(GAZIANTEP, Turkey) — The political fallout from last week’s massive earthquake in the Turkish-Syrian border has already begun, according to experts.
Over the weekend, Turkish officials announced arrests against building developers following an outcry from residents about poor building construction that led to more than 30,000 deaths in the country.
ABC News’ Ibtissem Guenfoud, who has been on location in Turkey since the hours after this quake, spoke with “Start Here” Monday about these developments.
START HERE: Ibtissem, what types of charges are we seeing here?
IBTISSEM GUENFOUD: Yes. So, Brad, at least two property developers have already been arrested at airports. Prosecutors are accusing them of trying to flee the country. Yavuz Karakus is a contractor of many of the collapsed buildings in Adiyaman, and that’s one of the cities near the epicenter of that earthquake that has seen some of the biggest, most shocking damage that our team has seen here on the ground. And he’s been arrested while he was trying, allegedly, to escape to Georgia. Another contractor was a contractor over a 14-story luxury apartment building in Hatay, another hard-hit area here in Turkey.
Many local outlets reported here that this contractor was also arrested while trying to flee the country.
You’re seeing here a lot of anger and frustration over building standards, although the quakes were powerful. Some experts have already come out saying that properly constructed buildings should have been able to stay standing. And we have spoken here to disaster responders, volunteers from AFAD, it’s a government disaster response organization, and they’re used to dealing with this type of event. They told us that the problem is in part with the lack of structural components. Indeed, we’ve seen ourselves the debris in Adiyaman, mainly. We’ve seen collapsed buildings. And you can clearly tell that it’s just bricks. They were just made of bricks. There was clearly no or very little structural fixative, no steel to reinforce the concrete. And these disaster responders also told us that when there is iron or steel to reinforce it, the diameter of that iron used is often too small to be effective.
So there is an issue here on the quality of the building components used, a quality that is below what is required by the law and by these codes that were supposed to ensure that in earthquake-prone regions those buildings could stand that type of event. And of course, these volunteers also pointed to the corruption, saying that some of these buildings simply shouldn’t be built so high, according to regulations. But bribes are often used to counter these restrictions.
START HERE: I’m trying to get a sense of is this the government, you know, saying these people are trying to flee the country, “We need to issue charges sooner than later?” Or is it the government realizing, “Hey, we’re politically vulnerable right now and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying people are angry right now, they’re going to start being angry at us if we don’t do something, let’s really focus on the contractors?”
GUENFOUD: Yes, absolutely. They are realizing that this is turning quickly into a situation that they have to manage. People are desperate, but they are getting angry now.
Many locals…told us that for the first few days, they were on their own trying to save their neighbors or their relatives on their own, digging through the rubble. And that frustration over the rescue efforts was for the first few days, very strong. And then now there’s another layer of frustration on top of that, because there’s this feeling that so many lives didn’t have to be lost or endangered. And in fact, there could have been help and now the authorities are cracking down on those developers.
In fact, this is a critical issue now, because we are only three months from presidential elections. President Erdogan visited some of those hard-hit areas and pledged to rebuild. These cities are, in fact, usually firmly in his party stronghold, but [with] this earthquake happening now, these calls against corruption are concerns for this government that might try to prove itself now. In fact, there are concerns now that Erdogan might even try to move the elections, blaming it on the need to focus on the recovery after this earthquake.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.