Today, 25th April, it is sixty years since to the day since an earthquake rocked the town of Fethiye. The town is very different these days, although some of the old buildings remain.
A quiet Mediterranean backwater
Back in 1957 Fethiye was a small, sleepy coastal town with a population of about 3,000. While there was a small professional class and some wealthy traders, the local economy depended for the main part on agriculture. The majority of Fethiye folk were farmers or yörük (transhumance) shepherds, lifestyles that had remained unchanged for hundreds of years.
When things changed forever
Fethiye’s world changed forever on the evening of the 24th April. Following a series of earth tremors, residents were told to leave their homes and not return. As a consequence, when the 7.2 quake hit the town in the small hours of the following morning, there was far less loss of life than there otherwise would have been.
Although the earthquake, which lasted for less than a minute, destroyed many buildings, ‘only’ 19 people lost their lives. This was mainly due to the foresight of Fethiye’s governor and public prosecutor, Kamil Nezih Okuş. Your can read more about Kamil Bey at the end of this story.
Two important visits
Tents were provided for the evacuated population and President Mahmut Celal Bayar, together with Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, visited Fethiye to make sure that people had everything they needed, at least for the short term. You can see what it was like by watching this contemporary footage.
Three days after the quake on the 28th April a British Royal Navy, D-Class destroyer, HMS Dainty, arrived having made the mercy mission from Cyprus where the ship was based. It anchored in the Fethiye gulf, bringing tents, blankets, water purification tablets and medical supplies ashore for the townspeople. An officer from the ship visited the stricken town and took some photographs, which are the ones shown in this story. For more about this part of the story scroll down to the end.
Fethiye has thrived
Since those days Fethiye has grown enormously. It is a thriving area and Muğla’s largest town. As a result of the quake many new neighbourhoods were built, including the central Cumhürriyet and Kesikkapı districts and first and second Karagözler.
However, there are still quite a few buildings remaining from those days, particularly in the district known as Paspatur, which at the time was the town centre.
Comparing these photographs it is possible to see how much Fethiye has grown in sixty years.
Do you recognise anyone?
One of the photographs the British officer took was of a group of boys. Are there any that our readers recognise? The “boys” will all be in their late 60s or older by now but they may like to see this photo.
Kamil Nezih Okuş: he saved the people of Fethiye
Kamil Nezih Okuş was a son of the Republic. Born in Izmir in 1923, the year that the Republic of Turkey was created. He graduated in politics at university and later joined the Civil Sevice. During the course of his career he became the local Governor (Kaymakam) of Karlıova from 1949 to 1952 before moving to Hacıbektaş where he stayed from 1952 to 1956. Then he became the local Governor of Fethiye in 1956 until 1957 and was there when the earthquake struck the town.
On the night of 24th April and the morning of 25th 1957, two earthquakes shook the town. Okuş sensed that these quakes could be devastating and ordered the population to leave their homes and assemble in open places. This minimized loss of life considerably and he is honoured for his foresight and planning to this day. His reward was to be promoted and subsequently sent to London to study, before being assigned to a regional governorship.
A fine athlete
Nezih Kamil Okuş, also distinguished himself as a fine athlete. He was selected for the National basketball Team and continued to play even when he was posted to Denizli in 1964/67 as the Regional Goveronor (Vali). He then moved to Rize (1967/70) then Kütahya (1970/72) before finally becoming the Regional Governor of Adana (1972/74). Okuş retired in 1974 and passed in 1990.
Photos kept for more than half a century
While we don’t know the name of the British Navy officer who took the photographs, one of the crew was a young David Parker who was doing his military service.
Memories of Fethiye earthquake
Parker was not permitted to go on shore. Even so, he was able to observe the town from a distance and clearly remembered the event. He was given copies of the photographs. These he filed away until one day in 2011, when his neighbours Mike and Lynn Pitchers told him that they had bought a house near Fethiye.
He retrieved the manilla envelope of photos he had kept for 54 years and gave them to the Pitchers. In doing this, he asked that they be used in Fethiye as a way of remembering the disaster, the bravery of the residents and the help brought to the population by the British Navy.
One their arrival in Fethiye the Pitchers got in touch with the author of this story. She brought them together with the Honorary British Consul, Mustafa Şıkman.
A remarkable coincidence
They arranged to meet on 28th April 2011. Only when they got together did they realise the significance of the date. The meeting was 54 years to the day that the officer took the photographs.