Albertans pray, organize aid for family members who survived earthquake in Turkey and Syria

Albertans with friends and family members in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria scrambled to find out if their loved ones were safe after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake occurred in the region on Monday morning.

Many buildings in both countries collapsed during the disaster, killing thousands of people.

Ercan Kaya’s cousin, who lived in Gaziantep, Turkey, was among them. 

Kaya, a chef who runs a home-based Turkish dessert business on Edmonton’s north side, said he has been watching television reports and texting with family members constantly since first hearing about the earthquake from a friend last night. 

He said his cousin had been in one of the buildings that collapsed — his body has been recovered — and he is still waiting to hear if one of his brothers has survived. His brother lives in Adiyaman, another Turkish city affected by the earthquake.

Kaya said the 10-hour time difference and internet connectivity problems in Turkey have made communicating with people there difficult. Some people are encouraging him to text instead of call because they are having trouble charging their phones. 

“The distance is so far and we can’t do anything,” he said. 

“The only thing is to be patient and pray to God to help them.”

Fethi Ozbak, who moved to Canada in 2010 to go to school and settled in Edmonton, said the destruction in his hometown of Gaziantep has been devastating to watch from afar.

Ozbak said his mother’s voice sounded shaky when she called him during the disaster.

His parents and sister left their apartment buildings and made their way to a crowded government shelter, he said. 

His mother described their surroundings as “the end of the world.” 

Ozbak said he had trouble sleeping through the night, waking up several times to check the death toll online.

He started a GoFundMe campaign on Monday morning to collect donations for people in Turkey and he hopes to raise $50,000 for local and national relief organizations.

Adel Ghannam, who lives in Calgary, said approximately 20 of his extended family members died after the earthquake struck the Syrian city of Aleppo. He learned about the deaths through social media and his sister, who lives in Turkey.

“Lots of people, they are still under the houses,” he said.

A man stands in front of a Canadian flag.
Adel Ghannam, who lives in Calgary, said he lost more than a dozen extended family members in Syria to the earthquake. (Submitted by Adel Ghannam)

Ghannam said he hopes the Canadian federal government helps people in northern Syria dealing with the disaster.

Eyup Ozturk, director of Nebula Academy, a private Islamic school in Edmonton, said some of his colleagues’ family members in Turkey have lost their homes and are staying in cars while they wait for shelter. 

Teachers are telling students, many of whom have connections to Turkey and Syria, to “stay strong” and pray for people, he said.

The Turkish Canadian Society of Edmonton is starting to organize relief campaigns.

President Sim Senol said the society plans to post a list of needed supplies on social media and is arranging transportation with the Turkish Consulate General in Vancouver and Turkish Airlines.

Sim Senol is the president of the Turkish Canadian Society of Edmonton. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

Senol said the society will collect cash donations on Friday at their hall at 15450 105th Ave., but she is waiting to see if the federal government will announce donation matching before directing people where to donate.

Other cultural associations have been contacting the society to offer help.

“We’re grateful for all the support we’re getting from all the communities,” she said.

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