Property owners object to gov’t reconstruction plan for Hatay historic center

Store and homeowners have criticized the reconstruction plan for the historic city center in the southern province of Hatay that was destroyed in the Feb. 6 quakes, saying the government would seize their properties and did not offer sufficient time for objections. 

Burcu Özkaya Günaydın

The Environment, Urbanization, and Climate Change Directorate of Hatay on June 11 published the reconstruction plan for the historic city center of Antakya, which was severely damaged by the Feb. 6 earthquakes. 

The plan was made available for public review and objections for 15 days starting from June 11, 2024.

Mustafa Özçelik, President of the Hatay Chamber of Architects, highlighted that the plan, unveiled by Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy during a meeting in Hatay, would lead to significant property losses for many people. 

Özçelik emphasized the significance of the 15-day objection period, noting that 11 of these 15 days coincided with the Eid al-Adha holiday break, leaving only three days for objections. 

“Everyone will want to object to this plan, and the official offices will not be able to handle it. Moreover, many people are unaware of the plan. The timing itself indicates a lack of good faith,” he continued.  

“Someone's historic workplace in Antakya has been designated as a green area, or the old village garages area, which is a commercial center, is now zoned for residential use. Although there is a right to object, it is unlikely to be resolved in three days, and many will take it to court. Everyone has the right to object through the courts," he said.

Fadi Hurigil, President of the Antakya Greek Orthodox Church Foundation, noted that shops belonging to the foundation next to the Orthodox Church on Saray Street, where historic houses are located, were allowed two additional floors in the new plan. 

“In the new plan, many properties were designated as green areas or had their zoning reduced, even though there was no need. Imagine if there are 500 apartments, you're telling 70% of them to leave," he said. 

Hurigil also questioned the timing of the plan's announcement, which coincided with the eve of the holiday break after 11 months of being a designated risk area.

Suphi Zarif, who inherited numerous properties from his father in historic Antakya, stated that his four apartments and 22 shops were designated as green areas in the new plan. 

"This is an expropriation plan. Each of my properties is worth 15 million. Will the state pay me the value of these properties? How am I supposed to make a living? Germany seems to be my only option. The earthquake hit us, and now the state is hitting the rest," he said.

Ali Eraslan, who owns a three-story office in the area covered by the new plan, said that while the City Club next to his office remained, his property was designated as a social facility, for reasons he did not understand.

Eraslan added, “Before the earthquake, this area was the heart of commerce, with businesses and entertainment venues. It should have remained that way.”

He continued, “This place is very valuable, and they won't pay me its worth. Even if they offer me a workplace elsewhere, nowhere in the city is as valuable as here. This is property confiscation; how can we accept it? I had already filed a lawsuit, and I will pursue it."

On June 13, a commission composed of members from the Chamber of Architects and the Hatay Bar Association’s Disaster Commission gathered to evaluate the new plan and decided to object. The commission will explain why they objected and outline their course of action in a press statement in the coming days.

Hatay was the most affected province by the 7.7 and 7.6-magnitude earthquakes that struck southeastern Turkey on Feb. 6, 2023.

At least 23,000 people died, thousands of buildings were destroyed and hundreds of thousands were left homeless in the province.

Since the earthquakes, the government has undertaken projects to rebuild the city. The Nov. 8 amendments to the urban transformation law allow the government to declare areas with risk-free buildings, parks, and military areas as reserve zones for urban transformation "against earthquake risk.”

These lands are transferred to the Treasury, dispossessing residents often with insufficient compensation and unclear plans for the "new city" that will be built upon the area. 

Residents whose properties fell under these zones organized various protests in the province against the decision, concerned about dispossession while facing already difficult conditions in the quake-wrought province.

(English version by Ayşenaz Toptaş)