How To Honor The Dead Of Turkey’s Earthquake? Investigate, Investigate, Investigate

Op-Ed: With newly constructed apartments reduced to rubble and the death toll nearing 600, Turkey must demand the truth about how unsafe buildings were allowed to rise.

Survivors just after last week's quake (CNNTurk)
Survivors just after last week's quake (CNNTurk)
Sedat Ergin

ISTANBUL - When I went to Ercis on Monday, the scene that shook me the most was that of Özgür Durmaz, a military officer, waiting in the ruins of a collapsed apartment on Kisla Street to see whether his pregnant wife and 8-year-old son might be among those who were rescued. The look of helplessness on his face will stay with me for a long time. The day after returning to Istanbul I heard that the bodies of his wife and son were retrieved from the rubble.

Özgür Durmaz lost his wife Hüsniye and son Cemil not to the earthquake, but because the seven-story building they lived in hadn't been constructed according to earthquake safety standards.

The massive tragedy he faces is the result of a series of accumulated shortcomings in a chain of responsibility stretching from politicians in Ankara to local officials in Van. As of last night, 576 of our fellow citizens had been confirmed killed by the quake, with 2,608 injured. It is not enough to mourn our dead. If we want to respect their memory, we need to draw up an inventory of all the shortcomings that led to their deaths, to face these facts -- and more importantly, to have those responsible be held accountable.

A special committee needs to be formed to investigate the causes behind the deaths in the Van quake. In a real democracy, this committee would be appointed by lawmakers. But given that the eventual outcome might be unpalatable to the public, it wouldn't be surprising to see a reluctance on their part. If Parliament doesn't do it, it can also be carried out by NGOs. The Chamber of Architects and Engineers, for instance, could head up such a group.

Every building, every permit

This commission needs to examine each building that collapsed in Van and Ercis with the goal of documenting exactly what happened. Every building's report should begin with a list of the people who were buried in its rubble. It should then include the details of when it was constructed and whether the necessary building permits were procured before construction began. It should also show whether the contractor had his building plans approved by the municipality, as well as the necessary engineering calculations.

This information is easy to obtain from municipal archives. The next step is to see whether the municipality monitored construction and whether the building was then given a residential status permit. If so, it will show that the building was completed in accordance with plans, and that it was considered safe to live in. Then we need to establish when utilities such as electricity and water were delivered by the municipality. If the building had residential status, no problem. But if these services were delivered to buildings without that status, it will mean the municipality delivered services to a building it had not actually approved as safe to live in.

That's not all. This study should also draw up an inventory of all the urban plan and building changes approved by the local municipal councils. This will tell us which of those collapsed buildings were built by bending existing construction standards. If any of those changes were legally petitioned, the outcome of such court cases should also be investigated – if there was, for example, a construction annulment order that was later overridden.

These facts need to be established if we are to consider ourselves a country where human life is valued, and where the memory of the dead is honored. I personally will be curious to see the report assigned to the building where I encountered the devastated Ozgur Durmaz. And I am sure that all the families who lost loved ones in the earthquake will want the truth to be established. It is not just a desire, but as citizens, it is a fundamental right. Now is the time to demand it.

Read more from Hurriyet in Turkish

photo - CNNTurk/HurriyetTV

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

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We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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