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A father rummages through quake rubble to find his daughters’ memories

ISLAHIYE, Gaziantep —  Abdi Dogan, 51, is rummaging through the rubble of his two-storeyed house in Islahiye, a small town in southeastern Türkiye. His daughters have very specific requests – one wants her flute, and another is looking for her favourite hair dryer.

It has been nearly three weeks since two earthquakes – measured at magnitude 7.8 and 7.6 – tore through the region, devastating towns and cities and killing almost 50,000 people in Türkiye and neighbouring Syria.

Dogan, his wife and four daughters managed to escape before it came tumbling down like most of the buildings in the region, close to the epicentre of the first earthquake in Kahramanmaras.

The family shifted to Denizli, about 900 km from Islahiye, and are being put up with a family member. They are not sure what the future holds for them.

“I came back from Denizli to rescue some of our memories,” Dogan tells TRT World. “My daughters asked me to collect some of their stuff, like a hair dryer and a bracelet, from our collapsed apartment. They told me, ‘father, please bring back those items so dear to us’.”

Of his four daughters, the second is married but stayed with her sisters the night the earthquakes struck. Dogan worked at a yarn factory, which was also heavily damaged and knocked out of service by the temblors.

The house, built by Dogan’s father two decades ago, holds countless memories for the family of six.

“When I take their items back to them, they can recall our old days, refresh their memories. So that would be a good feeling for them,” Dogan says.

He says that his third daughter, 18-year-old Havva Naz, was adamant that he look for and bring back her hair dryer and hair straightener.

“Havva Naz told me, ‘I don’t want to get a new hairdryer. Our old hair dryer is better than any new one’,” Dogan recalls.

“She has curly hair. I told her, you look better this way, so you don’t need a hair straightener. But she insisted that she wants straight hair,” he says. “It’s life. Some want curly hair while others like straight hair, like my daughter.”

Among the items Dogan managed to retrieve from the rubble included Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a book of stories by Turkish writer Omer Seyfettin, and a copy of the Quran.

And he continues to find new items in the debris.

“This is my younger kid’s homework,” he says, showing a model of an iron bicycle made by the eight-year-old. “She always got good grades, producing nice models at her technology design class,” he says, holding the iron bicycle, even as an excavator demolished a damaged house across the street. 

But Dogan says he will return to Denizli after collecting all the usable items. He will have to find a new job. Rebuild his life. Marry off his three daughters. The eldest, 24, is a teacher and contributes to the family’s income.

Dogan’s predicament reflects the collective pain of loss and suffering of thousands who survived the natural disaster but have been left to cope with the trauma of losing family members apart from their homes and hearths.

Dogan himself lost one of his brothers-in-law and his kids in Islahiye. Some of his relatives also lost their lives in Kahramanmaras as well as Nurdagi, a district in the southeastern province of Gaziantep. And he was there in Nurdagi, retrieving bodies of relatives from the rubble.

Dogan’s car, parked in the family house’s garage in the basement, was also buried under the rubble. On Friday morning, he was trying to remove his car from the debris.

Dogan says the place where the house stood is sacred to him. After cleaning the debris, he wants to build a small house on the same plot.

“I have memories of this place. As my daughter insists on keeping his hair dryer’s memories intact, how can I easily give up this place?” he asks. “I have trees,” he says, pointing to olive and poplar trees in his garden.

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