Monterey Herald

Grief gives way to anger over Turkey's earthquake response

- By Justin Spike and Bernat Armangué

When Zafer Mahmut Boncuk's apartment building collapsed in Turkey's devastatin­g earthquake, he discovered his 75-year-old mother was still alive — but pinned under the wreckage.

For hours, Boncuk franticall­y searched for someone in the ancient, devastated city of Antakya to help him free her. He was able to talk to her, hold her hand and give her water. Despite his pleas, however, no one came, and she died on Tuesday, the day after the quake.

Like many others in Turkey, his sorrow and disbelief have turned to rage over the sense there has been an unfair and ineffectiv­e response to the historic disaster that has killed tens of thousands of people there and in Syria.

Boncuk directed his anger at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, especially because she seemed so close to rescue but no one came. Nearly a week the building collapsed, her body — as well as that of his father — are still in the rubble.

“What would happen if it was your own mother, dear Recep Tayyip Erdogan? What happened to being a world leader? Where are you? Where?” he screamed.

“I gave her water to drink, I cleared her face of rubble. I told her that I would save her. But I failed,” said Boncuk, 60. “The last time we spoke, I asked if I should help her drink some water. She said no, so I rubbed some water on her lips. Ten minutes later, she died.”

He blamed “ignorance and lack of informatio­n and care — that's why my mother died in front of my eyes.”

Many in Turkey express similar frustratio­n that rescue operations have been painfully slow since the Feb. 6 quakes and that valuable time was lost during the narrow window for finding people alive.

Others, particular­ly in southern Hatay province near the Syrian border, say Erdogan's government was late in delivering assistance to the hardest-hit region for what they suspect are both political and religious reasons.

In the southeaste­rn town of Adiyaman, Elif Busra Ozturk waited outside the wreckage of a building on Saturday where her uncle and aunt were trapped and believed dead, and where the bodies of two of her cousins already had been found.

“For three days, I waited outside for help. No one came. There were so few rescue teams that they could only intervene in places they were sure there were people alive,” she said.

At the same complex, Abdullah Tas, 66, said he had been sleeping in a car near the building where his son, daughter-in-law and four grandchild­ren were buried. He said that rescuers had first arrived four days after the earthquake struck. The Associated Press could not independen­tly verify his claim.

“What good is that for the people under the debris?” he asked.

Onlookers stood behind police tape Saturday in Antakya as bulldozers clawed at a high-rise luxury apartment building that had toppled onto its side.

Over 1,000 residents had been in the 12-story building when the quake struck, according to relatives watching the recovery effort. They said hundreds were still inside but complained the effort to free them had been slow and not serious.

“This is an atrocity, I don't know what to say,” said Bediha Kanmaz, 60. The bodies of his son and 7-monthold grandson had been pulled from the building — still locked in an embrace — but his daughter-in-law was still inside.

“We open body bags to see if they're ours, we're checking if they're our children. We're even checking the ones that are torn to pieces,” she said of herself and other grief-stricken relatives.

Kanmaz also blamed Turkey's

government for the slow response, and accused the national rescue service of failing to do enough to recover people alive.

She and others in Antakya expressed the belief that the presence of a large minority of Alevis — an Anatolian Islamic community that differs from Sunni and Shia Islam and Alawites in Syria — had made them a low priority for the government. Traditiona­lly, few Alevis vote for Erdogan's ruling party. There was no evidence, however, that the region was overlooked for sectarian reasons.

Erdogan said Wednesday that disaster efforts were continuing in all 10 affected provinces and dismissed allegation­s of no help from state institutio­ns like the military as “lies, fake slander.”

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