Four people have been arrested in connection with the collapsed Isias Hotel in Adıyaman, southeast Turkiye, that killed an entire school party from the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.
Hotel owner Ahmet Bozkurt, his son Efe Bozkurt, Amine Bozkurt and Şule Özbek were arrested in Adıyaman and taken into custody after undergoing health checks.
Ahmet Bozkurt and Efe Bozkurt were named as suspects after their badly constructed 10-floor hotel collapsed like a pack of cards, trapping an estimated 100 hotels guests under rubble following the devastating earthquake that struck Turkiye and Syria in the early hours of Monday, 6 February.
A 35-strong volleyball team from the Gazimağusa Türk Maarif Koleji (Famagusta Turkish Maarif College) had checked in to the Isias Hotel on Sunday, 5 February, ahead of a secondary school volleyball competition due to take place in the city. The group comprised of 24 students, 5 teachers and 6 parents.
Sadly, none of the school group survived the 7.8 earthquake, which also claimed the lives of 30 of the 43 tour guides, who were also staying at the hotel.
It is not known how many people were present at Isias Hotel during the earthquake as hotel staff had failed to notify the police, despite this being a requirement in Turkiye.
Initial confusion about survivors
Initially there had been confusion about whether the Gazimağusa Türk Maarif Koleji group had survived, after news broke in the TRNC that Turkish Cypriot students had been found alive and well in the earthquake zone.
However, with it being half-term in North Cyprus and Turkiye, multiple schools were in Turkiye for activities, and the news about Turkish Cypriot students surviving the earthquake related to other TRNC school parties.
These schools were a boys’ handball team from Yakın Doğu Koleji (Near East College), a girls’ handball team from Lefkoşa Türk Lisesi Genç (Lefkoşa Turkish Junior High), and Namık Kemal Lisesi (Namık Kemal High School boys’ volleyball team. All three school parties were found unscathed and have since returned to the TRNC.
Challenges to rescue mission
Relatives rushed to Adıyaman when it became clear the Gazimağusa Türk Maarif Koleji party’s hotel had collapsed.
On arrival, parents noted the scale of the devastation in the city was such that no one was able to assist them with the school rescue mission. Responding to the SOS from Adıyaman, the Turkish Cypriot authorities sent their own search and rescue team, aided locally by Fatma Demirel, the TRNC Consul General for Gaziantep.
However, there were further delays for the Isias Hotel rescue mission due to a lack of heavy machinery and machine operators to remove the 10 floors of rubble that now lay in a massive heap of concrete and twisted metal. Roads into Adıyaman haad been destroyed by the earthquake, making passage to the city difficult, but which was eventually overcome.
The party from Gazimağusa Türk Maarif Koleji had been staying in the second and third floors, and the entire population of the TRNC had prayed for a miracle, but it was not to be.
Isias Hotel turned out to be a shoddily built structure that had combined two blocks of flats by removing key structural pillars and allegedly using non-regulation building materials. It meant the hotel was unable to withstand the earthquake, whose epicentre had been just 100 miles away, with the building flattened and most of those present inside killed.
The last of the bodies from the school party was recovered by 11 February, plunging the TRNC into mourning. Some of the affected families had lost two and in one case, three people in the tragic incident.
Justice for the victims
Huge crowds turned out for the multiple funerals that took place in the TRNC for the victims. Shock quickly turned to anger, with relatives joined by the Turkish Cypriot government, lawyers and people from all political hues pledging to bring all those responsible for the death trap building to justice.
Following the arrests this week, the Adıyaman Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a written statement: “An investigation was started immediately regarding the hotel managers and all necessary searches and investigations are being carried out meticulously.
“As part of this stage of the investigation, Ahmet Bozkurt, Efe Bozkurt, Amine Bozkurt and Şule Özbek, who are responsible for the hotel, were apprehended and they have been transferred to Adıyaman province [as part of the] necessary procedures.
“Our painstaking investigation continues, looking at other possible suspects, who may have responsibilities, with all necessary precautions being taken.”
To date, it is believed a total of 48 TRNC citizens, including 35 in Adıyaman, have lost their lives in the earthquake in Turkiye, which has claimed the lives of some 40,000 people in Turkiye and Syria and left over 10 million people displaced.