The ones who stayed behind

It was my first time shooting an earthquake. My camera had captured landscapes, beauty and warm colours before. But, for the first time, my camera lens was catching a cold, painful and hurtful scene…

It was 17 minutes past 4, my first 30 minutes of sleep. A photographer who came to Diyarbakır to hold a photography workshop was my guest that night. After sending my guest to his place, we went to our beds with another guest, my university friend. We were slightly tipsy, but there was no uncontrolled drunkenness. Suddenly we found ourselves in the dark arms of that terrible sway. I shouted, not realising I was running to wake up my friend.

Even though I thought the only thing I could take with me in that turmoil was my camera, since I was badly tested in the earthquake in Van, we went straight down. Even though we were on the first floor, it took us so long to go down that it’s hard to describe. Since my friend’s family lived nearby, he immediately went to them.

I saw my photographer friend Ferzan, who was staying in the building just across from where I lived. Like me, he could throw himself into an empty space. I received dozens of calls and messages without realising what was happening. Without recognising it, I also called my girlfriend, whom I had not seen for a long time, and hearing her voice calmed me down a bit.


I was shocked when I read on Twitter that there were buildings destroyed in the Ofis (Yenişehir) district of Diyarbakır; the earthquake affected ten cities, dozens of people died, hundreds of buildings were destroyed, and the casualties were hefty in Hatay, Maraş and Adıyaman. Although I told Ferzan that we needed to photograph the destroyed buildings and people in Diyarbakır, he did not take kindly to this and said I should go alone. He was right; Ferzan had photographed enough wars, earthquakes, disasters and death. As someone who had not recovered for a long time, as he had filmed the battle of Kobanî and the urban wars, he was right. After I said goodbye to him, I returned to the building and got my camera. On my way out, I looked at my books, photos and paintings on the wall, my records that I hadn’t listened to for a long time, my diaries, my cyclamen flower, and the revani dessert that was left half on the plate on the table. It was as if I was looking at my beloved home for the last time.

As soon as I went down, I saw people in the Ofis going to a certain point in groups, I thought there might be a collapsed building there, and I headed in the same direction. There were worried and fearful eyes, screams and cries next to a collapsed building. Even though I had experienced the Van earthquake before, it was my first time shooting an earthquake. My camera had captured landscapes, beauty and warm colours before. But, for the first time, my camera lens was catching a cold, painful and hurtful scene…


In the evening of the same day, I went to Batman, their village, with a friend of mine. I spent the night there and went to Van the next day. But I could only stay one day in Van; running away from the centre of pain was embarrassing for me. So, as I did not feel well, I returned to Diyarbakır the next day; and we set out for Adıyaman with my friend who was staying at home in Batman and the team that was with him. It was the first hours of the morning when we arrived in Adıyaman. We distributed supplies to the villages in the centre of Adıyaman with the team until the afternoon; then, we went to the city centre. We did not know precisely where the city centre was. There were destroyed buildings, injured people, ambulance sirens, dust, garbage, piles of clothes and bread, rubble, worried stray animals, and many things left unfinished. I didn’t know exactly what we would do or where to go. The idea that the only thing I could do was to take pictures was tiring and depressing to me. The pain of not being able to help people’s pain…

We slowly made our way into the city. It hurt me to photograph people who were displaced from their homes (I was going to cry when I pressed the shutter button a week later when I took a photo at the children’s cemetery). Corpses were in the middle of the street; the state was not in the earthquake zone. People protested against this situation before they could even experience their pain; “Where is this state” and “Where is the government? Are they waiting for us to die?” Cries like this were everywhere. In the first days of February, people were left homeless and could not even find a tent. Because we would later learn that an institution of the state, Kızılay (The Red Crescent in Turkey), sold tents instead of helping people in difficult times. Work machines, which were visible in places, could not reach most areas. And people were like a bucket of a ladle with their hands, digging debris with their nails. In the middle of the night, people tried to warm up by burning wood. The night went on for too long, and waking up the following day meant waking up to the same pain. Almost every house had one or more dead.

I wandered around the city with my friend, if it could be called a city. Since the buildings were stacked on top of and next to each other, we could even see a few blocks from the street we were on because all the buildings were either collapsed or on the verge of being collapsed. I took pictures all day and was in desperation. We went to the Cemevi to spend the night, where we could eat something. The following two or three days were the same. Even though we wanted to help people’s pain, we couldn’t calm the pain in their hearts. It was a little easier just to be able to make a child smile. Other than that, everything was difficult. I didn’t want to see the apocalypse while living; I saw it while I was alive…

The way back

Then I came back. I returned with the unbearably of being back physically but leaving my thoughts behind. Irreparable wounds, screams, desperate looks, hours waiting for death, the squeak of ladle pallets, the sounds of sirens, the cries of mothers, wedding albums scattered on the streets, the state and government leaving people alone and people’s anger and resentment at this isolation, black and white images, corpse smells, funerals bags, the curtains of the half-destroyed buildings, the dust, the chaos and stagnation between people getting nowhere and always going somewhere…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button