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İTÜ academic fired for criticizing Erdoğan decree on reconstruction after quakes

Professor Funda Yirmibesoglu

Professor Funda Yirmibeşoğlu

A department head from İstanbul Technical University (İTÜ) has been fired due to a declaration which criticized a recent presidential decree that allowed reconstruction in Turkey’s earthquake zone to be finished in an unusually short period of time, the Gazete Duvar news website reported on Tuesday.

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck near the city of Gaziantep on Feb. 6 while people were sleeping, killing more than 50,000 people in the 11 southeastern provinces hardest hit by the disaster, according to the latest official figures. The quake was followed by many aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that shook the region later the same day.

According to Gazete Duvar, members of İTÜ’s Urban and Regional Planning Department released a declaration on its website on March 28 that criticized the presidential decree issued on Feb. 24 on the planning of reconstruction in earthquake areas.

The academics underlined that the decree disregards the expertise and knowledge of urban planning professionals, which is of the utmost importance for ensuring the quality and sustainability of urban development, in order to rapidly address the need for shelter following the earthquakes, and therefore, has the potential to create major problems in the medium and long term.

Although the declaration was removed from the website three days after being published, the dean’s office fired Prof. Dr. Funda Yirmibeşoğlu, the department head, and launched an investigation, Gazete Duvar said, citing Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kerem Yavuz Arslanlı from the same department.

“The faculty members of İstanbul Technical University’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, who publicly express their professional opinions due to their responsibility as scientists … are still facing authoritarian measures. … Of course, actions have consequences,” academic and author Cem Say said in a tweet.

Turkey began work to rebuild homes less than a month after the major earthquakes, while architects and engineers warned that officials should carefully reconsider urban planning and building safety before a hasty rebuild.

At least 1.5 million people have been left homeless and 500,000 new homes need to be built after the devastating earthquakes, according to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) experts.

More than 160,000 buildings, including 520,000 apartments, were destroyed or severely damaged in the major earthquakes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, keen to show his government will do everything for those impacted as he faces his biggest political test in elections planned for May, had promised that the houses would be rebuilt within a year.

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