The body of a Turkish ambassador that is reported to be under earthquake rubble has not yet been found even though 40 days have passed since two powerful quakes hit Turkey’s south on February 6. The foreign ministry has been accused by the opposition of poor performance and a lack of respect for a senior staff member.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated at a press conference in earthquake-hit Gaziantep on February 18 that ministry employee Gökhan Aytaç was still under the rubble and that they hadn’t yet been able to reach him. However, he did not mention the name of a senior ministry official who was under the rubble of the same building, Ambassador Devrim Öztürk, who was the Hatay representative of the ministry. Öztürk, who earlier served as consul general in the German city of Hamburg and ambassador to Bangladesh, was among the hundreds of people who were trapped when the 250-flat Rönesans Residence collapsed in Hatay. While hundreds of people residing there lost their lives, the authorities state that 80 people are still missing.
Utku Çakırözer, a lawmaker for the main opposition party, brought up the fact during a parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Tuesday that the ambassador’s body still had not been found and asked if an investigation had been launched into the matter.
He questioned why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had opened representative offices within Turkish borders and stated that some veteran ambassadors were not sent to overseas missions due to the prevalence of political appointees but instead were sent to unimportant posts.
Criticizing Çavuşoğlu’s statement that Öztürk loved his job and went to Hatay voluntarily, he said, “Since they [representative ambassadors in Turkey] are unable find overseas posts, they see it as a way to engage in their profession and in desperation accept such opportunities offered to them.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has representative offices in Diyarbakir, Antalya, Edirne, Gaziantep, Istanbul, Hatay and İzmir.
Minutes ot the parliamentary committee meeting:komisyon_tutanaklari 14 March Foreign
Deputy Foreign Minister Yasin Ekrem Serim told lawmakers he was in the earthquake zone overseeing the coordination of aid from foreign countries and said he was closely following the situation of Ambassador Öztürk. He added that the Ministry of Justice was working on identifying the ambassador’s body from among unidentified corpses through DNA provided by victims’ families.
Serim added that the ministry’s local representatives in Turkey act as a contact point for foreigners and that he would send more information in writing.
Akif Çağatay Kılıç, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had spent five days in the area where the ambassador lost his life, adding that a fire that broke out after the earthquake made it difficult to identify bodies. Kılıç denied allegations that the necessary effort was not made to find Öztürk, stating that foreign ministry staff and other civil servants were working diligently in the region.
Oktay Erdağı, a relative of Öztürk and the former deputy director of Turkey’s Civil Aviation Authority, complained about the situation on Twitter. He said like hundreds of others who resided at the Rönesans, Öztürk was a victim of indifference, incompetence and a lack of coordination in search and rescue efforts.
“It’s such a shame. Don’t make his family suffer more. Get him out of the rubble,” said Erdağı.
Meanwhile, the investigation continues into the Rönesans Residence, which was completely destroyed in the earthquake. The 12-story complex consisted of three apartment blocks and was completed in 2013. According to the preliminary report, groundwater leaked into the foundations of the buildings and some of the building’s columns were not in compliance with structural standards.
There are still hundreds of people reported missing in the earthquake zone according to local media. The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been facing harsh criticism from the opposition for failing to launch rescue efforts immediately following the twin earthquakes on February 6, which have killed more than 48,000 people in Turkey according to the latest official figures, and for its inability to coordinate relief and recovery support. Erdoğan refuses to admit any wrongdoing and insults people who level criticism at his government’s performance.