Turkey has many active earthquake zones. While hundreds of small tremors occur without incident each year, there have been several large earthquakes in modern times that have had devastating effects.
In 1999, the Izmit earthquake claimed the lives of over 17,000 people. In 2011, a 7.1 earthquake struck the eastern city of Van. In 2020, a 7.0 earthquake shook the western city of Izmir.
The most recent and deadliest earthquake in the history of the Turkish Republic occurred on February 6th, 2023 in southeast Turkey. It had catastrophic effects in terms of the number of lives lost as well as the wide scale of destruction.
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History of Earthquakes in Turkey
Between the years 1903 and 1999 there were 58 major earthquakes in Turkey. More than 100,000 people died as a result, over 150,000 were wounded, and 420,000 buildings and homes were destroyed.
The most destructive earthquake of the past century was the devastating Erzincan quake of December 28-29, 1939, which killed 39,000 people and leveled the city. It measured 7.8 on the Richter scale.
I've experienced tremors in Turkey, from little ones that rattled the plates in the kitchen rack of my apartment in Istanbul, to one that shook my whole apartment building in Izmir.
California, Chile, Greece, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and many other areas of the world experience earthquakes periodically, without warning. As a traveler, should you worry?
Probably not. Like most sudden shocks (traffic accident, heart failure, violent attack), it depends on luck. 99.999999% of the time, 99.99999% of the people in the world are not affected.
However, if you hear about an earthquake at a destination you were planning to visit, don't cancel or postpone your trip without finding out which areas were affected. For example, the 2011 Van earthquake affected that city and several towns nearby, but had zero effect on any of the places that foreign visitors usually go.
I was in Turkey when that earthquake struck. I was in Kaş, on the Mediterranean coast, 1,650 km (1,025 miles) west of Van, about the same distance as between Copenhagen, Denmark and Florence (Firenze), Italy, or between New York City and Tallahassee, Florida. Everyone in western, central, northern and southern Turkey found out about the quake the same way the rest of the world did: news reports.
Places 100 km away from the epicenter may have felt it, but places 1000 km away certainly didn't. Stay out of the affected area and you can still have an enjoyable, fulfilling travel experience, and the people at your destination will appreciate your coming.