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Turkish Cypriots remember earthquake dead on anniversary (update 2)

tatar at a grave
Turkisjh Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar at a grave on Tuesday morning

Tuesday marked the first anniversary of the two devastating earthquakes which hit southeastern Turkey, with commemorations taking place in the north to remember the Cypriots who died.

A total of 49 Cypriots were among the more than 50,000 people recorded dead as a result of the earthquakes on February 6, 2023.

Thirty five Cypriots, 24 were children and 11 teachers, all died when the hotel in which they were staying in Turkey, the Isias hotel in Adiyaman, collapsed. They made up the Famagusta Turk Maarif Koleji (TMK) school volleyball team – posthumously colloquially known as the Champion Angels, and as such, Tuesday’s events centred on Famagusta.

At 10am, a ceremony was held at the cemetery in Famagusta where the 35 are buried, while a second event took place at lunchtime.

Speaking at the event, Rusen Yucesoylu Karakaya, whose daughter Selin was among those killed at the Isias hotel, said “today, just as on every day since February 6, 2023, we are all together for the lives we keep in our hearts.

“We are fortunate that the angels whose achievements and pure, big hearts, are champions in our hearts and touched our lives. They taught us great lessons in their short life adventures.

balloons released

“Our children, the subject and joy of this hall, are not among us today. Those who cause us to remember them this way are conscienceless, irresponsible and callous murderers. Our children, teachers and parents, the joy of our homes, the joy of our town, the future of our country, were knowingly killed at the Isias.

“If we are forced to love the tombstones of our children and not their faces, you, the murderers who created the Isias, are responsible for this,” she said.

Speeches were also made by Turkish Cypriot Leader Ersin Tatar, who commended Karakaya’s efforts, the north’s ‘prime minister’ Unal Ustel, Turkish Ambassador in Nicosia Metin Feyzioglu, and Turkish Cypriot Famagusta Mayor Suleyman Ulucay.

Ulucay compared the loss of life and grief “to the incidents we saw in 1964 and 1974,” and added “this nation can maintain its unity and solidarity even in the most difficult moments.”

Later, there was a release of white balloons, named “balloons for justice”, into the sky, aimed at highlighting the ongoing court case regarding the Isias hotel’s collapse.

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There was also a religious memorial service held at Famagusta’s Lala Mustafa Pasha mosque, while visits were also made to cemeteries in Ayios Sergios, Aloda, Prastio, Vatyli, and Marathovounos, the villages from which the Champion Angels not from the town of Famagusta itself hailed.

“The pain we experienced a year ago will never go away. It gets more painful every day,” Karakaya had earlier told the Anadolu Agency.

“My child’s room is empty. Our house is empty. Selin was my only child. My house used to be lively before, but now, when I walk in the front door, it is silent. All of these families are the same. This pain does not end and will never end. We miss our children every day.”

Recep Kilic travelled with his daughter and the rest of the team to Adiyaman last February and stayed at the Isias hotel. He survived the building’s collapse.

I survived the rubble, but my daughter did not,” he said.

Earlier, four fathers of those killed had said they were still in disbelief at the loss of their children, and that “our only goal now is to achieve justice for our children.”

Speaking on Tuesday morning, Tatar said, “this disaster wounded us, and that wound is still open.”

“Days passed, weeks passed, a year passed, but our pain has not gone away. It is not going away,” added Ustel.

“Even though no building in Cyprus was destroyed in the earthquake, the emotional devastation we experienced shook our country deeply. It is for this reason that we do not and cannot forget February 6,” he said.

Speaking on the matter of the trial of the 11 held responsible for the Isias hotel’s collapse, he said “we are continuing to follow the process to ensure that everyone responsible receives the punishment they deserve, as prescribed by law, after a fair trial.”

Akel also made a statement coinciding with the anniversary, saying “this pain is our pain, too, we are all in mourning.”

“We stand by the Turkish Cypriot community’s demand for justice,” it added.

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