Turkey’s Map Restrictions and an Encounter with the Military after the 1999 Gölcük Quake

goljukAndrew Finkel has described the way-out-of-date restrictions on detailed maps in Turkey:  NYT Latitude—Navigating Turkey.  His article reminds me of an encounter I had with a Turkish naval officer in 1999 just after the Gölcük earthquake. My colleague Eduard Reinhardt and I were mapping coastline change in areas adjacent to the epicenter.  One of those locations was a large military base, and we could see from satellite photos that the had been some subsidence on the base (meaning part of the land slipped under water).  We were there about 14 days after the quake, and the area was (of course) still in chaos.  While we didn’t know it at the time, the military base took some very significant damage from the quake, with heavy casualties (about 450 people were killed, and about 1/2 of those were officers).  The military was also spontaneously occupied with rescue and relief efforts in an area largely unreachable by other agencies.

To our surprise, we were able to talk our way onto the base to examine the coastline. We had an escort ( a well-educated English-speaking officer) and our instructions were “look at the coastline and the water–nothing else, take no photos, and don’t talk about anything else you might happen to see.”  We found that the P0001492coastline had indeed subsided, and Dr. Reinhardt waded out into the oil and debris filled water to take samples along a transect. My more pleasant job was to survey in the sample locations, which I did with a laser rangefinder.   That easy duty gave me time to chat with our military escort.  He asked how we knew there had been a coastline change, and I told him I would show him.  I suppose I was overconfident given our success in getting on the base, so I pulled out the laptop, pulled up the satellite image (taken a few days after the quake) and showed him how we could see sunken coastline on the base.  As soon as he realized what he was looking at, a look of horror crossed his face and he said in a quiet, serious voice “How did you get that? Put that away right now!” 1999 was, remember, pre-Google Earth, open source mapping, and easily available private sector satellite images (let’s just saying got it from a friend of a friend).   Not the smartest move I’ve ever made, but they didn’t throw me in jail.  In a way, I suppose, my freedom is another tribute to the excellent judgment and response of the military after a horrible event.

We published our survey here:  Rothaus, Richard M., Eduard Reinhardt, and Jay Noller. 2004. Regional Considerations of Coastline Change, Tsunami Damage and Recovery along the Southern Coast of the Bay of Izmit (The Kocaeli (Turkey) Earthquake of 17 August 1999). Natural Hazards 31 (1):233-252.