Earthquake Mission in Türkiye: A massive earthquake struck Türkiye and Syria on February 6, leaving tens of thousands dead and millions homeless. Milwaukee Independent was invited by a team of American doctors and clergy to document conditions in the hardest hit parts of Türkiye a month later, embedded with the Turkish Red Crescent, Türk Kizilay. This special series offers a snapshot of the situation in Adiyaman and Antakya in images, with stories from first responders and survivors of the unfolding natural disaster.

The February 6 earthquake was the worst natural disaster to strike modern-day Türkiye, with more than 52,000 people killed. “Milwaukee Independent” traveled across Türkiye to document conditions and relief efforts a month later in early March, focusing on the hardest hit areas of Adiyaman and Hatay.

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred on February 6 in southern Türkiye near the northern border of Syria. It was followed nine hours later by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake located around 59 miles to the southwest. The first epicenter was located in Kahramanmaraş’s Pazarcık district, with the second in the Elbistan district.

It was the most devastating natural disaster to hit earthquake-prone Türkiye in more than 20 years. It was also as strong as the one that hit in 1939, considered the most powerful one ever recorded in the country. The February 6 earthquake disaster was centered near Gaziantep in south-central Türkiye, home to thousands of Syrian refugees. Many humanitarian aid organizations were also based there.

The hardest-hit cities of Adiyaman and Hatay have a rich history dating back to ancient times. They have seen the rise and fall of empires, the influence of various cultures, and the development of unique traditions and customs that continue to shape the region. Both Adiyaman and Hatay have remained important cultural and economic centers in Türkiye.

Adiyaman is located in southeastern Türkiye and is home to a number of important historical and cultural sites. The city’s formation dates back to the Neolithic period, and over the centuries it has been inhabited by a variety of civilizations including the Assyrians, Persians, Romans, and Byzantines.

During the Ottoman period, Adiyaman became an important center for agriculture and trade. Many important buildings were constructed during that time, including mosques, bazaars, and caravansaries.

One of the most famous landmarks in Adiyaman is Mount Nemrut, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. It is home to the ruins of a temple and a series of colossal statues – including King Antiochus I and the ancient gods of Zeus and Apollo – dating back to the 1st century BC.

“The only thing that has given us any comfort is that the statues on Mount Nemrut were not affected by the tremors. I went to the site two days after the earthquake, and saw that the statues were not damaged even though Adiyaman suffered a great disaster,” said Irfan Cetinkaya, head of a cultural association in the Kahta district.

The history of Hatay can be traced back to ancient times when it was part of the Hittite Empire. Later, it was conquered by the Assyrians, Persians, and Alexander the Great’s armies. During the Roman period, Hatay was known as “Antioch,” and was considered one of the most important cities in the eastern Mediterranean.

Located in southern Türkiye on the Mediterranean coast, Hatay has a rich history that is intertwined with that of neighboring Syria. The city has been inhabited by a variety of cultures over the centuries, including the Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans. Throughout the Byzantine period, Hatay remained an important center of trade and commerce.

One of the most famous landmarks in Hatay is the ancient city of Antakya, which was founded by the Greeks in the 4th century BC. It later became an important center of the Roman Empire. The city is home to a number of important historical and cultural sites, including the Antakya Museum, which houses a collection of Roman mosaics and other artifacts. None of the relics were damaged in the museum, but minor cracks formed on some plaster ceilings of the building.

Another site was not as fortunate. Saint Peter’s Grotto, a church built in the 1st century AD and said to be the world’s first Christian church, was severely destroyed during the February 6 earthquake in Hatay.

Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Hatay came under the control of France. In 1938, Hatay became an autonomous republic under French control, known as the Republic of Hatay. The republic was short-lived and in 1939, following a referendum, Hatay was annexed by Türkiye.

More than 300,000 buildings in 11 Turkish provinces either collapsed or were severely damaged on February 6. That forced almost two million earthquake victims in Türkiye to seek long-term shelter and live in a half million tents. According to the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), an estimated 41,000 people live in nearly 31,000 containers. An unknown amount of survivors are also living in dormitories and guesthouses.

Roughly 25,000 toilets and showers were established in the disaster areas. AFAD’s figures showed that about 83 people use the same toilet and shower in tent and container camps, even six weeks after the earthquake.

An estimated 108,000 people were injured in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. The official death toll hoovers at 52,000, with more expected as bodies are recovered from the rubble of homes and residential buildings. Numerous aftershocks, a total reaching 19,000, have occurred daily since February 6, with several dozen of them being over a 5.0 magnitude.

A massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck parts of Türkiye and Syria on February 6. The Milwaukee public is encouraged to make donations to Türk Kizilay, the Turkish Red Crescent, in support of their vital crisis relief work.

Lee Matz

Lee Matz