PEOPLE’S LAW OFFICE – TURKEY:
1st YEAR OBSERVATION REPORT FOR THE EARTHQUAKE ZONE
We have completed the 1st year of the 6 February
Earthquake. 1 year after the earthquake, our people are still living in containers and tents in 1 1 provinces where the earthquake was effective. In the past year, the problems of our earthquake victims have not been solved, on the contrary, they have been increased by the state. Deprivation, poverty and victimisation in the earthquake region continue in the same way.
The series of negligences that emerged since the first moment of the earthquake cost the lives of at least 53 thousand people according to official figures, when it was possible to overcome the earthquake with much less losses. Our people were trapped under the rubble in freezing temperatures for days, and many of them froze to death while waiting to be rescued. The construction of buildings that were not earthquake-resistant, the lack of inspection of these buildings, the inadequacy and uncoordinated search and rescue operations, the collapse of the telecommunication infrastructure, which was built by private companies and therefore aimed at making more profit, not the basic needs of the people, in short, capitalism has cost the lives of our people.
Immediately after the earthquake, we, as the People’s Law Office, worked in Adlyaman, Antep/lslahiye, Maras, Malatya and Antakya regions many times. In addition to following the legal processes, we had the opportunity to closely observe the situation of our earthquake victims. At this point, it is possible to say that the problems experienced immediately after the earthquake continue in almost the same way. Our earthquake-stricken people are trying to survive under the threat of dust, asbestos and disease without protection against weather conditions.
We were in Adlyaman to follow up on the case in which we intervened by proxy on behalf of the family of Zülfikar Yllmaz, the president of the Adlyaman branch of the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association, who died in the earthquake. In
Adlyaman, our earthquake victims are trying to survive under the scorching heat in summer and the freezing cold in winter.
In the case of Adlyaman, the state allows property owners to rebuild their demolished houses in the same area, but only with insufficient financial support and on the condition of an agreement with a contractor. On the other hand, earthquake victims continue to live in their moderately damaged buildings, which are being demolished without any notification, while their belongings are placed in front of their doors. There is still no real progress in the earthquake investigations and the majority of the files could not be passed to the prosecution stage.
The letters written by the prosecutor’s offices to official institutions were left unanswered for long periods of time. The determination of the legal responsibilities and plans of the buildings took much longer than necessary.
ANTEP / ISLAHIYE
The situation in Islahiye, one of the regions where the earthquake had the most devastating impact, is not different from Adlyaman. Previously, in line with the statements of our clients who lost their relatives in Islahiye, we have filed a criminal complaint against AFAD, Gaziantep Governorship and Municipality, who did nothing for 3 days during the search and rescue operations, and we have also made an administrative application to the Islahiye Governorship for the legal responsibility of AFAD. However, in response to the administrative application, a reply was given by describing the activities carried out in Islahiye district, which was not related to the incident to which the application was made. Accordingly, it was stated that only 75 people were assigned for search and rescue in the first two days of the earthquake. However, the negligent behaviour shown by the administration during the earthquake, as if rubbing it in the eyes of our people, has not been the subject of any proceedings due to the fact that our criminal complaints and applications have been blocked by “administrative permission”.
In the ongoing earthquake investigation files in Islahiye, we have observed that the core samples taken from the collapsed buildings were sent to the experts for a report, and in some files, indictments were prepared and submitted to the courts. However, in some investigation files, it has been observed that the contractors of the buildings were not arrested, but the president and members of the co-operative of the apartment buildings built as a co-operative at that time were arrested. With this situation, which is encountered only in Islahiye, people who were affected by the earthquake are included in the investigations instead of the real responsible persons. The arrest of the members of the co-operative, while the people and institutions who did not carry out search and rescue work before and after the earthquake were left untouched, shows that the investigations are inadequate and not carried out effectively.
In the cases where the prosecution phase was initiated only months after the earthquake, the earthquake crimes are wanted to be covered up “by the judiciary”.
