Angry crowds chant “Can anybody hear my voice?” as Turkish health minister addresses earthquake memorial

Angry crowds chant “Can anybody hear my voice?” as Turkish health minister addresses earthquake memorial
Mourning crowds responded angrily to the presence of officials at the memorial event held in Hatay. / Gazete Duvar, screenshot
By bne IntelIiNews February 6, 2024

Crowds chanted "Can anybody hear my voice?" as Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca spoke in Hatay city square during an early morning memorial event held to commemorate the tens of thousands who died exactly one year ago when southeastern Turkey was struck by two catastrophic earthquakes.

The slogan was a reference to calls heard from victims trapped under the rubble as people in many parts of the earthquake zone waited for days for help to arrive after the disaster occurred. Many died because it took too long for rescue teams to reach them as they lay trapped in the debris in the winter cold.

Hatay was worst-hit of the 11 provinces that experienced the earthquakes. Ahead of a first-anniversary vigil held for the victims, people called for the government and local authorities to resign and demanded that officials stay away from the memorial event. Speeches from officials were booed as attendees at the vigil reiterated that the government was guilty of negligence both in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes and during the post-earthquake reconstruction period.

After the vigil, Reuters reported, people tossed flowers into the Asi River, which runs through Hatay.

The news agency described how Merve Gursel, who lost her aunt, her aunt's husband and her cousins in the disaster, called out their names as she threw a carnation into the water for each one.

"Nobody was with these people that day. These people's pain is that they could not be rescued. These people's pain is that they could not have their voices heard," Gursel was reported as saying.

"This [the protests] is the echo of people's inner pain. It is an echo of how much people have suffered. There is no way to describe how to make up for the pain here. Those people's hearts are bleeding."

Health minister Fahrettin Koca got a turbulent reception at the memorial event (Credit: Tele 1, screenshot).

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement posted on social media platform X that the pain of the loss caused by the earthquakes was as fresh now as it was a year ago. His government, he said, had moved to act immediately following what Turks call the country’s "disaster of the century".

"The unity of the century was displayed in the face of the disaster of the century," he said.

The two earthquakes, with the biggest reaching a slightly higher magnitude of 7.8, officially killed around 51,000 people in Turkey and around 5,900 in Syria, while making millions homeless.

However, following a politician’s reference to “130,000” in a TV interview, the question of whether the official death toll actually falls a long way short of the reality has been reopened for many Turks. There are multiple reports of families insisting that the bodies of their loved ones are still buried under rubble.

Great numbers of people, meanwhile, remain in temporary accommodation including “container cities” and sprawling tent settlements.

In the days after the disaster, Erdogan, aware he faced national elections within a couple of months, pledged his government would “heal the wounds of the earthquake to a great extent within a year”.

He went on to pledge 319,000 new homes by February 2024 and a total of 680,000 by 2025. But, according to the Environment and Urbanisation Ministry, only 46,000 homes have been finalised so far.