On 6 February at 4.17am local time, the first of two powerful earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks caused massive destruction across southeast Türkiye and northwest Syria. Over 55,000 people lost their lives and approaching 130,000 were injured. Estimates are that close to 18 million people have been impacted.
SAT-7 TÜRK staff in our Istanbul studio have been deeply affected by what was the Turkish Republic’s worst disaster in a century. Although far from the disaster zone, many grew up in this region and have family there. Hatay province with its capital of Antakya (biblical Antioch) has continued to have a relatively large Christian community. In Syria, the worst-hit areas included Aleppo, with a strong Christian presence, and Idlib, a rebel-controlled area that remains largely isolated.
Since February, SAT-7 TÜRK has worked hard to support a grieving nation with the aim of channelling God’s love and hope, as well as practical advice. Live programmes such as Worldview offered prayer, gave information about churches that were providing shelter and food, and drew on Scripture to address feelings of confusion and anger. A film crew travelled to meet people in the affected area as soon as the authorities gave them permission.
The places of worship were destroyed, but the church community was more alive and stronger than ever.” Melih Ekener, SAT-7 TÜRK Executive Director
In the disaster zone, the team met with shocked locals and filmed with church leaders and Christians serving in field hospitals and feeding stations. Presenter Senem Ekener interviewed Ali Öztürk, pastor of İzmir Lighthouse Church, whose team of volunteers had travelled over 1,000 kilometres to distribute food and cook for residents who had lost everything.
SAT-7 TÜRK Executive Director Melih Ekener said that amidst flattened towns and devastated residents, he saw local and international Christians working selflessly in the relief effort. “The places of worship were destroyed,” he said, “but the church community was more alive and stronger than ever.”
From our Beirut studio in Lebanon, several live programmes on SAT-7 ARABIC focused on the situation of residents in neighbouring Syria. Families sheltering at the Aleppo Alliance Church shared their fears at each aftershock but also thanked God for His protection and for the humanitarian workers offering care.
You Are Not Alone spoke live to Ali Saifeldeen, part of a 72-member volunteer firefighter team from Lebanon which was seeking to locate survivors beneath the rubble in Aleppo. Happily, after hours of searching they were able to rescue a woman and her child.
As the months have passed – and the disaster has long slipped from international news bulletins – the people affected remain very much in need of support. SAT-7 TÜRK has prioritised care for the quake survivors, even while much of the country’s own media was preoccupied with the nation’s presidential and parliamentary elections. “We are doing the best we can to put specialists, geologists, emergency care personnel, psychologists on our screens to help people who are going through these hard times,” said Executive Assistant, Annamaria Cedolin.
Realising that traffickers could exploit vulnerable children in the situation, Homemade hosted two lawyers who gave advice on child protection. Parents Are Asking spoke to a trauma specialist on how to help children heal from shock and anxiety.
SAT-7 also prioritised support for its own team. Istanbul itself sits on a major fault line and many staff are concerned because their own homes would not withstand a major earthquake. The team has received first aid training, some have attended disaster response courses, and a counsellor is available to all staff.
Three months after the quake, SAT-7 TÜRK returned to the disaster zone. In a special one-hour documentary, Can Yazırlıoğlu visited his home province of Hatay to hear how people are coping. One resident who lost his home described how many are living in tents and shipping containers while the slow work of rebuilding continues. He asked for prayer: “We ask God to give us strength, not only for those affected by earthquake and displacement, but to help others. Spiritually and physically, we need your prayers. If you pray for us, we will receive strength from God.”