For example, in the Gözde Apartment Building case, in which we acted as the attorney, the court’s protective attitude towards the contractors was clearly felt by us and in the 3rd hearing of the trial, the contractor and architect responsible for the loss of 25 lives were released. In addition, our requests for an extension of the prosecution regarding the responsibility of the Municipality and AFAD were also rejected by the court
Almost none of the files we have been following in Antakya, which we have visited many times in the past year, have yet reached the prosecution stage. The constant change of prosecutors in charge of earthquake investigations, the lack of response from the institutions to which the prosecutor’s office writes or the negative responses, the disappearance of building inspection licences, the bureaucratic and mechanical execution of investigations, the absence of any contractor as a suspect in some files are some of the main problems in the investigations carried out in Hatay.
For example, in the Elçiler Apartment Building investigation, Hikmet Günsay, the responsible contractor, was not added to the file as a suspect for months. The investigation file has been changed 4 times and the case has still not been opened. Again, as an example of bureaucratic obstacles, in the same investigation, the municipality responded to the prosecutor’s request for building licences with a reply stating that the licences were held by the Smuggling and Organised Branch Directorate and therefore they did not have them. The expert report is still awaited for the opening of the lawsuit within the scope of the investigation in question.
In the Nilüfer Apartment case, another case we are following, the bodies of our clients’ missing relatives were found months later as a result of our applications and demands. However, the delivery of the wedding rings of the bodies to the surviving family members was prevented on bureaucratic grounds. The latest expert report has been received in the file. In the expert report prepared by Karadeniz Technical University, public officials responsible for the supervision of the building were found to be at secondary fault in violation of the law. The Nilüfer Apartment case has still not been opened despite the arrival of the expert report. It should be noted that the maximum period of detention at the investigation stage for offences falling within the jurisdiction of the High Criminal Courts is one year. Therefore, it would be useful to remind the public of the fact that the perpetrators arrested in the files that have not yet entered the prosecution phase may soon be released.
For the past year, we have been with the people of Dikmece, whose villages and lands have almost all been expropriated. In Dikmece Village, which consists entirely of our Arab Alevi people, mass housing is wanted to be built on agricultural lands with unfavourable soils. Based on the 24 February State of Emergency Presidential Decree, the centuries-old olive groves of the people of the region have been confiscated by the state through seizure without expropriation and urgent expropriation procedures carried out without any right of objection and without any notification.
They wanted to start construction in the region without any ground survey. Upon the reaction of the villagers, security forces were deployed in the area and the private company was allowed to start construction. The fact that the surrounding Sunni villages are not included in the projects is an indication that the state aims to change the demography of the region. The people of the village want to protect their rights by resisting this legal tyranny.
Similar problems are also experienced in other regions of Antakya. For example, in Güzelburç, the agricultural lands of our earthquake victims were seized through temporary expropriation. We held an information meeting in Güzelburç. The temporary expropriation of the agricultural lands of our earthquake victims, who earn their living by farming, without any time limit, without any information, without paying the expropriation fee, is again an example of legal tyranny that we have seen in the earthquake region.
On 14 October 2023, the People’s Power Neighbourhood, which was established by our clients in Çekmece in Defne district, was raided by law enforcement officers and the people sheltering there were detained and the containers and prefabricated houses that were in the process of being built were seized. The reason given for the raid was that there was an expropriation annotation on the land. However, the land belongs to the family of Ahmet Atakan, one of the martyrs of the June Uprising, and our earthquake victims settled on the land with the approval of the family.
Instead of meeting the basic needs of our people struggling with the problems left behind by the earthquake, the state detained our people who rebuilt life with solidarity among the rubble. The prefabricated houses built with solidarity and the labour of our earthquake victims were confiscated. The dispersal of the neighbourhood caused the “second earthquake” in the words of our earthquake victims.
Since 7 February 2023, we have been following the investigations of Haci Ömer Apartment and Bayramoölu Apartment.
