Turkey earthquake remembered as thousands take to streets at 4am to mark anniversary | World | News

A girl rides on her father's shoulders during the march in Antakya

A girl rides on her father’s shoulders during the march in Antakya (Image: Humphrey Nemar)

Mourners carrying flaming torches and flowers marched through Turkey’s earthquake-hit cities in the early hours on Tuesday – the first anniversary of the disaster that claimed more than 50,000 lives.

Thousands took to the streets long before sunrise, pausing for a minute’s silence at 4.17am, the exact time the first deadly magnitude 7.8 tremor struck.

On a foggy morning in Antakya, close to the Turkish-Syrian border, the Daily Express joined a stream of men, women, and children striding through the orange glow of streetlights.

Some held hands or shed tears, while others walked stony-faced as they reflected on the horror that unfolded 12 months ago and how dramatically their lives had changed since.

Nazan Korkmaz, 40, was among them. She said: “This one year has been like a thousand years for us. “When the earthquake happened we were alone but now we are lots of people.”

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There was quiet reflection and anger among the marchers

There was quiet reflection and anger among the marchers (Image: Humphrey Nemar)

Her breath misting the air, Asli Şahin, 35, said: “I cannot explain this pain at the moment. If I start to explain this pain, you will not have enough pages in your notebook to write it down.”

At 4.17am, the tragic parade paused on a bridge and silence descended, broken only by a cacophony of car horns blasting in the distance.

The mood was sombre with an undercurrent of anger. Banners carried by the group’s leaders claimed “no one heard our voice” and vowed: “We have not forgotten, we will not let you forget, we will not forgive.”

His voice booming from a stereo speaker, one man declareed: “First we scream, then we cry, then we cry again. And no one hears us.” There were even accusations that Turkish president Erdoğan’s government is hiding the true death toll from the earthquake.

At another nearby gathering attended by the city’s mayor, there were calls for the government to resign as crowds expressed their fury with the pace of recovery and flow of support to this multicultural region.

Walking the streets of Antakya in the daytime, the cause of their frustration became apparent. Although damaged buildings have been cleared in some areas, others – particularly the historical old town – appear almost unchanged since the immediate aftermath.

Azize Ünal standing in front of her market stall and a ruined building

Azize Ünal lost two of her three children in the earthquake (Image: Humphrey Nemar)

Thousands of homeless survivors are housed in temporary containers as they try to rebuild their lives in the shadow of partially collapsed structures and among vast fields of rubble.

Shops, cafes and barbershops open for business are dotted between derelict buildings.

At a marketplace, we watched Azize Ünal, 42, help customers pick out colourful produce from her stall, just metres from a building that looked as though it was cleaved in half.

She told us she must stay busy or the grief of losing two of her five children – her son, nine, and daughter, 22 – in the earthquake threatens to overwhelm her.

Azize said: “I’m getting psychological support now. I went to my children’s graves at night and dug at the dirt with my hands. I was asking: ‘Is this a dream?’. My son came and asked what I was doing.”

The sorrowful mother moved west to Antalya for a while after the quake but said “our hearts were here” and she wanted to be close to her children’s graves.

Reporter Hanna walking through the ruined streets of Antakya

Reporter Hanna walking through the ruined streets of Antakya (Image: Humphrey Nemar)

She added: “I can’t see many changes in Antakya. Even the roads are still in bad condition. We don’t know what’s going to happen.

“Life will never be the same again because we lost so many loved ones. Even if we get new houses, we will not have the same happiness that we did.”

Many of the headstones in a cemetery on a hillside overlooking the city are noticeably recent. Among the older plots, there are clusters bearing the same date: February 6, 2023.

Seven members of one family are buried in a row, all killed by the earthquake. The youngest was just 11 years old.

At first glance, many of Antakya’s remaining buildings look too badly damaged to be lived in.

But on another half-destroyed street, opposite the shell of an apartment block, we spotted Mehmet Recep, 60, smoking on his half-collapsed balcony.

We called up to him and, in a classic display of Turkish hospitality, he invited us to climb two floors and join him for chai and sweets.

Mehmet Recep and his son on his half-collapsed balcony

Mehmet Recep is determined to stay in Antakya despite the destruction (Image: Humphrey Nemar)

The grandfather-of-three described how the atmosphere had changed. “The difference is like black and white,” he said.

“There is so much sadness. Before, people were happy. We had a good life, the streets were cheerful.”

His son’s family are among lucky residents who have just been assigned one of the first 7,000 new homes for survivors.

Mehmet said he wants to see Antakya’s old town restored as a priority due to its important heritage, dating back to the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods.

Work is ongoing to recover historical artefacts. But experts have suggested the reconstruction and restoration of damaged structures could take a decade.

Mehmet is determined to stay in the city that has been his home for 45 years despite the inescapable reminders of the devastation wrought by nature.

His apartment was checked and deemed safe. Mehmet added: “Many people like my son lost their homes, cars, everything. But the people have confidence that we will recover.

“Let the world hear my voice: we will never leave our town and our country.”

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