In Turkey, in the city of Erzin spared by the earthquake, the mayor focuses criticism


It has never been easy to change your mind and even less to silence Ökkes Elmasoğlu. This, the citizens of his small town of Erzin, a peaceful city of 42,000 inhabitants nestled between the high mountains of the province of Hatay and the blue of the Mediterranean Sea, have been able to observe this throughout his term as mayor. Day after day, he tirelessly opposed the privileges of some and the petty arrangements of others, despite pressure and attempts at intimidation.

Since his election in March 2019, under the banner of the Republican People’s Party, the CHP, Turkey’s main opposition party, Ökkes Elmasoğlu, the courageous young mayor in his forties, has stuck to strict legality in the field. of buildings, refused uncontrolled expansion work, the risky elevation of dwellings, unsecured projects. He did not blink, but he alienated a large part of his constituents. Even a request from a member of his own family, it is rumored here that it is his father, did not make him bend. That is to say.

No casualties or injuries

And then came, on February 6, the terrible earthquake which affected the whole region, from Hatay to Diyarbakir, and whose human toll has continued to increase ever since. More than 50 000 dead in Turkey and Syria, according to the latest figures. One and a half million homeless people. And nearly half of the 3.4 million buildings in the area are likely to be demolished or razed, according to the Turkish Union of Chambers of Engineers and Architects.

In Erzin, things happened differently. Located an hour and a half drive north of Antakya, one of the cities most devastated by the earthquake, and less than 80 kilometers as the crow flies from the epicenter in Kahramanmaraş, further east, the small city ​​without history was violently shaken, but it did not record any casualties or injuries. None of the houses collapsed. Houses were damaged, sometimes seriously, and the historic old minaret of the downtown mosque snapped clean, but Erzin was left standing, to everyone’s astonishment.

Erzin Mayor Ökkes Elmasoğlu, a member of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Turkey's main opposition party, on February 11, 2023.

When the media became interested in this strange island lost in a sea of ​​destruction and desolation, Ökkes Elmasoğlu told his story in his own words, succinct and disarmingly simple. At the microphones of Fox TV and the local channel TV5 or even on a daily basis Hurriyet, he said over and over again that he was no hero. That he only applied and respected the law, like his predecessors. That in his city, the majority of dwellings are either individual or three-four-story, with one building, the tallest, having six levels. And that he had never authorized any illegal construction.

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