Visiting Türkiye Two Weeks After the Earthquake

March 2023

My First Impressions

I arrived in Gaziantep two weeks after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake had hit south-east Türkiye and northern Syria on 6 February 2023, leaving more than 45,000 dead and millions displaced. Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to rise as earthquakes and aftershocks continue to occur in the region.

In the epicentre, the walls of the historical Gaziantep Castle have collapsed. Since the castle is located on a steep hill in the city centre, this makes it a dangerous situation the workers have told me, as further earthquakes and aftershocks may result in rocks flying off the hill. There is collective agreement that more needs to be done by the Turkish government; the entire surroundings of the castle should be closed off to the public. A feeling of hopelessness and lack of government accountability can be sensed amongst the locals.

Gaziantep Castle, Türkiye

An Interview With a Local

I interviewed a Syrian family living in Gaziantep who had their house damaged by the earthquake and were ordered by the Turkish government to vacate from their home due to its unliveable condition.

The ground floor was shaking as I walked around their place and entering the rooms, debris had fallen down from the cracks of the ceilings. There were clear stress on the walls and the family had been sleeping in their car since the earthquake, only visiting their home during the daytime.

As we drank chai together, the father of the two young children explained to me about the lack of government support provided to them.* The responsibility was placed on those affected by the earthquake to apply for financial aid which after receiving a text message and collecting money from the bank, in the end would only provide a mere 10,000 Turkish Lira.

They all looked up in anxiety as a plane flew by, deeply affected by the war. They had nowhere to go, and they were willing to go back to their war-torn home despite everything going on…a place they wanted to visit last during these circumstances.

“Syria is always our home and we hope to return as soon as there is peace”, the father explained to me in solemn.

An Interview in Gaziantep, Türkiye

*Even in Türkiye, the Turkish and Syrian camps were separated and it was evident which groups were receiving more aid than others (if at all).

Tent Camps and Children

I delivered hygiene products, supplies, and medicine to tent camps in Kahramanmaraş and Hatay, which were the most heavily affected areas of Türkiye. Some have even called the camps as “tent cities” where some parks contain over 1000 tents. I listened to many difficult stories during my time there, notably one where a grandma had all of her relatives and friends pass away in an instant as the buildings on her street collapsed instantly; a ‘pancake collapse’ had occurred where a building collapses on itself due to the fragile load-bearing of the building foundation.

In these camps, children were trying their best in light of the situation with makeshift playgrounds and schools. They were happy and eager to play and take photos with us as we handed out snacks and drinks to them. It was probably one of the only times they could have had the opportunity to interact with people, let alone strangers from foreign lands!

Towards the end of my time in Türkiye, it felt sad to say goodbye to my young friends as I developed a friendship with them over the many times I have visited them. As I explained to others on the journey with me, for us, our time with them may feel insignificant because we visit so many different camps in a week that each of them form only a small part of our time here. But for them, it makes their entire week as they carry on this happy memory forever — to witness and be inspired by the good hearts of others during a difficult time in their lives.

A Tree Filled With Children’s Hopes and Dreams

Reflections

The world witnesses one humanitarian crisis after another. As we all join in solidarity to spread awareness and help as much as we can, life eventually moves on and tragic events are just mentioned in passing. But we must not forget those affected by what had happened, and we hope that the world has learned from such events to prevent another humanitarian crisis from folding. As I reflect on my time in the earthquake-stricken areas of Türkiye, every little bit counts and we all have a responsibility to do our parts, no matter how small.

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