Turkey’s quake survivors search for missing relatives for one year

Those who could not find their relatives dead or alive after Turkey’s Feb 6. earthquakes have been searching for them for one year. Families stated that authorities have done nothing to find their relatives and added, "They have left us in need of a bone."

Rönesans Residence becomes a graveyard for hundreds of people after Feb. 6 earthquakes.

Burcu Özkaya Günaydın / Gazete Duvar

Many families of Turkey’s earthquake victims have been looking for their children in hospitals, cemeteries, and on the streets although the authorities announced that there were no missing children after the Feb. 6 earthquakes.

Nearly one year passed since the devastating earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people in the country’s southeastern region. 

Most of the survivors have been anxious about the first anniversary of the earthquake as their missing relatives would be registered as “dead” to the population registries instead of “missing.” They were afraid that the search would be finished in that case.

While 54 people, including children, are missing in southern Antalya province’s Rönesans Residence, 27 people, including children, are missing in southeastern Hatay province’s İlke Apartment Building. These are just a few examples of the missing.

While families were searching for their children and relatives, allegations of abduction of children from Turkey in the Jeffrey Epstein case in the United States resurfaced the ongoing anxieties of the missing children of the Feb. 6 earthquakes

Family and Social Services Minister Mahinur Özdemir Göktaş said, "I declare once again that there is not a single one of our children missing after the earthquakes."

Rönesans Residence: ‘They left us in need of a bone’

Suna Öztürk's daughter Tuğba Koşar and her grandchildren, three-year-old Mustafa Kemal and one-year-old Mehmet Akif Koşar were trapped under the rubble in the Rönesans Residence that killed hundreds of people. Öztürk, who has been unable to find any trace of her daughter or two grandchildren for a year, said, "We do not even have a photograph to console us."

A fire breaks out after Rönesans Residence collapsed during the earthquakes.

Öztürk has waited for 20 days near the destroyed building while a fire broke out in some parts of the residence. She looked everywhere for the burning bodies or the bodies pulled from the rubble, but found nothing.

She emphasized that the search and rescue teams looked in detail in the first days, and then quickly started to remove the rubble. Öztürk asserted that the rescue teams had said that the authorities wanted the rubble to be removed immediately because it became a serious controversy back then. “Search and rescue were left unfinished, and they started rubble removal work immediately," she noted.

Both Öztürk and her son-in-law gave DNA samples to find their family, yet there were no matches. She has been worried that the missing relatives would be dropped from the population registry after one year. 

She said, "We want them to keep searching. The rubble of the building was taken somewhere and we want them to look wherever the rubble went and search there. If there are no missing children, where are my two grandchildren? The bones of our children are in that rubble.” 

Öztürk stated that she would stage a protest on the first anniversary of the earthquakes by wearing a shroud in front of the destroyed building and added, “They left us in need of a bone.” 

İlke Apartment: ‘We want hair, bone from our relatives’

There are 27 missing in the İlke Apartment in Hatay’s Antakya district, which was gravely affected by the quakes. When the last rubble of the building was removed in April 2023, Selahattin Kılıç was there looking for his son, daughter-in-law, and 8-year-old grandson. Kılıç, who waited for hours in the rubble, could only find his grandson's lunch box. 

Still, 27 people cannot be found from İlke Apartment.

Although some survivors came out of the building at first, there were no trace of the 27 missing people.

Sevda Köse has been looking for her 28-year-old brother Yakup Köse, her sister-in-law Münevver Köse, and her 8-months-old nephew Abbas Yiğit Köse. She arrived at the apartment block about two hours after the earthquake and said that the rubble removal had been continued for six days

"We gave DNA samples and there was no match. How can 27 people, not one or two, go missing at the same time? There was a fire in the destroyed building, but it was not a fire that would burn everything down and it was raining.”

She accounted that an old woman was taken out from the rubble and her body left at the side of the road as rescuers thought she was dead. “After a few hours, she started to move because she had hypothermia and she came to life when she warmed up. So not everyone died, there were some survivors,” she noted.

Köse stated, “We want a hair or a bone from our relatives.” Her biggest fear was also the update in the population registry. She stated that they still have hope when their relatives are registered as missing in the system, yet they are afraid the search would completely stop after they are registered as dead.

Arzıklar Apartment Building in southeastern Adıyaman province also collapsed in the earthquake. 46-year-old Zeliha Demir and her son 9-year-old Muhammed Enes Demir disappeared in the earthquakes. Murat Demir stated that his brother and one of his nephews were rescued alive and taken to hospital, and the lifeless bodies of two of his nephews were recovered from the rubble. However, the bodies of his sister-in-law and nephew were not recovered from the rubble despite repeated searches.

The Demir Family looks for their missing relatives in the Arzıklar Apartment Building.

The five-story apartment building was not a very crowded one. Apart from the two deaths and two missings, there were no other casualties in the building. Murat Demir says that they went to all hospitals in Turkey and that his brother gave DNA samples several times, but there was no match. 

The Demir family believes that their two missing relatives came out of the rubble injured. Murat Demir says that they wanted an investigation team to be formed as soon as possible to find their relatives dead or alive.

Families of missing persons have recently established the Association for Solidarity with Relatives of Earthquake Victims and Missing Persons (DEMAK) to support each other. The families demanded the establishment of an investigation commission in the Parliament for all missing persons, especially missing children.

The Association for Solidarity with Relatives of Earthquake Victims and Missing Persons (DEMAK) asks for the fate of their missing relatives.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Hatay deputy Nermin Yıldırım Kara has been frequently raising the issue of missing children.

Speaking in the Parliament upon the Family Minister's statement that there are no missing children, Kara said, "If there are no missing children, where are 2-year-old Esila and 1-year-old Mehmet Akif Koşar in Rönesans Residence; 3-year-old Alya Dua Kılınç in Kahramanmaraş’s Ebrar Apartment; 8-year-old Ebrar and 4-year-old Cansu Erva Dönmez in Antakya’s İlke Apartment? Have the families of these children been given any information? If there are no missing children, why have the families been looking for their children for 11 months?”

(English version by Can Bodrumlu)