The anatomy of a murder

Every politician, every government official, and every contractor who paved the way to mass murder must be questioned and account for over 35,000 people who lost their lives.

According to official figures released so far, more than 35,000 people have lost their lives, hundreds of thousands of people have been left without a home, and thousands of bodies are still waiting to be pulled out from under the rubble.

The earthquakes, which have caused one of the biggest devastations in the history of the Republic of Turkey, have been called  the "Disaster of the Century" by the mainstream media and the government for some time now, and propaganda has been intensely used to push this narrative. President Erdoğan has been trying to absolve himself of all responsibility and blame the loss of thousands of lives on "fate" by saying "It is not possible to be prepared for such a great disaster".

Millions of people who oppose this narrative and criticize the state's inadequacy, negligence, and failures are facing insults and accusations of treason.

Those who have been in power for 21 years, who have been talking about the disaster of the 1999 earthquake for years to politicize the incapacity of the state at the time, have mobilized a massive propaganda apparatus instead of taking responsibility for the disaster and resigning.

Despite all the warnings from scientists and opposition parties, the danger of earthquakes, which was ignored for years with no measures in place, has cost the lives of tens of thousands of people. This disaster is a blatant murder and in this article, I will try to explain the anatomy of this murder.

Earthquake taxes scattered on the roads

Introduced after the 1999 earthquake, the "Special Communication Tax", popularly known as the "earthquake tax", is collected with the aim of preparing Turkey for earthquakes, realizing urban transformation projects, and improving first aid and search and rescue activities. This tax, which was made permanent under the AK Party government, generated 36.2 billion liras in revenue between 2003 and 2022. Some economists estimate that when inflation and exchange rate are taken into account, the revenue from the earthquake tax reaches 685 billion liras. After the 2011 earthquake in Van, then AK Party Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek was asked, "How were the earthquake taxes spent?" He replied, “After all, this is the wealth of 74 million people. More than the so-called earthquake tax, there are SCT’s (special consumption tax) etc. that have become permanent. These taxes go to our health. You say, 'You collected 44 billion liras of tax in this framework, where did it go?' The expenditure we made for the health of citizens in just one year is 44 billion liras. This goes to double highways, railways, airlines, farming, and education." Instead of saving the lives of thousands of people, the earthquake tax was spent on roads that crumbled in the earthquake, and it was the first step of a blatant murder. To compensate for this money, a charity campaign was launched on television yesterday. Millions watched a show in which businesspeople turned their donations into an advertising campaign and donated to people as if they were handing out "alms". As a whole nation, we were overwhelmed with shame.

AFAD under the rubble

The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), which was established to ensure inter-institutional coordination in cases of disaster and to carry out search and rescue operations, intervened too late in many cities destroyed by the earthquake due to the appointment of unqualified personnel in the administration, the weakening of the institution's mobility, and the lack of coordination in search and rescue operations. Therefore, thousands of people could not be rescued from the rubble. Aposto and Referandom teams investigated the reasons for AFAD's inadequacies in earthquake response from primary sources and reached very important findings: 

When we examine the regional IRAP (Istanbul Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Plan) reports available on AFAD's website, we can actually see the reasons for the inadequacy of the earthquake response. Here are the problems that AFAD officials from the cities affected by the earthquake expressed in these meetings;

"Hatay AFAD official stated that they have problems regarding the budget and responsibilities regarding IRAP actions and related organizations."

"Kahramanmaraş AFAD official stated that especially small municipalities complain about the lack of budget and technical staff."

"Osmaniye AFAD official stated that they constantly hold IRAP meetings locally, but central power would be more effective in implementation."

"Kilis AFAD official emphasized that the institutions of Kilis AFAD caused disruptions in the realization of the actions by claiming budget and personnel insufficiency, and that it would be useful to write to the relevant institutions at the ministry level."

"Şanlıurfa AFAD official stated that especially the Regional Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (DSİ) had coordination problems with the institutions it works with in stream remediation efforts and that this situation caused problems in practice."

Despite all the warnings from the authorities, no attempt was made to remedy the deficiencies. Furthermore, some changes in AFAD's decision-making mechanism have significantly reduced the organization's mobility. The first of these was the removal of the Turkish Armed Forces from the Disaster and Emergency Board. This was one of the most important reasons behind the army’s inability to intervene in the first days of the earthquake.

In the Law No. 5902, which founded AFAD, the Disaster and Emergency Board included the Ministry of National Defense, the supreme board of the Turkish Armed Forces. However, the Ministry of National Defense was removed from this board with a presidential decree after the transition to the Presidential System. In other words, the TAF (Turkish Armed Forces) is not present in the highest board against disasters in the country.

Similarly, the Security and Public Order Assistance Protocol (EMASYA), which came into force in 1997 and authorized the TAF to intervene in social incidents and natural disasters without the permission of the governorate, was canceled in 2010 because it was used in a coup plot.

