubble in unsustainable conditions, residents claimed. [5]

“No one was with these people that day. The pain of these people is that they couldn’t be rescued. The pain of these people is that their voices couldn’t be heard.” said Merve Gürsel, who lost her aunt, aunt’s husband, and cousins in the earthquake, to Reuters. [6] Another protester from Hatay, Nurul Sabah Aksu, also expressed feelings of abandonment, stating: “Thousands of people died here. Where were they [the government authorities]? Why did they leave Hatay like this? Why did they forget about us?”. [7] These statements followed a moment of silence at 4:17 a.m., the time the earthquake occurred the previous year, during a symbolic act of throwing carnations into the Asi River, which runs through the city. [8]

One year after the tragedy, President Erdoğan visited Kahramanmaraş, the epicentre of the earthquake, to inspect the city’s reconstruction efforts and the resettlement of people who, even after 365 days, continue to live in tents and prefabricated containers, which are supposed to be used as temporary emergency shelters. [9] Additionally, Erdoğan asserts that he will participate in the delivery of completed houses to survivors who were left homeless due to the earthquake, a significant number considering approximately 37,984 buildings were destroyed in the disaster last year. [10]

According to Human Rights Watch, Türkiye, as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, is subject to obligations regarding the protection of the right to life, as established in Article 2. [11] Additionally, there is a procedural obligation to conduct effective official investigations not only in cases involving death or serious injuries caused by situations involving allegations of state negligence, which is the claim many of the protesters presented at the earthquake anniversary event. [12]  Thus, it can be affirmed that it is the responsibility of the Turkish government to ensure that those responsible for the thousands of faulty buildings that collapsed during the earthquakes on February 6, 2023, are duly held accountable. [13] 

However, according to Al Jazeera, it is evident that only trials against real estate developers, building inspectors, and technical personnel have been initiated, but so far, no public officials, elected president, or municipal council members have been brought to trial for approving numerous construction projects that failed to meet adequate safety standards. [14] According to Betül Karagedik, a doctoral candidate at Galatasaray University, within the principles of international human rights law, states must respect, protect, and guarantee human rights. This responsibility implies adopting both preventive and corrective measures to ensure compliance with the existing legislation, ensuring that urban planning takes place in line with the scientific requirements for the construction of buildings in a potential earthquake zone. [15]

In the context of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, states also have specific obligations to fulfill. Before an earthquake occurs, it is crucial for states to adopt preventive measures, including conducting risk assessments to identify earthquake-prone areas and approving only resilient construction plans with adequate safety standards. [16] Additionally, it is essential to implement safety measures to mitigate known risks to life. For example, Türkiye is known to be prone to seismic activities, and several experts have warned about the possibility of major earthquakes in the region well in advance. [17] On the other hand, after the earthquake, states must implement corrective measures, ensuring effective and prompt solutions for victims and imposing sanctions on those responsible for any rights violations. [18] However, it is evident that preventive measures have failed, and corrective measures are following the same path, as evidenced by accusations of negligence by the Turkish population and the absence of trials for those responsible.

Sources and further reading

[1] Al Jazeera, ‘Anger as Turkey marks anniversary of devastating earthquake’ (06 February 2024), <Anger as Turkey marks anniversary of devastating earthquake> accessed on 7 February 2024.

[2] AFAD, ‘06 Şubat 2023 Pazarcık-Elbistan Kahramanmaraş (Mw: 7.7 – Mw: 7.6) Depremleri Raporu’ (02 June 2023),  <06 ŞUBAT 2023 PAZARCIK-ELBİSTAN KAHRAMANMARAŞ (Mw: 7.7 – Mw: 7.6) DEPREMLERİ RAPORU> accessed on 7 February 2024.

[3] Supra note 1.

[4] Bianet English, ‘Anger in Antakya at the anniversary of the earthquake: The minister booed’ (06 February 2024), <https://bianet.org/haber/anger-in-antakya-at-the-anniversary-of-the-earthquake-the-minister-booed-291456> accessed on 9 February 2024.

[5] Reuters, ‘Anger at Turkish government spills over at earthquake anniversary vigil’ (06 February 2024), <Anger at Turkish government spills over at earthquake anniversary vigil | Reuters> accessed on 7 February 2024.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Supra note 1.

[9] Supra note 1.

[10] Supra note 2.

[11] Human Rights Watch, ‘Türkiye: Ensure Accountability for Deaths in Earthquake’ (02 February 2024), <Türkiye: Ensure Accountability for Deaths in Earthquake | Human Rights Watch> accessed on 8 February 2024.

[12] Supra note 11.

[13] Supra note 11.

[14] Supra note 1.

[15] University of Essex, ‘Examining the Earthquakes in Turkey from the Perspective of Business and Human Rights’ (21 March 2023), <Examining the Earthquakes in Turkey from the Perspective of Business and Human Rights> accessed on 8 February 2024.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.