On Trauma: 2023 Turkey and Syria Earthquake

I am devastated, angry, and shocked. I am so many things, but not okay. I go to work, come back home, and tend to my daily routine, all while trying to ward off the ghosts of the past. It’s not my first earthquake trauma, but I hope it will be the last. 

I still remember how she paced our living room, biting her lip and muttering. We soon found ourselves on a bus—my mother, younger brother, and I. I would have been on cloud nine any other day because I had been missing my grandparents, but I wasn’t even sure if their house was still there that day. 

Dealing with trauma

When the bus entered my hometown, we saw the collapsed buildings left and right. My mom moaned in agony while I tried so hard not to cry, with tears welling in my eyes and a burning feeling in my throat. Only when we got off the bus and ran to my grandparents’ apartment could we calm down. 

It stood like a monument among our neighbors’ collapsed buildings. Few apartments survived, and my grandparents’ was one of them. My grandfather was standing in front of the building, unaware that the Alzheimer’s that claimed his life a decade later was about to be triggered by the earthquake. 

I don’t have a clear memory of the tragedy I witnessed as a kid. All I remember is that we slept in a Turkish Red Crescent tent for a few weeks. I spent my days wandering around the rubble, daydreaming, playing, and reading books. My grandmother defended us against the rats that emerged at night. 

Lost childhood

I wasn’t scared or sad. I was too traumatized to feel anything. Nobody thought about children anyway. We survived, and that was all we needed. I saw graphic things that no children in the world should see. And I still remember the putrefying smell in the air that I am unable to forget.

Photo by Artak Petrosyan on Unsplash

My mom played the dad in “Life is Beautiful” and told me the source of the smell was the rotten watermelons. I knew she was lying, but I nodded and went along with it. For the first time in my life, I forwent my naughty instincts and wanted to be a docile child. That itself was a sign of the significant trauma I was going through. 

The summer of 1999 was the worst summer of my life and robbed me of my childhood. I felt invisible as a child and was somehow forgotten. When I wanted something, I reminded myself of how some of my school friends died. I matured much faster after that, learning to care for others and disregard my emotional needs. 

I was also sensitive to others’ moods because I saw how natural disasters could wreak havoc on people. I learned to tiptoe around adults, not to get in their way or irritate them. A child should never have to learn these traits. The earthquake didn’t only claim lives but also my generation’s childhood. 

Survivor’s guilt

The earthquake politics

I wanted to write this blog post to get these thoughts off my chest and raise as much awareness as possible. If you wish to make donations, please pay attention to where your money goes. The organizations I list here are trustworthy and recognized in my country. 

In an ideal world, all survivors would receive therapy subsidized by the government. Yet, I know that isn’t possible in Turkey. All I can do is write about my experience because I am the only person I truly know. I understand how colossal the psychological damages of surviving a catastrophe can be. 

And I know it’s not the type of story you wish to read on my blog, but I can’t bury my head in the sand while the world of my people is turned upside down. Thank you for reading this. Keep both Turkey and Syria in your prayers.

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  1. Shahbaz Ashraf

    This post is so moving that I feel myself at loss for words.
    The earthquake trauma of your childhood still haunts you. Losing one’s families and friends in a natural disaster is a lifetime tragedy. One can neither forget it, nor can live a normal life afterwards.
    My heart goes out to all the affected families. Lots of prayers for you as well.


    1. Bahanur

      Thank you, Shahbaz. It’s heartbreaking to imagine all those people suffering from the aftermath in the middle of the winter. I am grateful to be alive and have my family’s house intact.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. leightontravels

    A riveting read, Bahanur. I’m so sorry that you and tour family had to go through this. It is a mental anguish that I’m not sure I can begin to comprehend. It certainly makes me thank my lucky stars for the cards I’ve been dealt in life. Be kind to yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bahanur

      Thank you so much 🙏 It’s been hard to deal with this since it’s not over, but I am doing my best to be kind to myself.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Travel with a Pen

    It’s been tough following up on the news of this tragedy. I’m sorry you had to go through that as a child and now, to see this happen as an adult? Can’t imagine. Praying for strength to go through these times for the families affected. It is unimaginable and so sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bahanur

      Thank you for your comment 🙏 I can’t even imagine what people are going through right now because the government help isn’t enough, and the survivors don’t even have proper tents right now, let alone housing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. kegarland

    I’m sorry to hear you went through this tragedy. Also, no need to apologize for what you choose to write on YOUR blog. I totally understand having a full range of emotions and having to deal with being triggered. Sending you peace and love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bahanur

      Thank you so much 🙏 Writing this post was emotionally taxing because of all these triggers, but I’m glad I got it off my chest at the expense of diverting my blog from its theme.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Milena Alien

    Thank you for sharing this, do not be hesitant to write about things that matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bahanur

      Thank you so much Milena 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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