A bitter anniversary

A bitter anniversary

Over 18,000 people perished, tens of thousands left homeless; the industrial heartland of the country was devastated. The Aug. 17, 1999 earthquake and the consequent Dec. 12 tremor were sufficiently bad for a country with a miserable three-way coalition government to slide into a financial crisis, making the 2000-2001 twin financial collapse inevitable.

The country was paralyzed with two very strong quakes devastating its industrial heartland, and as if they were not enough, the wretched coalition government was headed by a prime minister not only dependent but hardly standing on the pessimistic and fatalistic climate in the country that he produced himself. It was because of that climate that the very new Justice and Development Party (AKP) stood out as the “only untested” political group, grasping political power as though picking an overripe apple fallen from a tree.

Those believing in conspiracy theories - and they are abundant in this country like in all other Middle Eastern societies - have been claiming since then that the AKP ascending to power was an excellent scenario written, prepared and staged by a cast selected by “outside powers.” Well, years later those claimed to have grasped and clinched onto power, that is the “cast” said to have been selected by the “outside powers,” claim as well that all the problems they have been encountering for 15 years after being in non-intermitted power were all products of “outside powers.”

That is if “outside powers” stop intermingling in Turkish affairs the administrators of this country will start performing very well. 

Jokes aside, from the day the destructive quake of Aug. 17 struck the country and claimed the lives of 18,000 people, maimed thousands and gloomed the prospects of hundreds of thousands, eminent scholars, geophysicists, and experts have been warning that a bigger one might come any minute. What they have been warning were not those mild or not so strong tremors shaking every other day a spot on either side of the Aegean but rather the big one, the Istanbul quake.

After the 1999 Gölcük and Düzce quakes, there was an alarm in the country. Citizens panicked. The dimensions of the two quakes, sufferings were so great that people were ready to sacrifice everything to transform their homes, neighborhoods and cities that could remain standing still after a strong quake.

 Some buildings were consolidated. Some parks were provided with prefabricated huts full of emergency material. Large lots were allocated as “rescue areas” within the cities. Particularly in Istanbul, there was fear that in a strong earthquake the human loss might be tens of thousands, but worse, the economic impact might be far worse.

In the name of transforming the shanty, crooked and rather old building piles of the cities with earthquake resistant modern buildings a massive reconstruction scheme was launched throughout the country but the success of this “urban transformation” could not go further than creating the so-called “rentier economy” or “land speculation.” Rather than the almost collapsing old and shanty buildings, many buildings that might be considered part of the historic fabric of the country were all torn down and replaced with higher buildings. The famous Bağdat Avenue of Istanbul, where not all the buildings were among the thousands of dwellings expected to collapse in a major quake, testifies this new “transformation” push.

The parks and the lots allocated as “gathering points,” on the other hand, were taken over by the grid of pro-government contractors and are now hosting skyscrapers or huge housing complexes and luxurious residences.

The latest series of quakes in Bodrum irked people. People started to talk once again about the possible big Istanbul quake. What if a major quake hit some other part of the country? Who cares, if something did not take place in Istanbul, it cannot have much news value for newspapers, TVs and radios. The internet media might have some speculative reporting, and on social media there might be some heated up stories; that’s all. 

On the anniversary of the Aug. 17, 1999 quake, what major events were held to remind people that they might be the victims of the next calamity, which all scientists are in consensus over a future quake to happen tomorrow if not today? Only a local Istanbul municipality ran a seminar and some local activities to commemorate the lost ones and few messages from the government executives. And that was all…

Let’ all pray and hope that God will spare all of us from the big one.