Resurfaced videos from 2019 shows Turkish president bragging about builders skirting earthquake construction codes in areas now turned to rubble

Mia Jankowicz 

Two grieving people hug in front of a mound of building rubble in Hatay, Turkey, following the February 6 2023 earthquake.
Grieving relatives embrace as rescuers work to extract the bodies of a father and son from under the rubble in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, February 14, 2023. 
  • Footage emerged of Turkey’s president promoting a policy that weakened building standards, per local media.
  • Ahead of 2019 elections, Erdoğan boasted of how the policy helped hundreds of thousands of people.
  • At least 70,000 buildings in areas where last week’s earthquake struck used the policy, experts say.

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Resurfaced videos from 2019 show Turkey’s president boasting about granting amnesty for buildings that didn’t meet earthquake construction codes, according to local media.

The videos of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are circulating widely in Turkey as the death toll from this month’s devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake surpassed 33,000 people.

Erdoğan is seen in the videos speaking on the campaign trail in 2019, boasting of having removed building standards-related headaches for hundreds of thousands of citizens with his amnesty policy. 

One stop was in Kahramanmaraş, the recent earthquake’s epicenter. There, in 2019, he said: “We have solved the problems of 144,556 Kahramanmaraş citizens with the amnesty,” according to local outlet Duvar English

Erdoğan made similar boasts in campaign stops in the cities of Hatay and Malatya, both also now ravaged by the earthquake, Duvar reported.

In Hatay, he said: “We have solved the problems of 205,000 citizens of Hatay with zoning peace,” per a translation by NPR.

Rescuers carry a person from the ruins of a collapsed building, lightly covered in snow, in Malatya, Turkey, following the earthquake on February 6, 2023
Rescuers carry a person from a collapsed building in Malatya, Turkey, February 6, 2023. 

Zoning peace is another name for the Turkish amnesty policy which, on payment of a fine, gives retroactive permits to structures built without planning permission, or not up to code. Those standards include fire protection and seismic standards, per Duvar.

The most recent iteration of the policy came in 2018, under Erdoğan’s presidency.

The office of the presidency of Turkey did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

Before-and-after footage of Hatay, distributed by Reuters, shows the impact of the devastation, though it is unclear whether the buildings pictured are among those granted amnesty.

Erdoğan has previously acknowledged the role of building standards in the scale of earthquake disasters, tweeting in 2013 that “buildings kill, not earthquakes,” per NPR’s translation.

Estimates vary as to how many buildings in the earthquake zone had taken advantage of the amnesty policy.

The BBC quoted Pelin Pınar Giritlioğlu, head of Istanbul’s branch of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, as saying that between 70-75,000 buildings in the earthquake zone had benefited from the policy.

Meanwhile, Duvar cited Buğra Gökçe, the deputy secretary general of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, as saying that 294,165 buildings in the affected areas had taken advantage of it.

It remains unclear if many of the buildings would have collapsed anyway. 

Nonetheless, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu placed the blame squarely with the president, saying, per NPR: “If there is one person responsible for this, it is Erdoğan.”

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