It’s not as if Turkey didn’t have ample evidence that buildings constructed in line with scientifically planned earthquake-resistance measures can be extremely effective in saving the lives of their occupants in the event of a catastrophic quake.
And that evidence has been staring the authorities in the face for more than 23 years, ever since the 7.6-magnitude Marmara Earthquake hit Turkey on August 17, 1999.
The 37-second earthquake, also known as the Izmit Earthquake, struck near the city of Izmit in Kocaeli Province in the early hours, causing from 17,000 to 18,000 deaths. Yet, despite being close to the epicentre of the quake in Golcuk, on the Gulf of Izmit—and despite the natural disaster causing tens of thousands of buildings to collapse—there was one settlement that was hardly affected.
BBC Turkish went on to report how in Tavancil, a district of Kocaeli’s Dilovasi district, it was said that no-one “even had a nosebleed” caused by the quake. And it was not down to extraordinary luck or exceptional factors, it was simply the result of acting in line with the recommendations of scientists.
Salih Gun (Credit: Campaign materials).
Focusing on the BBC investigation of Tavancil’s remarkable outcome, on the 23rd anniversary of the Marmara Earthquake last year, Diken recounted the role of Salih Gun, who in 1989 won the presidency of the newly-formed municipality that included the settlement.
Gun, who died with covid last year, consulted with scientists at Kocaeli University on a zoning plan for the locality after he was elected to office. His attention was drawn to how the town was located on the North Anatolian Fault Line.
In line with the conclusions underpinning the zoning plan, Gun, despite much local indignation, went on to refuse permission for the construction of any buildings higher than three floors. Locals told how even a permit applications for attics above this height were refused.
The rest is history.
Yet it’s a history, hideously ignored.
By the morning of February 14, it was known that around 38,000 deaths caused by the February 6 earthquakes that hit southern Turkey and northern Turkey were already confirmed, and there were fears that the final toll could be double that figure or even worse.
If Salih Gun were around today, it’s unlikely he would have been impressed by an announcement that Turkey has established an “earthquake crimes investigation bureau” to help investigate and prosecute those responsible for the destruction caused when so may thousands of buildings failed to withstand the impact of last week’s disaster.
For the many officials who took bribes in return for regulatory amnesties that enabled builders to get around earthquake construction codes or for turning a blind eye to infringements of those codes, they need only need a trip to Tavancil and a mirror to hunt down their quarry.