Enfield’s Turkish-speaking community appeals for help to save earthquake victims

Many friends and relatives of Enfield residents are among the several thousand people killed by Monday’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria, reports James Cracknell

Hundreds of people gathered at the Enfield Alevi Cultural Centre on Monday morning as news of the earthquake first broke (credit Israfi Erbil)
Hundreds of people gathered at the Enfield Alevi Cultural Centre on Monday morning as news of the earthquake first broke (credit Israfil Erbil)

Turkish-speaking residents in Enfield are appealing for help as they wait nervously for updates from friends and relatives living in the areas devastated yesterday by a major earthquake.

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria in the early hours of Monday (6th), followed by an aftershock that was almost as strong just a few hours later. It is one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded in the region and several thousand are already confirmed dead, with fears the toll could rise above 20,000 as the scale of the devastation becomes clearer.

Enfield borough has the largest Turkish-speaking community in the country and many have friends and relatives living in the areas affected by Monday’s earthquake. Since news of the disaster first broke, hundreds have been gathering at the Enfield Alevi Cultural Centre in Edmonton, run by the British Alevi Federation (BAF).

Speaking to the Dispatch at the cultural centre this morning (Tuesday 7th), Emel Dag said around 80% of buildings in Elbistan where she grew up had been destroyed by the quake. “There are 150,000 people living there but some of the [collapsed] buildings have not even been touched. There are people under the rubble who can’t be reached.

“There is no water, there is no electricity. About an hour ago we heard some food and drink was arriving.”

The wreckage of a collapsed building, Diyarbakır, Turkey (credit VOA/Wikimedia Commons)

Because such a vast area of Turkey and Syria have been affected, rescue teams face an enormous task reaching all of the towns and villages. The British government has confirmed it will send 76 rescuers to the region.

Emel said: “It is a big area to cover. They are sending people to help but they need tractors, they need machinery to lift the rubble, at the moment they are just using shovels. The city centre [of Elbistan] has been completely destroyed.”

People gathering at the Enfield Alevi Cultural Centre have been sent harrowing videos and pictures of the devastation, including people trapped under rubble who cannot be reached. Rescue efforts are further hampered by the freezing conditions in Turkey and the continuing aftershocks which have yet to stop.

“Every half-an-hour there is more shaking,” said Emel. “Everyone is so terrified. They can hear people crying but they can’t help them. If they haven’t already died, they could now freeze to death.”

One of Enfield’s former mayors, Ali Bakır, is also from Elbistan and told the Dispatch: “My mother and father were saved, but we have not heard from my other relatives and I believe they are all dead. I was in touch with two people there [in Elbistan] but now their phone battery has run out and since this morning [Tuesday] I can’t communicate with anyone.

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“It is so, so sad what is happening.”

Enfield Alevi Cultural Centre
Enfield Alevi Cultural Centre

Israfil Erbil, a BAF executive, said the charity was appealing directly for money which it will send on to its sister organisations in Turkey where the relief effort is being co-ordinated.

“We have had hundreds of people come in [to the Enfield centre] trying to contact relatives,” he said. “We are trying to help them, but as time passes they lose hope for their relatives under the rubble.”

Israfil, who lived in Turkey until the age of 14, said one of the friends he grew up with in Marash had been killed by the quake. “We know a lot of people affected. But it is difficult to reach them all because of the communication problems. It is unbelievable.”

Dilek Incedal, BAF’s co-chair, was also at the Enfield centre today. She told the Dispatch: “We are contacting all the Alevi centres in Turkey and they are open and providing food.

“Here we are helping people who have lost relatives. People are coming in and they want to do something, they are waiting for news. We are offering them emotional support.”

Dilek said that she and others at the centre did not trust the Turkish government led by Recep Erdoğan to deliver the help that people needed. Instead BAF is appealing for donations which will be sent directly to aid groups in the region.

Enfield Alevi Cultural Centre
People gathering at Enfield Alevi Cultural Centre on Tuesday as they await news from Turkey

Enfield North MP Feryal Clark, who was born in Turkey and has family in one of the affected areas, spent much of Monday at the centre and later appeared on Newsnight, saying: “The rescue effort is really important, every second is going to count for those people waiting to be rescued from the rubble.”

Speaking to the Dispatch on Tuesday afternoon, Feryal added: “People need food, they are freezing, sanitation is incredibly important. We need the British government to look at what is needed.

“Local NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and their communities are much better at targeting help on the ground and that is why we need the big NGOs to work with local NGOs and local groups to deliver the help that is needed.

“People are really worried, they are upset, they are in shock. They can’t travel back [to Turkey] because there are no flights in the region. They are still coming to terms with what has happened.”

Donate to the British Alevi Federation appeal using the following bank details:
Sort code 20-46-60
Account number 60570966
Reference ‘earthquake’

For more information about other earthquake fundraising appeals:

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