In addition, İsmail Palakoğlu is the General Director of Disaster Response at AFAD. Palakoğlu is a graduate of Religious Studies, and before his appointment to this position, he served as General Manager of the Turkish Religious Foundation and Presidential Advisor to the Presidency of Religious Affairs. He has no training in disaster response or search and rescue.

The 0.5% budget

In 2022, the share allocated from the capital budget for programs to prevent earthquakes and natural disasters is only 0.5%. Economist Mustafa Sönmez states that the money spent in 2022 for "Urbanism and Risk Oriented Integrated Disaster Management", which aims to reduce the risk of destruction in earthquakes, is 21.2 billion liras. On the other hand, the money spent from the treasury on the currency protected deposit (FXPD) program, which was issued to protect the savings of capital owners at a time when inflation skyrocketed and the exchange rate exploded due to the government’s faulty economic policies, is 93 billion liras.

Building Inspection

Contractors and owners of construction companies, just some of the killers of more than 35,000 people who lost their lives in the earthquake, have been quickly detained and arrested. However, no one from the municipalities that approved these buildings or the AK Party government that handed over the building inspection system to private companies has yet been detained. Arresting the people at the bottom of this system, which has turned the construction industry into a grave for people, will not ease the public conscience. The politicians who built this system must also be questioned from top to bottom and the guilty must be arrested. The duty of building inspection was taken away from TMMOB (Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects) and given to private companies. This has created a system in which people who own construction companies also set up building inspection companies (and fail) to inspect themselves. Newspapers close to the government had gleefully celebrated this decision.

Mehmet Soğancı, former Chairperson of the Board of Directors of TMMOB, criticized the regulation with the following statements:

“Building inspection is one of the main law enforcement activities carried out by the administration based on its sanction power, and as stated in Article 128 of the Constitution, the primary and permanent duties required by the public services that the state is obliged to carry out according to the principles of general administration must be carried out by civil servants and other public officials. However, with Law No. 4708, the state has made this essential and continuous service a subject of privatization, despite the fact that Article 128 of the Constitution is in force. Building supervision has been handed over to building inspection organizations from the ground and foundation reports to the license stage (actually, including the license stage, because the license is granted according to the inspection reports).”

Considering that the construction companies that are the contractors of many buildings destroyed in earthquakes are also the owners of building inspection companies, we see that the regulation made by the government is another stone used in paving the way to mass murder.

Construction Amnesty

During the AK Party's term, construction amnesty was issued 9 times. Unstable, irregular, and unsafe buildings, which were against the regulations, were granted amnesty in order to gain votes during election periods and negligence was ignored. Contractors, who believed that they would be granted amnesty every time, ignored the laws and rules and built buildings that would bury thousands of people for years without any humane concerns. The government legalized murder by granting amnesty to these buildings that would cause the deaths of more than 35,000 people. Nine more stones were laid on the road to mass murder.

CHP Deputy Mahmut Tanal asked the Minister of Environment and Urbanization Murat Kurum how many houses and workplaces received "Building Registration Certificates" in the last months of 2022 with the 2018 construction amnesty. According to the answer, 7 million 85 thousand 969 Building Registration Certificates were issued throughout Turkey within the scope of the construction amnesty, 5 million 848 thousand 927 of them are residential buildings.

According to DW Turkish, the number of building registration certificates issued within the scope of construction amnesty in the 10 cities affected by the earthquakes centered in Kahramanmaraş was 294 thousand 166. These are listed as follows:

  • "59,247 in Adana, 10,629 in Adıyaman, 14,719 in Diyarbakır, 40,224 in Gaziantep, 56,464 in Hatay, 39,58 in Kahramanmaraş, 4,897 in Kilis, 22,299 in Malatya, 21,107 in Osmaniye and 25,521 in Şanlıurfa."

Who are the perpetrators of mass murder?

As we have witnessed many times before, the AK Party government has not taken any responsibility for this disaster and is trying to ease the public conscience with a few arrests and detentions. From the construction site chief to the President, the rent-based construction sector which was built in the last 21 years cost us the lives of more than 35,000 people with practices such as distributing government bids to government-supporting companies, paving the way for lack of supervision, granting amnesty to buildings in violation of the rules in order to gain votes, turning institutions that have the capacity to prevent earthquake disasters into political rent machines while making them dysfunctional, not allocating sufficient budget, and changing the building inspection system. The government continuously paved the way for mass murder one stone at a time. And today, the people who should be held accountable and prosecuted are those who happily carried said stones on their shoulders.

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Abdullah Esin

Boğaziçi Üniversitesi Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümü mezunudur. Dış politika, diplomasi ve politik ekonomi alanlarında araştırmalar yapmaktadır.


Weekly politics publication focusing on Turkey, city agendas, and international policy.