Although a year has passed in the Bayramoölu Apartment investigation, no progress has been made. In our meetings with the prosecutor of the file, we were informed that the file was sent for expert examination but has not yet arrived. Since the contractor of Bayramoölu Apartment building died, there are no suspects arrested in the case.
The chief engineer and project managers, whose statements were taken as suspects, were released on judicial control conditions. The information that the workplace named Uzman, which is located under the Bayramoölu apartment building, has cut the pillars has been given by the previous residents of the building and our clients. Our applications to the prosecutor’s office to take action on this issue and to take the statements of the owners of the workplace have not been answered until today. In addition, no action has been taken against the public officials responsible for the inspection of the building until today and the prosecutor’s office has informed us that the expert report is awaited to take action on this issue.
In the case of Haci Ömer Apartment Building, no action has been taken against the suspect named Atilla Öz, who is known to be the contractor of the building and who many people have stated that he bought the flats in the building, although we have repeatedly applied to the prosecutor’s office to take his statement. Atilla Öz is not even included in the file as a suspect. During the investigation phase, it was revealed from the documents received from the municipality that the president of the co-operative that built Haci Ömer Apartment was Tevfik Tepeba§l, the contractor who caused the death of more than 1400 people in Ebrar Apartments.
Tevfik Tepebasl was entered into the file as a suspect but his statement was not taken for a long time. As a result of the demands of our clients and us, Tevfik Tepeba§l ls statement was taken and he was arrested. However, in the expert report received in December, no one was found responsible for the unlawful demolition of the building. Tevfik Tepeba§l was then released. In the face of our statements, Maras Chief Public Prosecutor had to state that Tevfik Tepebasl was released from a total of 7 files together with Haci Ömer Apartment Building and that his detention continues in 4 files.
In the investigation of the Haci Ömer Apartment Building, where 140 people were killed, no one is currently under arrest. The expert report included in the investigation was prepared in a manner that clearly protects the contractors. During the preparation of the expert report; no on-site investigation was carried out. Even according to the regulation prepared in 1975, which is a very backward regulation according to today’s conditions, the building has many defects. Despite this, the experts who prepared the report; who are lecturers at Konya Technical University; literally stated that 140 people died due to “fate”. We have submitted petitions of objection to both the release of Tevfik Tepebasl and the expert report to the prosecutor’s office. However, no response has been received to date. The investigation of Haci Ömer Apartment Building has not yet been completed and the indictment has not been prepared.
In the one year since the earthquake, we have also visited Malatya, where the destruction was particularly severe due to the second earthquake, for observation and legal assistance.
In particular, during our visit to Mamurek village, we visited the resistance of the villagers and our clients in Mamurek village where the rubble of the demolished buildings in Malatya province was dumped and we attended the press statement. Rubble dumping operations are carried out indiscriminately in the region; rubble dumping is carried out in many places close to the agricultural lands of the people and settlements in the villages. With this situation, the health of the public is clearly put at risk due to asbestos.
The applications made by the people of the region to the administrative court due to the rubble dumping process were rejected unlawfully. During the 6 February earthquakes, it is estimated that at least as much rubble was dumped as Mount Erciyes. In this respect, the risk of asbestos and cancer persists not only in Malatya but everywhere affected by the earthquake.
PROBLEMS OBSERVED IN THE EARTHQUAKE ZONE
Since the first moments of the earthquake, there are still many problems in the region where we are located to follow the judicial processes. We can briefly list these problems as follows:
– Our earthquake victims, who are forced to live in tents, containers and damaged buildings, are facing shortage of food etc. supplies. There are sometimes kilometres long queues at food distribution points.
There are serious problems in drinking water and clean water supply. Long queues are formed at the points where clean water is available.
-Although education continues in the region, there is no infrastructure and technical competence required for the start of education. Almost all of the schools, especially in Antioch, are damaged. In addition to the poor quality of education in container schools, in many places students do not have access to school. The accommodation problems of the educators who work or will work in the region are still not fully solved.
