In a devastating event, southern Turkey was struck by a massive earthquake on 6 February 2023, resulting in a tragic loss of over 55,000 lives.
It is evident that a significant number of lives could have been spared if proper building regulations had been followed.
A determined mother is on a quest to uncover the truth behind the devastating collapse of the building where her loved ones resided.
Prior to the earthquake, Nurgül Göksu led a typical life as a homemaker. She adored cooking, and one of her go-to recipes was “içli köfte,” a beloved traditional dish of meatballs.
Her home was located on the outskirts of Istanbul. Her 31-year-old son, Ahmet Can Zabun, was married and had a young baby. He resided in the south-eastern city of Kahramanmaras.
Ahmet Can was not Nurgül’s only child, but their relationship was unique, as he was her oldest son whom she had as a teenage mother.
She supported him in his educational journey and took pride in his accomplishments. Both Ahmet Can and his wife Nesibe practiced law. Nurgül did not attend university and had to complete her education through an external degree programme.
When the earthquake struck Kahramanmaras, a devastating number of buildings in the city crumbled, including Ahmet Can’s.
Nurgül hurried to the city in a frantic search for her son, his wife, and their child – or, as she affectionately refers to them, her “three children”.
Despite the widespread destruction caused by the earthquake in Kahramanmaras, it appears that the area where Nurgül’s son resides has been relatively spared from the worst of the damage.
A significant portion of the neighbourhood remained relatively unscathed. However, his residential block, standing at a height of 10 storeys and referred to as the Ezgi Building, was among the rare few that were completely demolished.
Other areas affected by the earthquake also experienced similar discrepancies. Curiosity arose in Turkey as people questioned the varying levels of building collapse, despite their close proximity, similar height, age, and construction style.
Nurgül anxiously watched as the rescue teams meticulously searched through the debris of the Ezgi Building.
After a week had passed, the bodies of Ahmet Can, his wife Nesibe, and their baby daughter Asude, who was Nurgül’s granddaughter, were discovered.
Little Asude was just six months old.
“Losing not just one but three children is incredibly difficult,” Nurgül expresses.
She often posts pictures of her family on social media platforms she set up following the tragedy.
“I didn’t want them to be forgotten and their sacrifice to be in vain,” says Nurgül.
A tragic incident claimed the lives of 35 individuals in the collapse of the Ezgi Building. There were only two survivors.
After the tragic loss of her family, Nurgül was determined to uncover the truth behind the collapse of her son’s building, seeking answers where others may have turned away. However, she required concrete proof and the insights of professionals. She had a conversation with civil engineers and construction experts from the area. She discovered the art of locating ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos on the internet and gained a grasp of building regulations and the necessary steps for approving alterations. In June of last year, she stumbled upon a video on YouTube by BBC Turkish. The video documented the collapse of a building in the city of Izmir after an earthquake in 2020. Nurgül reached out to us on social media seeking assistance in analysing the recent collapse of the Ezgi Building. We kept in contact with her for months as she diligently looked into the modifications made to the building, ensuring they were done accurately. We utilised graphics to visually represent her discoveries.
“I made every effort to gather as much information as possible at the location where I lost my child,” Nurgül says.
“It wasn’t my responsibility.” However, if I hadn’t taken that action, we wouldn’t have discovered anything.
Nurgül discovered that in several areas affected by earthquakes, investigations into alleged building regulation violations were being closed due to lack of evidence.
She was determined to protect the integrity of her own investigation, so she conducted multiple TV interviews to raise awareness about her case. Although she wasn’t particularly active on social media prior to the earthquake, she decided to create an Instagram account dedicated to the Ezgi Building. Her goal was to connect with other families who had lost loved ones and experts in the field to gather valuable information.
Nurgül emphasised the importance of utilising public records to collect evidence regarding the construction of the building.
Nevertheless, she was determined to ensure that those accountable for the building’s collapse would face legal consequences. This drove her to concentrate on collecting evidence regarding the methods used for the building’s renovations and modifications.
When the prosecutor’s office initiated an investigation and requested an expert report on the collapse of Ezgi Building, Nurgül’s testimony played a crucial role.
The report, completed in July 2023, revealed numerous unauthorised alterations to the building that violated existing regulations.
According to Dr Beyza Taşkın, an associate professor of civil engineering at Istanbul Technical University, the intact surrounding buildings suggest a significant structural problem with the Ezgi Building.
According to the report, there was a significant issue with a crucial support element, either due to improper construction or subsequent modifications.
According to official lab analysis, it was found that certain materials and construction processes did not meet the approved standards.
Additionally, there was another noteworthy feature: the building’s cafe.
Concerns regarding the previous refurbishment of a cafe on the ground floor began to surface shortly after the Ezgi Building’s collapse.
The renovation had successfully combined three separate units on the ground floor into a spacious, unified area. As part of the project, a service lift was installed by making adjustments to the floor and creating ventilation openings in the curtain walls.
There was also a change made to the building’s original design, involving the removal or replacement of a bearing wall.
In 2021, residents of the Egzi Building expressed their concerns by signing a petition, urging the local authority to thoroughly investigate the factors behind the building’s collapse. They were worried that the renovations might have compromised its structural integrity.
The response stated that there were no deviations from the original architectural project.
Nurgül is questioning why her call for help was disregarded and expressing doubt about whether the authorities thoroughly assessed the building before responding.
After receiving the report on the causes of the collapse, the prosecutor’s office decided to initiate a criminal case.
In September 2023, the interior designer of the ground floor cafe and the engineer primarily responsible for the initial construction of the building were arrested and are currently awaiting trial.
An arrest warrant was also issued for the building contractor, but it wasn’t executed, possibly because of his advanced age.
The lawyer refuted allegations of his client’s involvement in the collapse, attributing it instead to subsequent modifications. The lawyer has yet to respond to our request for further comment.
The cafe owners, whose arrest was also ordered by the prosecutor, have vanished and are still on the run. Last September, they used social media to refute any allegations of wrongdoing in the renovations of the ground floor.
The local authorities are still under investigation.
We have reached out to the Turkish ministry of the interior for comment, but unfortunately, we have not yet received a response.
Arrests and criminal charges are unfortunately not uncommon in cases like the Ezgi incident. Numerous cases related to faulty constructions and illegal building alterations have been reported in areas affected by earthquakes.
Last year in July, the Turkish ministry of justice reported that more than 350 individuals had been arrested in these instances.
While focusing on her own case, Nurgül has also been generously assisting others by sharing her expertise in building regulations and civil engineering, along with her proficiency in utilising open source intelligence.
She expresses her unwavering commitment to hold accountable those responsible for the collapse, ensuring that no one will be tempted to disregard or violate building regulations in the future.
“Perhaps, in order to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, measures can be taken for the Ezgi Building.” I am determined to set an example.