Gedikbulak, a Kurdish village of 2,000 people, lies near the shore of Lake
Van, close to the epicenter of the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake that
struck this region of eastern Turkey on October 23rd.
Cemal Köse stands in the ruins of his home. When the quake struck, the
family was having lunch. He and his nine children escaped with minor injuries,
but his wife was killed. The quake claimed ten lives in the village, 70 people
Almost all buildings in the village were either destroyed or dangerously
damaged by the quake. Now the entire population is living in tents.
The earthquake affected around 600,000 people. Almost the entire
populations of Van and Ercis are either unable, or too scared, to return to
their homes. Many seek shelter with relatives in outlying villages.
Ismail Gürbüz shows the tarpaulin-covered trailer in which he has slept for
five nights, in freezing conditions, since his home was destroyed in the quake.
Providing shelter for the victims has been one of the biggest challenges facing
Eyyup Ileri lost his brother, daughter-in-law and nine-year-old
granddaughter in the quake. While the initial aid effort focused only on the
cities, villages like Gedikbulak remained virtually forgotten. But Ileri says no
rescue effort could have saved his granddaughter.
Many people in Gedikbulak work as cattle traders; when the quake struck,
their livestock were mainly in mud brick sheds: most died. The stench of their
corpses has started to fill the air, but there are so many other concerns, they
have not had time to dispose of them.
Among the many buildings destroyed in the quake was the local
Another building that was irreparably damaged was the medical clinic. It served not
only Gedikbulak, but several neighbouring villages, and is essential to many
elderly residents. A temporary clinic has been set up in a tent
In Gedikbulak's wrecked medical clinic, a picture of Turkey's founder,
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, remains hanging on the wall.
All around the village, there are signs of the suddenness with which the
earthquake destroyed daily life.
Many of the damaged buildings are too unstable to enter.
Sulhattin Ileri stands outside the hulking remains of Gedikbulak's primary
school. When it was built under government direction 15 years ago, the villagers
complained it was not sound. In the wake of the earthquake, shoddy construction
standards have been blamed for the extent of the devastation.
The school had around 300 pupils, serving Gedikbulak and several other
villages. Fortunately the quake struck on a Sunday, when it was empty. A parent
meeting finished only an hour before.
Mustafa Demirel, an architect from Istanbul, assesses the job of building a
new school. A wealthy benefactor from Erzincan has offered to replace it. Like
many who have been moved by the quake victims' plight, Demirel is working for
Ahmet Misbar Demircan, mayor of Istanbul's Beyoglu neighbourhood, promises
to bring aid to the village. Representing the ruling Justice and Development
Party (AKP), he was sent here by the governor of Istanbul. Aiding the
overwhelmingly Kurdish quake victims has become a hot political issue. The AKP
and its rival, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, are accusing each
other of not helping enough.
Villagers put together a temporary living hut provided by the Turkish Red
Crescent. Already the temperature is dropping below zero at night, in winter it
will fall to an average of -8C.
Charities, municipalities and institutions have sent help to the quake
zone, mainly in the form of food and clothes. Many people say they have been
sent more than they need.
For now, all of Turkey is focused on their plight, but many in Gedikbulak
fear they will soon be forgotten. "We cannot stay living in temporary huts
forever," says Köse. "Everybody's saying they want to help now, but what about
in six months time?"
Five days after the quake, residents salvage material from their devastated
homes. Despite the disaster, most show determination to get on with life. But
the long-term fate of the village remains unclear. "We are waiting for the
government to announce something. If they do not help, we will have to move,"