As the death toll following Monday’s earthquakes in Turkey and Syria tops 11,000, watching news of the devastation has been a painful waiting game for many of the Netherlands’ 430,000-strong Turkish community.
‘I’m safe, so I don’t have worries,’ says 19-year-old Muhammed Guren. ‘But it’s heartbreaking. It’s my home county. I can’t do anything to help except donate money. I feel sad and helpless. I’m watching Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook all day long. All you see is the earthquake.’
Guren’s family on his mother’s side live in Izmir in the west of the country so were spared the worst of the devastation. But his sister-in-law is from the central city of Kayseri, hard-hit by the earthquakes. ‘Her family felt the earthquake badly. They’re okay, but their apartment has been destroyed,’ says Guren. They are currently staying with an aunt.
Guren appreciates the efforts of Dutch people trying to help, including his own bank. ‘If you login to ING today [Tuesday], it directs you to the Dutch Red Cross. I see Dutch people trying to help.’
But for others, the first Dutch rescue team, which arrived in the area on Monday night, is not enough. ‘Sixty-five people and eight dogs?’ scoffs an Amsterdam shop owner who doesn’t want to use her name. ‘It’s nothing.’
A second Dutch flight arrived in southern Turkey on Tuesday carrying rescue workers and 15 tonnes of equipment to help search for survivors. NOS reports they have so far rescued seven people in the hard-hit province of Hatay.
Fear and waiting
‘I am just waiting, waiting, waiting for survivors. And crying, crying, crying,’ says the 55-year-old shop owner. ‘We are one people. We love each other and we want to go to help, but it’s not possible. I don’t sleep. I just watch TV. If it was possible to go, I’d go.’
She says it’s also been impossible to reach friends and family in the affected regions, as all communication lines are down. ‘People can’t speak with their families. It’s torturous.’
She is from Bursa in northwest Turkey and survived the devastating 1999 earthquake near there, when some 17,000 people were killed about 60 miles from Istanbul. ‘It was heavy. Our car vanished into a hole. The house was shaking. The fault line where I’m from [North Anatolian Fault Zone] is older than the one where the recent earthquake occurred [East Anatolian Fault Zone]. He was sleeping but woke up. We are worried ours will also wake up again.’
The Milli Görus mosque in Hilversum is working with the humanitarian organisation HASENE International to get money to Turkey as quickly as possible. The mosque’s chairman, Ramazan Deniz, says as of Tuesday, they’ve raised €605,000 in the Netherlands and €3.5 million throughout Europe.
‘Money will go faster than trucks now to Turkey,’ he says. ‘We have people on the ground there working, buying and distributing things people need. There are even mobile bakeries that can serve up to 15,000 loaves of bread each.’
He says thankfully, no one from his mosque lost family members in the earthquakes. ‘But we are very shocked. We are praying and helping each other stick together to stay strong.’ Friday’s prayer will be dedicated to earthquake victims.
Giro555 has also been opened up to earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria. ‘It is a terrible disaster, the gigantic size of which we cannot yet oversee,’ says action chairman Michiel Servaes. ‘Immediate emergency aid is needed, such as medical care, blankets, food and clean drinking water. Giro555 … calls on the Netherlands to donate for all women, men and children affected.’
The last time Giro555 was open was in February 2022, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The special account number is an initiative of 11 aid organizations, including the Netherlands Red Cross, Oxfam Novib, Save the Children and UNICEF Netherlands.
The Dutch cabinet has allocated a further €10 million to help the rescue mission in Syria, which is further complicated by years of civil war.
But others are also putting their faith in God. ‘We can give money, but we can’t do anything else from here,’ says Muqremin Mahmutogullari, who attends a mosque in Amsterdam. ‘We believe in Allah. And he decides.’
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