Turkey’s Urbanization Minister claims quake victims ‘thankful’ for collapsed homes

Turkish Urbanization Minister Mehmet Özhaseki claimed that victims of the Feb. 6 earthquakes were “thankful” for their homes collapsing, as the new homes built by the state-run Turkish Housing Authority (TOKİ) were of much higher quality. The remark drew criticism for being tone-deaf on the anniversary of the disaster. 

Duvar English

Turkish Environment, Urbanization, and Climate Change Minister Mehmet Özhaseki on Feb. 6 claimed in a live TV interview that victims of the Feb. 6 earthquakes were “thankful” for their collapsed homes, as they found the new buildings constructed by the state-run housing agency TOKİ much better. 

“The new homes we are building in the earthquake region are of much higher standard than the previous buildings,” the Minister stated. He claimed that the homeowners he has visited to present their new homes said, “God bless you. It was a good thing that our homes collapsed (if there were not any deaths), you gave us brand new villas.” 

Özhaseki promoted the new developments in the quake region, saying they were building village homes from steel. “Even a 9.0-magnitude earthquake cannot wreck these homes,” he asserted. 

The Minister became a trending topic on X as criticisms piled on. Users called Özhaseki's remarks tone-deaf, shameless, and cruel. He dismissed the criticisms as a smear campaign seeking to dismiss the government's work. 

The 7.7 and 7.6-magnitude earthquakes claimed 53,537 lives, as over 38 thousand buildings collapsed across 11 provinces in eastern and southeastern Turkey. At least 107,213 were injured. 

Authorities stated that 691,000 survivors were living in container camps, and the number of survivors evacuated from the earthquake zone was 3.5 million. Approximately 14 million people were directly affected by the earthquakes. 

The government and its allies have championed a speedy reconstruction campaign in the earthquake region in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, to be led by the Turkish Housing Authority (TOKİ).

TOKİ would offer tax breaks and interest-free payment options for “earthquake residences.” Some 390,000 families had registered for the residences, as President Erdoğan had promised 319,000 new homes by February 2024 and a total of 680,000 a year later. 

The promises went unmet, as Özhaseki’s announcement around the one-year mark of the earthquakes did not even reach one-fifth of the initial plans.