In Antakya, residents are mourning their city

In Antakya, residents are mourning their city

“I will be long dead before the city is rebuilt”, said Abdullah, 49, contemplating with sadness the entry of what used to be the old souqs of Antakya, the capital of Hatay province in Turkey.

The historic city, known as Antioch during the ancient period, has been wiped out by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit south-east Turkey in the early hours of Monday. By Sunday, the death toll in Turkey and neighbouring areas of northern Syria had passed 25,000.

Once popular with tourists, the old town has been reduced to dust. One of the alleys leading to the old souq looks like it might collapse at any time.

“I advise you stay away from there”, he warned, pointing at the small alley filled with broken glasses.

“My brother and his family was stuck in the shop just right next to this entrance. It was before the rescue teams reached the city. We managed to get him out with some friends and the help of the Turkish military, after 36 hours. We could hear their voices the whole time”, he recalled.

His brother is now safe, but Abdullah said his lost several of his family members in the tragedy.

“I lost not only some of my loved-ones people but also my past: this is the place where I grew up, and there is nothing left of it”, he said.

In Antakya, residents are mourning the dead as much as their cherished city.

“We lost our history as a city”, he added.

Antakya is known for its rich historic heritage — it was one of the Roman Empire’s biggest cities, and was ruled by the Greeks, the Byzantines and the Ottomans. It is known for being a multicultural and multi-religious place, home to Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Arabs and Jews.

It was reported that the earthquake caused colossal architectural damage, partially destroying or flattened iconic landmarks, such as the Habib-i Najjar Mosque, the 19th-century St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and the city’s main synagogue.

Dubbed as the “the cradle of Christianity”, it is host to one of the oldest churches, St. Pierre Church. The entry is locked, but, from afar, the church did not suffer any major damages, the National could confirm.

For Abdullah, there is no coming back from the disaster. “This is not the first time Antakya has been destroyed, we have learnt that in history classes but I won’t be around when they rebuild it”.

He said his family is now in a safe place and does not plan on coming back.

But others can’t resolve themselves to leave, despite the situation, such as Andar. The fifty-one-year-old man lost his house in the disaster. “Three of my relatives died in the house next to mine”, he said, pointing at a wrecked building”.

“We buried them yesterday”, he said.

While he reckoned that 70 per cent of the city was gone, he does not see himself living anywhere else.

“This is my city, where I was born, where else am I suppose go?“, he asked.

Standing in front their destroyed house, his wife Yasmina nodded. “We want to stay here, we hope we can rebuild our house with some help”.

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