ISTANBUL (AP) — Millions of people across Turkey on Tuesday mourned the loss of more than 53,000 friends, loved ones and neighbors in the country. A catastrophic earthquake a year ago.
On the occasion of what it calls the “disaster of the century”, the government has arranged a series of events to commemorate the first anniversary of the disaster that occurred in southern Turkey.
In Antakya, the capital of the southern province of Hatay, angry crowds clashed with police as officials were led to a commemoration ceremony. Mayor Latfou Savas was greeted with chants calling for him to resign, while Health Minister Fahrettin Koca was subjected to jeers and boos as he delivered a speech.
Amidst the fog on the banks of the Orontes River, people chanted, “Does anyone hear me?” – echoing the voices of those buried under the rubble a year ago – and “We will not forget and we will not forgive.”
“Some of us were buried alive,” said Mustafa Bahadirli, 24, in Antakya. “We called our government ‘father’, but the government left us without a father. We have been abandoned for days and are still abandoned.”
Sibnem Yesil, 22, criticized both the government and opposition politicians such as Mayor Savas.
“I think they were very disrespectful,” she said. “It's been a year, they never came, and now they're here for a party… You didn't hear our voices, you didn't help, at least let us grieve.”
After a minute of silence at 4:17 a.m. on the anniversary of the earthquake, carnations were thrown into the river in remembrance, and a local orchestra played a song to honor the victims.
Hatay province, located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Syrian border, was the most affected of the 11 southern provinces hit by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake. The earthquake left more than 59,000 dead, including 6,000 people killed in neighboring Syria.
Crowds in Adıyaman held a silent march, past the clock tower that over the past year has shown the time of the earthquake.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit Kahramanmaras, the epicenter of the earthquake, to inspect the ongoing work to rebuild the city and rehouse the thousands who remained in tents and prefabricated containers. He will also deliver completed homes to survivors, then spend the rest of the week touring other cities in the earthquake zone.
The loss caused by the disaster “still burns our hearts as fresh as the first day,” Erdogan said in a social media post, adding: “Thank God, our nation has successfully passed this painful and historic test.”
Opposition politicians are also visiting the region, with CHP leader Ozgur Ozil attending celebrations in Hatay before traveling to Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras.
Schools were closed throughout the day in many provinces affected by the earthquake. In Malatya, the governor banned any marches or other public performances outside officially sanctioned events for three days.
Associated Press correspondent Mukahit Ceylan in Antakya, Turkey, contributed to this report.
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