Almost 10 years ago exactly, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck northwestern Turkey, killing as many as 40,000 people. Thousands were crushed in their beds when their buildings, such as the one pictured above in Kaynasli, collapsed.
An outcry ensued over the shoddy construction material, loose building codes and widespread corruption among licensing officials: these were correctly blamed for the high death toll. Seismologists warn the next quake will be much nearer to Istanbul, which lies directly on the fault line.
At noon last Monday, I was in my apartment in Istanbul when I heard an explosion. The building shook. Furniture in my apartment fell over, and books flew off my shelf. Everyone in the neighbourhood began screaming.
My first thought was “earthquake”. Shortly afterwards, my neighbours shouted from the street to my window, warning me to evacuate. They told me that construction workers at the site next door to us had destroyed the foundation of our building and that it might collapse.
The police arrived and quickly declared our building unsafe for habitation. I did not have time to get my computer, my files, my notes, toiletries, or a change of clothes. I was given no information about when I could return. Stunned, I walked to the back of the building. The damage was extensive. The lower floor of my building was bashed in. It looked as if a bomb had gone off.
Since mid-May, 2009, the Ankara-based construction firm Sargin Ins. Mak San Tic. AS, owned by Huseyin Sait Sargin, has been attempting to build a new, modern apartment building on the lot near my building.
It is vacant but for a lovely Byzantine bathhouse, one wall of which abuts mine. That wall was destroyed. What remains of that priceless ancient wall will soon be carted away in a dump truck. It had been there since the age of the Emperor Justinian. Now no one will ever see it again.
It is obvious that the construction company has committed one of two crimes. Either this was an accident, in which case the company is guilty of negligence and reckless endangerment, or it was deliberate. There is good reason, a priori, to wonder if it was deliberate.
I do not have the forensic or technical expertise to prove it, but many people in my neighbourhood are convinced that the company could not get legal permission to destroy a Byzantine wall, and therefore destroyed it ‘by accident’. It is certainly not easy to destroy that much of a building without some real effort and forethought, no matter how incompetent and reckless you are.
Ten years after the earthquake, illegal, shoddy construction- motivated by greed and a belief that powerful construction companies are above the law - remains one of the most pressing social issues facing Turkey.
It is estimated that 90 percent of the construction in Istanbul is illegal, and much of this construction does not conform to safety codes, earthquake codes in particular. This story is evidence of this.
If this act was deliberate, the people responsible for it should face the most severe criminal penalties the law allows. No warning was given to the residents of the building. Had the building collapsed, we would all have been killed……for the rest of the article