Trucks and bulldozers come and go through the grasslands on the outskirts of the city of Adiyaman. The contours of a new residential area emerge. The foundation of the first residential block has already been laid, concrete has already been poured, steel cables have been erected on it.
State-owned construction company TOKI began building houses for earthquake victims in late March in the city that was left largely uninhabitable after the February 6 quakes. President Erdogan fired the starting gun during the opening ceremony. He watched as the first cement was poured onto the ground. “Look, our cement has arrived,” he exclaimed on live television footage.
At the construction site, architect Burak Yolcu says there will be space for 2,700 two- and three-bedroom apartments. “6,000 to 7,000 people will be able to live here. We are working hard. It must be finished quickly, so that people can leave the tents and live in their own homes again.”
It is not the only place where the Turkish government has started to build. Construction sites have also appeared in Nurdagi, near Gaziantep and Kahrarmaras in recent weeks. According to Murat Kurum, Minister of Housing, in one year more than 300,000 new houses will be built in the earthquake zone. Construction of 53,000 apartments is said to have already begun.
Cities are not just houses, they must be built as a whole and according to logic and science.
Independent experts warn that construction is starting too soon. Urban planning is not taken into account, there is no participation of the neighbors and the construction is carried out on fertile farmland. Scientists from various universities wrote an urgent letter asking them not to make hasty decisions regarding the reconstruction. “Cities are not just houses, they must be built as a whole and according to logic and science,” they wrote.
There are concerns about a lack of transparency about soil testing in places where the state has begun construction. Furthermore, it is questionable whether it is wise to build in places where there are still aftershocks. According to the BirGun newspaper, one of the signatories to the burned letter was fired from her university in Istanbul shortly after.
According to the government, enough research has been done and it is important to start quickly so that people do not have to live in tents and containers for too long. “It must and can be done quickly”, says the architect Yolcu. “As our respected president has said, the houses will be ready within a year. Because life needs to get back to normal as soon as possible.”
Fighting at the disaster site
Two months after the disaster, life in downtown Adiyaman is still far from “normal.” Rubble from collapsed buildings is still everywhere. Here and there, a bulldozer is busy cleaning up. People run around the disaster sites. They collect scrap metal and other things to sell. Most people live in tents and containers. Some in camps, others among the damaged houses.
The taxi driver Halil is sitting on the road. His taxi station collapsed during the earthquake, now it has been replaced by a container. He just started working again. But the pain is still fresh, he lost several relatives and he is angry with the government. “The state came here to help only on the fifth day,” he says. “We didn’t get my uncle out of the rubble until the eighth day. He couldn’t be recognized.”
Halil not only lost his home, but also lost his faith in the Erdogan government. “We voted for him here for twenty years. I myself was an AKP volunteer. But they have done nothing for this city. They have let us down.”
He doesn’t have a good word for Erdogan’s action plan for new houses. He sees it as pure electoral promises. “They say within a year. Trust me, they can’t do that,” he says resolutely. “They can’t even clean up all the debris here in a year.”
A building on the main street is being renovated, and a large photo of President Erdogan and the AKP logo have been hung on the facade. It is the headquarters of the campaign team of the local branch of Erdogan’s party.
Adiyaman is normally a city where support for the AKP is high. In the first days after the disaster, relief efforts here were slow to get going, and Erdogan publicly apologized for this in late February. He apologized to the inhabitants.
According to Mehmet, who lives in a tented camp with his entire family, things are much better now. “Of course, there were difficulties in the first phase. But now the state is there for us. We got everything we need. We are grateful.”
The cigarette seller Ahmet is more skeptical. “Politics, elections,” he sighs. “It’s a world full of lies.”