Tens of thousands around the country yesterday marked the ninth anniversary of the Aug. 17, 1999 Marmara earthquake that killed at least 17,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in Turkey’s densely populated industrial heartland of Kocaeli. Memorial ceremonies all over the region began at 3:02 a.m., the time the earthquake struck. Shoddily constructed buildings and a lack of preparation for such a devastating earthquake were blamed for the huge death toll.
Firdevs Akgül, who has attended the memorial ceremonies at the center of Adapazarı every year, told the Doğan news agency that the pain of having lost her 12-year-old daughter was as fresh as if it were the moment the quake had struck.
“My daughter would be 20 now,” Akgül said. “I lived in a two-story house but the five-story apartment across the street collapsed onto ours. Someone needs to put a stop to these faulty constructions. Nine years on, I am still scared of apartments and am living in a prefabricated house.”
A ceremony was held in front of the earthquake monument in Gölcük, where a wreath saying “We’ll never forget” was released to the sea at 3:02 a.m. Hundreds of people carrying torches held a moment of silence in memory of lost loved ones.
Visits to cemeteries started early in the morning, with the passing of nine years making the huge loss only that much more unbearable.
The Doğan reported a 15-year-old boy was crying in front of a grave at the Aug. 17 Cemetery near the village of Saraylı in Gölcük, the epicenter of the quake. The boy, having lost his mother when he was 6 years old, refused to say his name but was not alone among the hundreds of people who were crying in front of gravestones all showing Aug. 17, 1999, as the date of death.
In another Aug. 17 Cemetery, located in the Serdivan disctrict of Adapazarı province, authorities noted that the official death toll in the area was 3,891, with 29 bodies still unidentified. Their gravestones gave the date of death, but there were no names.
The earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale lasted 37 seconds. The official death toll is placed at 17,127 killed and 43,953 injured, but many sources suggest the actual toll may be closer to 40,000 dead and a similar number injured. While Istanbul’s center largely escaped the devastation, there were many deaths reported in Avcılar, west of the city.
Ceremony at naval base
One ceremony took place at the naval base in Gölcük where 420 personnel and civilians died in the morning of Aug. 17, 1999.
Captain Halil Yiğit said every anniversary was a sad occasion where the pain of that time was refreshed. But he also noted that more than 90 countries from around the world had come to Turkey’s aid soon after the quake.
“National and international rescue organizations risked their own lives to save people and help the wounded,” Yiğit said in his speech. “The Turkish nation will never forget the efforts of the international organizations and nongovernmental agencies. The hand extended at our darkest hour gave us mental and material strength and provided an example of human unity.
Hundreds of relatives of those who died in the base attended the naval memorial ceremony, mourning their loved ones at the monument where all victims’ names are written.
It was also announced over the weekend that a movie would be made out of the experiences of Sami Dündar, who was rescued from under the rubble 27 hours after the earthquake.
The joint Turkish-Greek production, “From Where Everything Ends” (Herşeyin Bittiği Yerden), will be in theaters next March.
Director Ezel Akay said the aim of the film was to ensure as many people as possible understood the fact that an earthquake would occur and they would suffer. He said he could summarize their mission by citing a doctor who had worked in the region after the quake.
“Dr. Gülcan Türker said, “I was in incredible pain and was running aimlessly, wanting to do something. It was as if I worked constantly, then the judgment day would never come again.’”
Akay said they heard many earthquake stories from victims before starting the project, noting that they had to take “crying breaks” between stories just to continue.
Dündar, who is also the producer, said: “I suffered under the rubble for 27 hours. My objective is to represent those souls who are still under the rubble. I am one of them. I am sure everyone was rescued at times still feel like they remain under that rubble.”