Position: 37°17’43″N 37°28’44″E
The earthquakes in eastern Türkiye and northern Syria were devastating and the horrifying costs in human lives keeps rising. Damage spreads across a broad swathe of Türkiye’s most historical areas, areas we spent weeks exploring this time last year. Heavily damaged Antakya was one of our favourite cities. No stranger to major quakes, the Romans rebuilt Antioch on a regular basis, about every 300 years or so. Yet, they stayed, and this region remained populated for thousands of years.
The boundary of the Anatolian plate’s eastern edge rises out of the Mediterranean Sea just above the border with Syria and heads straight north by northeast. Californians know that fault lines typically appear as pancake flat plains sandwiched between tall mountains, often with a river running down the middle. Things are no different in Türkiye.
Antakya is bounded by tall ranges to the west and east. It’s part of the beauty of the place. The Orontes River originates in Lebanon and flows around the eastern edge of the mountains. Just north of the city the Orontes joins the Karasu Çayı, or Blackwater Stream, a branch off the Euphrates, itself sourced from the mountains near Adiyaman. Together these rivers sustain the broad, arable plains that have been the area’s productive breadbasket for millennia. After all, this is the western tip of the Fertile Crescent, perhaps the most important area of human development ever. The Atatürk Dam holds back and controls the Euphrates these days. Situated at the centre of the earthquake one hopes it was built strongly enough to withstand the slippages.
Drive a little further north and then head east towards Mardin and you can thank the British for drawing a border between Kurdish enclaves where none traditionally existed. Families and businessfolk travelled back and forth between Aleppo and Gaziantep with ease. At least they did until a dozen years ago when Syria’s civil war broke out. Gaziantep opened its arms to thousands of Syrian refugees. Now both cities face the heart-breaking work of digging through the rubble and searching for survivors of the quake.
One of the restaurateurs we met on our travels told us the Kurds had been living in the region for centuries. The Greeks, Romans, Mongols, Persians, Ottomans, British, French, and Turks would move the borders around, but the Kurdish people always remained in the same place. It didn’t matter what the carpetbaggers did, it was and will always remain their homeland.
Judging by the scale of the damage, the human tragedy will demand political care and attention as well. Their desire for independence has made Kurds the enemies of the Turkish political elite, who traditionally looked down their noses at them. The modern Kurdish independence movement (PKK) began in the 1970s. It waxes and wanes with the generations, but open fighting kept the city of Diyarbakir, the centre of Kurdish politics, under martial law until last year. A thaw in relations allowed us free passage through the area. Friendly and curious about Americans, everyone we came in contact with greeted us warmly. We particularly treasured our interactions with people who introduced themselves wanting to practice English.
History, therefore, hangs heavily over the response to the humanitarian crisis. The scale of the damage and the government’s ability to react quickly is one thing. The question of why more wasn’t done in the last 20 years to make buildings more resilient is another. Tensions were already running high. Galloping inflation has hit the lowest paid workers hardest. A recent bombing in Istanbul was blamed on Syrian Kurds. In response more armed forces were deployed into eastern Türkiye.
Yet, the Kurds are the muscle behind Turkish industry. I have no doubt they will, once again, find a way to recover and rebuild, and return more strongly than ever. They will need all the help they can get.
Here is a list of charities curated by Charity Navigator: Where to Give: Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria
Here is some sound advice on donating to Turkish and Syrian relief organizations: Forbes on Donations
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