Survivors of the earthquake in Turkey are fighting to bury their dead
By Henriette Chacar and Ali Kucukgocmen
PAZARCIK/KAHRAMANMARAS, Turkey (Reuters) – In the Turkish city of Pazarcik, a soccer field has been converted into a burial ground for people killed by the earthquake eleven days ago. The goalposts are still standing, but the field is littered with about 100 mounds and ditches.
Each freshly dug grave is topped with a wooden board marking the same date of death – February 6, 2023 – when this city was devastated by the deadliest earthquake in Turkey’s modern history.
“We waited… ten days to retrieve the bodies of the deceased from under the rubble,” said Huseyin Akis, who buried his niece with her husband and two sons.
A red scarf was wrapped around the wooden plank at a nearby grave. Fir branches were scattered over another.
The scene in Pazarcik, the epicenter of the quake that struck in the middle of the night on February 6, shows the struggle of people who have died since the disaster killed more than 43,000 people in Turkey and neighboring Syria. try to find and bury their dead.
A cemetery in Kahramanmaras has seen thousands of new graves, vastly superior to those before the earthquake, underscoring the scale of the disaster.
Tents had been erected to perform Islamic funeral rites and to wrap the bodies in a shroud. Empty coffins sent from all over Turkey were piled high. A Muslim cleric stood by to perform the rituals.
People carried corpses in sacks to graves. The sound of prayer recitations competed with the noise of excavators digging more trenches in the distance.
According to Islamic tradition, the dead should be buried as soon as possible, if not immediately.
In a speech at Kahramanmaras Cemetery this week, the deputy head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs described the difficulties encountered in burying bodies recovered from the rubble, noting that their condition sometimes meant rituals had to be adjusted .
“No one should think that what is necessary is not being done. See here: Our friends have performed about 10,000 burials, Burhan İşleyen said in an interview with Turkish broadcaster A Haber.
Authorities have grappled with the problem of recovering bodies and preparing them for burial since the earthquake, said Bulent Tekbiyikoglu, the governor of the city of Kirikkale, who was visiting Pazarcik.
Ghassals – who prepare corpses for burial according to Islamic rituals – worked “on a rotating basis while hundreds of corpses were piled up at once,” he added.
Some families have worked with crime scene investigators to identify their dead relatives.
At another cemetery in the city of Pazarcik, hundreds of people gathered for the funeral of Ismail and Selin Yavuzatmaca and their two young daughters.
They were among hundreds of people believed to have died in a building complex called the Ronesans Rezidans, or Renaissance Residence, when it collapsed in the city of Antakya.
Ismail Yavuzatmaca’s cousin Ferhat said he loaded them into his car and, after identifying the bodies, took them to Pazarcik for burial.
“That should have been the fate of the Ronesans contractor, not Ismail!” cried a woman during the funeral.
“You loved my kitchen. Ask for any meal you want, I’ll make it for you right away,” said the woman, kneeling by the grave, her knees muddy as she stroked the wet earth.
Many people are still waiting to find the bodies of their loved ones. On Friday, thousands across Turkey attended symbolic funerals for the dead still buried under the rubble.
“If we stay at home and listen to ourselves, we will never recover. There is no point in looking back,” said Ahmet Akburak, who buried seven relatives, outside a mosque in Kahramanmaras. “We’re glad we were able to get their bodies out. Many people became one with the rubble.”
(Editing by Tom Perry and Angus MacSwan)