Nearly a year after devastating earthquakes in southeast Turkey, families still searching for missing relatives

Nearly a year after two devastating earthquakes hit Turkey’s southeastern provinces, families have once again called on authorities to increase efforts to find their missing loved ones, the Gazete Duvar news website reported

Magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes affected 11 provinces in the country’s south and southeast on February 6, killing more than 50,000 people and leaving millions homeless. While the exact number is not known, hundreds of people – including children – are believed to be missing.   

Families have been searching for their missing members since day one, scouring hospitals across the country and mass graves in the region in the hope that maybe a relative had been buried without proper identification. 

Before unidentified bodies were buried in mass graves, authorities took photographs, collected DNA samples and took fingerprints. Each unidentified victim had a number on their grave. Individuals have to go through the photos and give a sample of their DNA to determine if their family member was buried in such a grave.

A total of 54 people are missing from the notorious Rönesans Rezidans, a building complex in Hatay province that was completely demolished in the earthquakes. The daughter and two grandsons of Suna Öztürk were living in the building at the time and are currently missing. 

“I waited by the rubble for 20 days, but a year on I still have no information as to what happened to them,” said Öztürk. “The debris was removed far too quickly [without a proper search], and the workers told us [relatives] that they had received orders from authorities to do so, because of media attention.”

Although Öztürk and the children’s father had given DNA samples with the hope for a match, they still haven’t received any news. “We want the search to continue, we don’t want them to just to be considered dead. But we don’t know what to do anymore. I am thinking of staging a demonstration where the building used to stand on the anniversary of the disaster,” said Öztürk. 

If authorities declare missing people dead, all searches will be stopped, which families strongly oppose. 

Another 27 people are missing from the İlke building complex in Hatay’s Güzelburç neighborhood. While the rubble has been completely removed, people are still searching for missing family members. Selahattin Kılıç said he is searching for his son, daughter-in-law and 8-year-old grandchild. Another family is searching for their brother, his wife and 6-month-old baby. 

They are demanding a special parliamentary investigation commission to focus on the issue of missing people. “We want piece of bone, a strand of hair … something belonging to our relatives! We want the government to take this matter seriously,” they told the media. 

Opposition deputies have also called on the authorities to investigate missing people cases, especially children. Nermin Yıldırım Kaya, a deputy from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has brought the topic up in parliament on several occasions. “Government officials have repeatedly said there are no missing children. So, what happened to 2-year-old Esila, 1-year-old Mehmet Akif Koşar, 3-year-old Alya Dua Kılınç, 8-year-old Ebrar and 4-year-old Cansu Erva Dönmez? If there are no missing children, why have people been searching for these kids for the last 11 months?” she demanded in a parliamentary speech. 

In a statement earlier this month, Minister of Family and Social Affairs Mahinur Özdemir had said that “there are no missing children in the aftermath of the earthquakes.” She said the ministry would be pressing charges against anyone who claimed there were children who had been rescued after the earthquakes but had gone missing while they were in state custody. 

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