Major Turkish Earthquakes of the 20th Century

Turkey is located on a highly active Eurasian geological plate, the source of numerous large scale earthquakes throughout the country's history. The earliest recorded earthquake dates to 411 B.C. There have been nearly 100 earthquakes with magnitudes 7.0 or greater in Turkey; and fourteen earthquakes with casualties of more than 10,000 have occurred since 342 A.D.

Due to its orogenic system, geology, topography and climate, Turkey is exposed to various natural disasters resulting in substantial loss of life and property damage. There have been 58 major destructive earthquakes during the period of 1903- 1999, which collectively have killed more than 100,000 people, injured and impaired another 150,000 and destroyed about 420,000 homes and buildings.¹

Earthquakes range from barely perceptible tremors to major movements measuring five or higher on the Richter scale. Earthquakes measuring 6+ can cause massive damage to buildings and oftentimes significant death and injury. Turkey's most severe earthquake in the 20th century occurred in Erzincan on the night of December 28-29, 1939.

This earthquake devastated most of the city and caused approximately 160,000 deaths. Earthquakes of moderate intensity often continue with sporadic aftershocks over periods of several days or even weeks. The most earthquake-prone part of Turkey is an arc-shaped region stretching from the general vicinity of Kocaeli to the area north of Lake Van on the border with Armenia and Georgia.²

