Legal representatives and families of victims gathered in various cities across Turkey to demand the prosecution of those responsible for the deaths caused by the earthquakes that struck the south and southeast of the country in February 2023.
Organised by the Justice Pursuing Families Platform, protesters held vigils in front of court buildings in several cities, demanding that all those responsible for the collapsed buildings be brought to justice.
In the southern province of Kahramanmaraş (Mereş), the epicentre of the disaster that claimed more than 50,000 lives in Turkey, a demonstration was held in front of the courthouse. Family members of the earthquake victims and lawyers took part in the event, holding banners with the message “Not a natural disaster, but a massacre – we demand justice”.
The head of the Kahramanmaraş Bar Association, Muhammed Burak Gül, questioned the delay of approving investigations into those responsible for the collapsed buildings, stressing “why, after 11 months, has no investigation been launched against any public institution or body?”.
Similar protests were held in Adıyaman (Semsûr) and Van (Wan), where lawyers stressed the responsibility of not only the construction companies, but also public officials and engineers. In Ankara, the Justice for Families Platform highlighted the failure to build safe cities.
In Adana, lawyer Mehtap Akyüz Özcan raised concerns about the handling of evidence and delayed expert reports. “We expected and still expect investigation permits for negligent officials, the arrest of some suspects who are still at large, and a fair trial for those in custody,” Özcan stressed.
In the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes, parliamentary records revealed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had granted more than three million construction amnesties since 2018, allowing illegal and unsafe building projects to go ahead.
People’s anger then turned to construction or “zoning” amnesties, which are essentially legal exemptions allowing building projects to proceed without meeting the necessary safety requirements – for a fee.
When people accused the government of corruption and neglect, arrest warrants were issued for contractors, but the bureaucrats who ignored the rules and the politicians, including Erdoğan himself, who granted the amnesties were not held accountable.
While some contractors have been arrested, others have fled, and society is still demanding justice almost a year after the earthquakes.