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Horror and hope of the Turkish earthquake

Jan-Carlos Kucharek

The earthquake in Turkey and Syria was a month ago today. Architectural photographer Murat Germen went to document the disaster and was struck by local action

Kurtuluṣ St, Antakya, Turkey, February 2023 Sony A7RV with FE 24-105mm F4 G-master OSS lens.
Kurtuluṣ St, Antakya, Turkey, February 2023 Sony A7RV with FE 24-105mm F4 G-master OSS lens. Credit: Murat Germen

Antioch, founded in 300BC on the banks of the Orontes River in modern Turkey’s south east edge, was a major trading post of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, drawing over time a diverse ethnic and religious population that went on to create a rich local culture. But in 526AD the city was destroyed in an earthquake that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The notion of history repeating itself was proved true in baleful form a month ago today, on 6 February at 4.17am, when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Gaziantep province 100 miles to north-east rocked Antakya once again; nine hours later another of 7.7 magnitude reduced large parts of the city to rubble.  To date, more than 50,000 lives have been lost in an area spanning Syria and Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless and 54,000 buildings destroyed.

Istanbul-based Murat Germen, a Sabancı University professor and architectural photographer, made the difficult journey out to modern-day Antakya to document the disaster. Despite jaw-dropping levels of human loss and destruction, he was struck profoundly by the support and camaraderie apparent everywhere. In the vacuum of government help, people rapidly self-organised. Basement banqueting halls became safe havens for the displaced, community groups were on the ground with food, others came with medical supplies; and all the while, shattered survivors shared their grief with each other.

Kurtuluṣ St, a major thoroughfare of the old and modern city, follows the line of a Roman Road. Once, it may have linked the Gate of the Cherubim, set into Emperor Tiberius’ city wall, with the Habib-i Neccar Mosque to the north. The gate is lost to history; the street, along with its ancient mosque, has, for now, joined it.

The Disasters Emergency Committee is supplying humanitarian aid to the areas worst affected by the earthquake. Donate now 

See more images of Murat Germen’s documenting of the disaster zone here