Table of Contents

Turkish Earthquakes Since 1900 With 1,000 or More Deaths
4.28.1903 Malazgirt Deaths: 3,500 Mag: 7.0 Tsunami/Fire: No
About 12,000 houses destroyed and 20,000 animals killed in the Malazgirt-Patnos area. Slight damage as far away as Erzurum and Bitlis. A strong aftershock on August 6 caused additional casualties.
5.28.1903 Gole Deaths: 1,000 Mag: 5.8 Tsunami/Fire: No
Several villages destroyed. Death toll may be overstated, since Ambraseys said quake "is alleged to have killed over 1000 people."
8.9.1912 Murefte Deaths: 2,800 Mag: 7.4 Tsunami/Fire: No
Almost 25,000 houses destroyed and 15,000 damaged in over 580 towns and villages in the Murefte-Gelibolu (Gallipoli) area, leaving more than 80,000 people homeless. About 50 km (30 mi) of surface faulting with with offsets as much as 3 m (9 ft) occurred across the north end of the Gelibolu Peninsula from the Saros Gulf to the Sea of Marmara. Liquefaction was seen as far as 200 km (125 mi) from the epicenter.
10.3.1914 Burdur Deaths: 4,000 Mag: 7.0 Tsunami/Fire: No
More than 17,000 houses destroyed in the Burdur-Egridir-Dinar area. Damage occurred as far away as Antalya, Bolvadin and Denizli. About 23 km (14 mi) along the southeast shore of Burdur Lake subsided, indicating this may have been the fault zone.
12.26.1939 Erzincan Deaths: 32,700 Mag: 7.8 Tsunami/Fire: No
Extreme damage in the Erzincan Plain and the Kelkit River Valley. Damage (VII) occurred from near Turcan, where a strong earthquake (possibly a fore- shock) had occurred on Nov 21, west to Amasya and from Sivas north to the Black Sea coast. The quake was felt strongly at Larnaca, Cyprus. Over 300 km (190 mi) of surface faulting was observed in the North Anatolian Fault Zone between Erzincan and Niksar, with as much as 3.7 m (2.5 ft) of horizontal displacement and 2.0 m (1.2 ft) of vertical offset. A small tsunami was observed at Fatsa on the Black Sea coast of Turkey. It was recorded by tide stations from Tuapse, Russia to Sevastopol, Ukraine.
12.20.1942 Erbaa Deaths: 1,100 Mag: 7.3 Tsunami/Fire: No
About 5,000 buildings destroyed or damaged in the Erbaa-Niksar area. Surface faulting, with as much as 1.7 m (5.7 ft) of horizontal displacement, occurred in the North Anatolian Fault Zone from Niksar in the Kelkit River Valley to the Yesilirmak River west of Erbaa. Note that this quake occurred immediately to the west of the rupture zone of the 1939 Erzincan earthquake.
11.26.1943 Ladik Deaths: 4,000 Mag: 7.6 Tsunami/Fire: No
About 75 percent of the houses were destroyed or damaged in the Ladik-Vezirkopru area. Damage also occurred at Samsun. Surface faulting, with as much as 1.5 m (5 ft) of horizontal and 1 m (3 ft) of vertical offset, was observed in a 280-km (175-mi) section of the North Anatolian Fault Zone from the Destek Gorge west of Erbaa to the Filyos River. This area is immediately to the west of the rupture zone of the 1942 Erbaa earthquake.
2.1.1944 Gerede Deaths: 2,790 Mag: 7.4 Tsunami/Fire: No
About 50,000 houses destroyed or heavily damaged in the North Anatolian Fault Zone from Bolu through Gerede to Kursunlu. Damage (VI) occurred in the Sakarya-Zonguldak-Kastamonu area. The quake was felt strongly at Ankara. Surface faulting was observed from Bayramoren to Abant Lake with maximum horizontal offset of 3.5 m (11 ft) and up to 1 m (3 ft) vertical displacement. This rupture zone is immediately to the west of the 1943 Ladik earthquake. In total, about 800 km (500 mi) of the North Anatolian Fault Zone, from Erzincan to Abant Lake, ruptured during a time interval of slightly more than 4 years.
5.31.1946 Ustukran Deaths: 840-1,300 Mag: 5.9 Tsunami/Fire: No
Several villages destroyed.
3.18.1953 Yenice-Gonen 1,070 Mag: 7.3 Tsunami/Fire: No
Several thousand buildings damaged in the Can-Yenice-Gonen area. Felt (VI) at Sakarya (Adapazari), Bursa, Edirne, Istanbul and Izmir. Felt throughout the Aegean Islands and in much of mainland Greece. Also felt in Bulgaria. About 50 km (30 mi) of surface faulting with as much as 4.3 m (14 ft) of strike-slip (horizontal) offset observed east of Yenice. Damage estimated at $3,570,000.
8.19.1966 Varto 2,529 Mag: 6.8 Tsunami/Fire: No
Severe damage at Varto and at least 20 villages destroyed in Bingol, Erzurum and Mus Provinces. About 1,500 people were injured and 108,000 were left homeless by the quake. Landslides and surface faulting occurred in the area, which is near the junction of the North Anatolian and East Anatolian Fault zones.
3.28.1970 Gediz 1,086 Mag: 6.9 Tsunami/Fire: No
More than 12,000 houses were destroyed or severely damaged in the Gediz-Emet area of Kutahya Province. Over 50 percent of the buildings were damaged in 53 villages in the area. A large amount of the damage was caused by landslides and fires triggered by the earthquake. Some damage occurred at Bursa and Yalova. It was felt at Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and as far east as Erzincan. It was also felt on Chios (Khios) and Lesvos, Greece. Strong aftershocks caused considerable additional damage. A total of 61 km (38 mi) of predominantly normal (vertical, extensional or "pull-apart") faulting was observed in several zones in the Gediz area with a maximum offset of 275 cm (9 ft) on the Ayikayasi Fault. A large part of the fault displacements may be due to creep after the earthquake, rather than from the quake itself. Numerous landslides and changes in thermal springs occurred in the epicentral area.
5.22.1971 Bingol 1,000 Mag: 6.9 Tsunami/Fire: No
The earthquake was located about 410 miles southeast of Ankara. The city of Bingol was nearly destroyed. A thousand or more people were killed, 90 percent of Bingol's structures destroyed, and 15,000 of its inhabitants were made homeless. The earthquake occurred at the extreme eastern end of the Anatolian Fault.
9.6.1975 Diyarbarkir 2,300 Mag: 6.7 Tsunami/Fire: No
This destructive earthquake struck eastern Turkey. It was centered in the Diyarbakir Province. The shock reportedly killed more than 2,000, injured 3,400, and caused extensive property damage in the Lice area. The earthquake struck at lunch time when most people were inside and the children were home from school. Reports indicated that most schools were not seriously damaged. The districts reported hardest hit were Hazro, Hani, Kulp, and Lice, which was almost completely destroyed. Many strong aftershocks followed the main shock, causing the collapse of already partly damaged homes, and keeping the surviving residents quite frightened.
11.24.1976 Turkey-Iran Border 5,000 Mag: 7.3 Tsunami/Fire: No
The earthquake was located along the Turkish-Iranian border region. It is estimated that at least 5,000 people were killed and many injured. Caldira, Muradiye, and surrounding villages near the Iranian border were completely destroyed. Snow and bitter cold weather hampered the rescue teams from reaching many of the mountainous villages. Some casualties and damage were reported in northwestern Iran. The shock was also reported felt in the area of Yerevan SSR.
10.30.1983 Erzurm & Kars Province 1,342 Mag: 7.6 Tsunami/Fire: No
At least 1,342 people killed, many injured, 534 seriously injured, more than 25,000 people homeless, and 50 villages completely destroyed in the provinces of Erzurum and Kars.
8.17.1999 Istanbul, Kocaieli, Sakarya 17,118 Mag: 7.6 Tsunami/Fire: No
At least 17,118 people killed, nearly 50,000 injured, thousands missing, about 500,000 people homeless and estimated 3 to 6.5 billion U.S. dollars damage in Istanbul, Kocaeli and Sakarya Provinces. Felt as far east as Ankara. Felt (III) at Anapa, Russia; Chisinau, Moldova; Simferopol and on the south coast of Crimea, Ukraine. As much as 5 meters of right-lateral strike-slip displacement occurred along a 120-km zone of the North Anatolian Fault between Karamursel and Golyaka. Rupture proceeded from west to east in two subevents. Duration of strong shaking was 37 seconds with maximum acceleration 0.3-0.4g.
To download table, please click here for PDF version (28kb).
From USGS Earthquake Hazards Program Earthquakes with 1,000 or More Deaths since 1900

Earthquake Resource Websites


Turkish Disaster, Engineering, and Research Institutes

MCEER Publications

Additional details and purchasing information for each of these 13 technical reports is available through MCEER Publications.

  • Marmara, Turkey Earthquake of August 17, 1999: Reconnaissance Report
  • MCEER 00-0001
  • Assessment of Performance of Bolu Viaduct in the 1999 Duzce Earthquake in Turkey
  • MCEER 02-0001
  • Methodologies for Post-Earthquake Building Damage Detection Using SAR and Optical Remote Sensing: Application to the August 17, 1999 Marmara, Turkey Earthquake
  • MCEER 04-0004
  • MCEER Response: Kocaeli (Izmit), Turkey Earthquake
  • MCCER 99-SP02

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