Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has hinted that lack of cooperation between central and local administrations in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes of 6 February 2023 has left Hatay, one of the provinces that suffered the most and received the least aid, in a state of desolation, while seeking votes for his party’s mayoral candidate in the upcoming local elections on 31 March.
Erdoğan’s speech just prior to the first anniversary of the devastating earthquakes sparked controversy and drew criticism from the opposition.
“If the central and local administrations do not work hand in hand, if they are not in solidarity, nothing will come to the city. Has anything come to Hatay? At the moment, Hatay feels neglected and sad,” Erdoğan said, speaking at an introductory meeting for the AKP’s mayoral candidate in Hatay’s Antakya district on Sunday.
A very limited number of search and rescue teams reached Hatay during the critical first 48 hours after the 6 February earthquake struck southern and south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria. In the days after the earthquake, the city had no access to the relief supplies that the earthquake victims were in need of.
CHP leader Özgür Özel reacted strongly to Erdoğan’s comments, expressing disapproval of what he saw as a threat to the earthquake victims. Speaking to journalists in Izmir, Özel said, “These are words that no one with a conscience, mind and heart can tolerate hearing, let alone saying… Is this a threat to an earthquake victims?”
Former CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also joined criticism of Erdoğan. In a statement posted on his social media account, Kılıçdaroğlu accused the president of leaving Hatay in a state of desolation.
The Turkish government had been heavily criticised for inadequate disaster response, particularly in Hatay province.
Subsequently, Erdoğan admitted that there had been some problems with the initial response to the earthquakes, but refused to accept responsibility for the scale of destruction, despite allegations of negligence and lack of preparatory measures.
The president argued that the government had followed disaster management protocol yet fallout from the earthquake was too widespread and severe for any nation state to handle.
“The damage is done,” Erdoğan had said. “These things are part of fate’s plan.”
Hatay had previously elected Lütfü Savaş, a candidate from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), as mayor in the 2014 and 2019 local elections, with Savaş winning 41 percent and 55 percent of the vote respectively. Despite internal criticism, the CHP has nominated Savaş for the upcoming elections.
The 6 February earthquakes claimed 53,537 lives nationwide, with 24,147 of those deaths in Hatay alone, according to Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya. Hatay Governor Mustafa Masatlı said that of the 563,751 people who left Hatay after the earthquakes, 434,216 had returned.
Efforts to address housing issues are ongoing, with plans announced to build thousands of residential and commercial units to accommodate those affected by the destruction of 80,323 buildings in the province.