‘The Monday that changed everything.’ We talked to a Turk coming from the epicentre of the earthquake

Huseyin Celik

‘When I was finally able to reconnect with my family, I saw my mother’s hands shaking.’ Huseyin Celik, a journalist from Turkey living in Warsaw, tells Salam Lab about the earthquake

‘That Monday changed everything. My homeland has not had a tragedy like this in the last few decades. The government of Turkey said it was the second-largest earthquake in the country’s history. The first occurred in 1939, and the second was last Monday.

I thought it was just an ordinary earthquake 

The earthquake happened on Monday morning at 4:17 Turkish time (2:17 Polish time). I learned about it from the media. I come from Turkey, but I have been living and studying in Warsaw for several years. That morning I thought it was just an ordinary earthquake, a common thing in this country. They are a natural phenomenon here because Turkey lies at the confluence of different tectonic plates. That is why it didn’t surprise me at first. I also survived a magnitude 4.5 earthquake. However, something like this has not happened for about 90 years. The minute I found out more, I was horrified. I come from Gaziantep, a beautiful city famous for its pistachios. Gaziantep is also one of the cities most affected by the quake. 

I immediately tried to contact my family without success. I stayed up late that night. That’s why I had heard about the earthquake before I went to sleep. I was studying; the exam season is underway. Around 4:00 am, I went to bed. I had no strength left. Friends from Poland started calling me, asking if everything was ok. Then I realized that what had happened was a disaster. I didn’t sleep for a moment that night. Relatives in Turkey did not try to reach me. Due to the earthquake, Turkish telephone lines were down, and electricity and gas were cut off. Finally, I received a message from my family. However, we were unable to talk. I couldn’t see them on the webcam. In Turkey, there are my parents, brothers and sister.


Around 8:00 am, I got out of bed and started reading the latest media reports. The death toll grew with every minute. I knew my loved ones were waiting in the car outside and were relatively safe. I thought to myself, “Okay, they’ll be home soon.” However, the government said people should not return to their homes for three days. All of that is due to the aftershocks. There were dozens of them. According to the AFAD (Organization for managing natural disasters and emergencies in Turkey), some were of 6 or 7 magnitudes. According to experts, they can last even more than half a year. I saw videos online showing how buildings and people’s houses were collapsing. Last night I had a video call with my family. I saw my mother’s hands still shaking. I saw pain and indescribable fear in my dad’s eyes.

All my loved ones were gathered in one place

I spoke to them while they were in their car. Eventually, they left the city and went to the countryside to our second home. However, there is no heating there. Besides that, they had to get some fuel, which they ran out of.

Moreover, Turkey is currently facing a fuel crisis, which did not make the whole situation easier. Fuel was challenging to come by. My parents and siblings tried to take shelter in a school open to those in need. However, there were too many people inside and very little space left. The exhausted ones had no place to lie down. Eventually, my entire family, including the distant ones, i.e. aunts, uncles and cousins, took shelter with one of my relatives who lived outside the city. I got a video where I saw more than 20 people in a small room. They were all sleeping close to each other, practically cuddling—all my loved ones gathered in one place.

In cities hit by an earthquake, there is often no place to shelter. There is no food; the shops are closed. The aftermath of the earthquake is felt in dozens of cities. The entire districts have practically ceased to exist. There are still people under the rubble, but not all of them have been reached.

There are organizations, including AFAD, and volunteers from more than 45 countries, including Poland, helping on the spot. More than 4,000 people were killed on Tuesday, and another 20,000 were injured. These numbers will continue to grow. It is estimated that there will be 10,000 deaths and over 50,000 wounded. The outcome of the earthquake will also affect us in the future for a very long time. 

Syria will suffer twice as much

On the Syrian side, the situation is even direr. These people are entirely on their own. There is no help from the government. The country is at war and suffers from a humanitarian crisis that has been going on for years.

I received many messages from Polish friends with words of support and solidarity. I am a Muslim, and I work towards interreligious dialogue. A friend who is a priest said that he would pray for the people of Turkey and Syria. Other friends offered to organize a fundraiser. It moved me. Additionally, I was touched by the fact that so many countries were involved in helping us. Each one of us can support Turkey and Syria. For example, by donating to an AFAD fundraiser. In addition, it is worth following the posts of the Turkish Embassy in Warsaw.


Huseyin Celik – an aspiring journalist from Turkey living in Warsaw. Student of international relations. As a Salam Lab media department volunteer, he works towards peace, dialogue and human rights in several organizations. You can follow Huseyin on FB on his page “Co się dzieje w Turcji?” (‘What’s going on in Turkey?’) and private IG @hsynclk27.

Translated by Aleksandra Leks.


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