On the morning of February 6, a huge (magnitude of 7.8) earthquake struck southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria closely followed by numerous aftershocks – including one that was almost as large as the first. More than 46,000 people have died and at least 110,000 are injured with rescuers racing to pull survivors from beneath the rubble. It caused immense damage to the infrastructure in both countries, with a reported initial figure of repairs being estimated at $85 billion.
The cultural heritage in Turkey and Syria also suffered catastrophic damage affecting the historical and archaeological sites in the northeast, northwest, and costal region of Syria. Syria’s Cultural heritage has long been under threat due to the ongoing conflict as well as the negative effects of climate change resulting in weakened structures. The earthquake compounded this damage causing cracks, fissures, and collapses in walls, arches, and reservoirs. The damaged sites include the remains of ancient cities, castles, mosques, churches, historical monuments and archaeological sites.
However it was the humanitarian situation, in northern Syria and Turkey, that received the greatest share of damage. The humanitarian crises, which has been ongoing in Syria over the past 12 years due to conflict, has been exacerbated especially as the area where the earthquake hit hosts more than 4 million displaced Syrians.
This report will focus on those who have been displaced from Palmyra to southern Turkey and northern Syria.
In 2020 the “Palmyrene Voices Initiative” conducted a census of the diaspora of the Palmyrene people in Turkey with the number of displaced people reaching 8,500. 70 percent of these Palmyrenes live in the earthquake zones of Hatay, Gaziantep, Adana and Urfa, and have sustained enormous casualties and property damage.
In the city of Antakya within the state of Hatay, 300 Palmyrene people have died with many families still under the rubble waiting for the rescue teams to recover the bodies..
Survivors in Hatay and other eastern Syrian states have been left homeless and are suffering due to the current extremely cold temperatures. After several days some Palmyrenes were able to travel to their displaced relatives in other states such as Mersin, as well as to Istanbul, Konya, Aydin and Izmir. In Bosra, there are about 130 Palmyrene people looking for shelter with the same situation in other Syrian cities. However, most of the displaced Palmyrenes are unable to leave their devastated area and have either resorted to temporary camps that were installed in public facilities and squares, or they have no other alternative but to return to their previous homes that are damaged and without water, electricity, and heating services.
The Palmyrene people who live in northern Syria (whose number exceeds ten thousand) face the same fate. In the towns of Sarmada, Harem, Jenderis, Maarat Misrin, and Al-Bab many of them have died. From the families that survived, several of them were stuck under the rubble for days, and those that could went to temporary camps that were hastily set up from canvas tents to accommodate those left homeless.
Heritage For Peace through its initiative “Palmyrene Voices” has been working in collaboration with several other civil society organizations and individuals inside Syria to monitor the impact of the earthquake on the displaced people of Palmyra.. Among the affected Palmyerens are the craftsmen and women who received support from the Palmyrene Voice initiative in 2021 via funding from the ALIPH foundation. They are unable to work and need urgent assistance to be able to continue practicing their traditional handcrafts fearing loss of income as well as the threat of the extinction of such knowledge..
The measures that the Palmyrene Voices initiative will take to overcome the current disaster:
- Preparing a report about the impact of the earthquake on the Palmyrene community living in southern Turkey and northern Syria.
- Seek to collect donations for those affected in order to assist in overcoming the immediate ordeal.
- Follow-up to the Palmyrene Voices project by protecting the Palmyra intangible heritage by providing financial and logistical support to the Palmyrene craftsmen and women affected by the earthquake, allowing them to continue their handicrafts.