-The asbestos hazard posed by the debris piled up without decomposition close to settlements and agricultural lands is still continuing as we leave behind the first year of the earthquake. Aside from taking precautions, debris is still being dumped in these areas.
-At the end of the last year, there are still missing bodies. According to the data of the association of families of the missing in Antioch, at least 145 people are still missing. One of the most important reasons for this is that immediately after the earthquake, the bodies recovered from the rubble were handed over to the families in complete chaos and without a proper identification. This irresponsible understanding has deprived hundreds of families of their right to a grave.
-Earthquake survivors and relatives of the disappeared are stuck in bureaucratic obstacles when they seek their rights arising from private law. Earthquake victims are denied their rights on the grounds that the relevant officers and personnel have changed, documents have been lost, etc.
-Earthquake investigations are conducted with different procedures on a provincial basis. For example, in Antakya, an investigation is opened for each deceased person and for each collapsed building, and the funeral investigations are merged and compiled with the apartment building investigations. Such a bureaucratic way of conducting investigations brings with it the danger that the contractor and other defendants arrested in the case may be released due to long detention. In the near future, it is possible that the detainees in the files under investigation will be released after the maximum detention period has expired. For this reason, earthquake investigations should be finalised as soon as possible and the prosecution phase should be started.
-AFAD, Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation, Municipalities etc. are not shown as responsible in earthquake investigations. However, these institutions are directly responsible for the negligence before and after the earthquake. Investigations opened against public institutions and personnel cannot be continued since “administrative permission” is not granted. In the trials that have reached the prosecution stage, requests for further investigation are rejected. Investigations should be expanded by attributing responsibility to these institutions.
- In earthquake investigations, the letters written by prosecutors to the relevant institutions remain unanswered to a great extent, which hinders the investigations.
-Debris removal and demolition of medium-heavily damaged buildings cause serious victimisation for earthquake victims. In many regions, debris removal operations are carried out insecurely and without taking the necessary precautions. At the end of 1 year, there are still hundreds of building debris waiting to be removed. The demolition of damaged buildings without any prior information to the people who have to live in the damaged buildings, completely according to the will of the contractor who received the demolition tender and without providing shelter to the earthquake victims whose damaged houses were demolished, has left the earthquake victims on the streets.
-The fate of the buildings with medium damage is still unclear. Previously, it was said that these buildings would not be demolished if they were retrofitted within 1 year, and then statements are made that these buildings, some of which have been retrofitted, will be demolished, and this situation both creates anxiety of victimisation among the earthquake victims who have retrofitted their houses and immobilises the earthquake victims who have not yet retrofitted their houses.
-Especially in Maras, prosecutors conducting earthquake investigations have been dismissed from their duties without any justification and assigned to other duties, which shows that the investigations are interfered by the political power. This situation causes the investigation files, which have reached a certain stage, to return to the beginning.
- Another issue that should be mentioned in the earthquakerelated trials is that the expert reports submitted to the file are incomplete and inaccurate. This situation brings with it the release of the defendants arrested in the file.
Although nearly a year has passed since the earthquake, the problems of our people have still not been solved and new problems have been created by the state. This system, which creates crooked and rotten settlements for the sake of more profit and fails even to carry out search and rescue activities after the earthquake, disregarding the lives of our people, is itself inhuman. The first measure to be taken against earthquakes is to struggle to change this order. We will not forget this gigantic massacre against our people whether it is a year or decades. We will continue our struggle for justice until all those responsible, from the contractor to the executive power, are held to account.
We feel the pain of our people who lost their children, parents, spouses and loved ones in our hearts. With the anger of thousands of our murdered, we will bring justice out of the ruins.
NOT THE DISASTER OF THE CENTURY BUT THE MASSACRE OF THE CENTURY!
WE DEMAND A PUNISHMENT FOR OUR PEOPLE MASSACRED IN THE EARTHQUAKE!
PEOPLES LAW OFFICE