The election brings back the inhabitants of Antioch, devastated by the earthquake

The election brings back the inhabitants of Antioch, devastated by the earthquake
The election brings back the inhabitants of Antioch, devastated by the earthquake

The Yanir family waits patiently in front of the bus station in the city of Antioch in southern Turkey, which was hit by the earthquake of February 6, after returning to participate in the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday). “We returned by bus from Mersin to participate in the elections,” says Metin Yanir, a 5-hour journey by road.

On the night of February 6, the family building partially collapsed as a result of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which claimed the lives of at least 50,000 people in southern Turkey. The family’s life has been turned upside down, so Mateen considers that “these elections are important.”

Mateen and his wife Zubeida will vote for the opposition candidate, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom opinion polls expect to achieve good results. “We have hope,” Mateen says with a smile.

The station witnesses active bus traffic. Many of the residents, who had to leave their city after it was severely destroyed, return to vote in Antioch. In his small shop, where bottles of water and bags of potato chips are piled up, which he sells to travelers in a hurry, Medhat watches this movement.

He is eagerly awaiting Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections. He says angrily: «During the earthquake, countries abandoned us. No one came to our rescue for the first three days.” The 55-year-old trader refuses to disclose his family name “for fear of being prosecuted,” and does not reveal the party he will vote for: “This is a secret,” but he confirms: “I will vote with my conscience.”

In front of the store, Serdal Anil, 21, confirms that he will vote for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party, the candidate for a coalition of 6 opposition parties. And the young man, who has been living with his parents for 3 months in a narrow tent, continues: “Because of the earthquake and the economic situation, life has become complicated,” and confirms that the situation has become stressful, “with an increasing number of snakes trying to enter the tents.” And he is not afraid that the change at the head of the state will delay the efforts to rebuild, and he explains: “The two candidates can do this, because they are the state.” Five meters away, the “Republican People’s Party” established its headquarters in the area in 4 tents that it erected on the side of a highway, after its headquarters collapsed as a result of the earthquake.

vote differently

In one of the tents, Hakan Triaki, the party official in Hatay province, confirms that “a change of government is the only glimmer of hope left for the population” despite Erdogan’s promises of a quick rebuilding process, and explains that many of the province’s one million voters will vote differently this time.

“People who voted for the Justice and Development Party (President Erdogan’s party) say they killed their relatives,” he confirms between two phone calls, sitting under a picture of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. “Voters are doing everything possible to return to be able to vote. There are patients who temporarily stop their treatment and place their full hope in these elections.”

Earthquake survivors sit in front of a makeshift tent in Antakya, southeastern Turkey (AP)

Hesitate to participate

At the bus station, Muhammad Kiyumjo – a bus driver – says that he will work on Sunday, stressing: “I will not vote, and I have never voted.” He explains: “I lost 5 of my relatives. Do political parties care about that? My voice will not bring them back to life.”

At the end of the station stand, Cancel Dugrel confirms from under her tent that she did not follow the election campaign closely. “We don’t know what the candidates are saying, because we no longer have a TV or phone,” the young woman added, while carrying her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

Her husband, Murad, is washing the windshield of a bus parked a few meters away.

“We waited for weeks to get a tent, and we didn’t even get it from the state,” Cancel says. But this earthquake survivor still intends to vote for President Erdogan on Sunday, as she did in 2018.

The country’s re-elected president from the first round received 48.5 percent of the vote in the province, four percentage points lower than the national average. But the young woman pauses and then says, “Actually, given the situation we are in, I am no longer certain, and I hesitate.”


Two million voters have the right to vote in the Turkish province of Hatay

Hakan Triaki, official of the “Republican People’s Party” in Hatay Province