A Tragedy for an Historic City

With over 46,000 dead, the Turkey-Syrian earthquake is the worst in living memory for the two countries.  Unfortunately, it struck early in the morning at 4:17 local time when most people were asleep and unable to flee the buildings with the first tremors.  A violent shaking registering 7.8 on the Richter scale damaged buildings and then another over 7 magnitude tremor brought them down. 

Estimates are that 9 million out of Turkey’s 85 million have been affected.  The quake was centered at a depth of 11 miles near Nurdagi in Gaziantep province.  It opened up two fissures in the earth’s crust, the longest a length of 190 miles.  In Syria, the area impacted has been already beset by civil war affecting rescue efforts but 120 UN trucks have been able to cross over from Turkey with essential supplies.

The extent of the quake can also be judged by the areas that felt the effects.  In Turkey, it included Adana, Antakya, Gaziantep, Hatay, Kahramanmaras, Malatya and Sanliurfa; in Syria the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Latakia. 

Outside, below zero temperatures have not helped the survivors in the aftermath.  As can be expected, nearby hospitals are full — some have been damaged — and those needing help are being triaged.  The victims include the star Ghanaian football player Christian Atsu who played for the team Hatayspor.  

Horror stories of corruption and the use of poor quality building materials are also emerging.  In Hatay, a luxury apartment complex — the Ronesans Rezidans where flats were sold a decade ago as “a piece of paradise,” crumbled to dust.  Yet some older buildings nearby still stand.

The developer Mehmet Yaser Coskun was arrested trying to board a plane for Montenegro at Istanbul Airport.  He denies any wrongdoing.  The survivors are showing reporters the building debris, “there is no cement nor proper iron in it,” they say.  And the government is promising to investigate while the people blame everyone as corrupt — builders, suppliers and government inspectors.

In the whole earthquake affected area, the Turkish Urbanization Ministry estimates some 84,700 buildings are severely damaged or have collapsed.  Presumably the estimated quarter million residents have to search for a safe place to stay while repairs are conducted. 

Antakya is the Turkish name for historic Antioch.  It is located next to that old Byzantine city.  In the seventh year of Emperor Justin the First’s reign in May 526 CE, a violent earthquake struck, almost leveling Antioch and killing 250,000 as the quake was followed by a fire that finished off the buildings left standing. 

Antioch/Antakya and the surrounding area should be accustomed to earthquakes as little ones do occur not infrequently.  Sadly, there is also the rare big one.  It is the price paid for living in the northeast cusp of the Mediterranean, close to the sea to benefit from its moderating effects on the climate — a little more warmth in the winter and a little cooler in the summer. 

As has happened before, the people will build again.  One can only hope the builders have learned enough from the tragedy to actually build earthquake-proof buildings. 

Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.