From an old black
cassette player, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” rings out
through a damaged neighbourhood of the ancient Turkish city of
Antakya, where few residents remain since two devastating
earthquakes left it in ruins nearly a month ago.
Almost all of the city’s shops were closed and rows of
buildings lay in heaps of rubble, but Mehmet Serkan Sincan, an
antique trader who decided to stay put, laid out his wares on
the street and played music for passersby — just as he did
before the quakes struck.
A print of Salvador Dali’s famed melting clocks hung
prominently on the outside wall of his damaged shop, alongside
tapestries of a large Mosque and another depicting Jesus leading
a flock of sheep to water.
In a city where life has come to a standstill, 50-year-old
Sincan, who counted friends and neighbours among thousands killed in the disaster, said setting up the display as
usual was a way to maintain some semblance of normalcy.
“Even before the earthquake, these chairs were outside, I
had items outside to show that we run an antique shop … This
is normal, classic life for us … So we have returned to
normal,” he said. “We’re happy here.”
In streets once bustling with tourists, most passersby are
now soldiers, police officers and other emergency workers.
Salvaging the goods
Sincan said the historic building housing his store has been
deemed safe by engineers, with the damage limited to plasterwork
and a few non-load bearing walls.
But there was also damage to thousands of antique items he
has gathered over the years.
Inside the building, vases, teacups, saucers and other
crockery lay jolted from their places in cabinets and shattered
multicoloured glass and broken stone covered the floor among
pieces of silverware, a candelabra and smashed wooden furniture.
Sincan walked through the store salvaging what he could: a
portrait of his father, a cartoonish image of Albert Einstein
with his tongue out; a faded copy of the Mona Lisa.
In one room, a wall collapsed on top of his collection of
Turkish antique glassware.
“I saved a bit, the rest is under there and I don’t think
it’s all broken. When we tidy up here a few more glasses will
come out, God willing,” he said with a toothy grin.
The earthquake left many of the historic buildings in a city
with a strong history of religious diversity in ruins — including churches dating back to antiquity and many of the
city’s old mosques.
The imams who used to make the Muslim call to prayer five
times a day also left, Sincan said, prompting him to take on the
sacred task himself.
“I’m not hearing the calls for the prayers. I have been
praying for 20 years, and so that hurt me,” he said.
Several times a day, he climbs up the stairs of his building
onto a patio perched above the street and, in a loud voice,
calls believers to pray.
“It is a matter of honour for Turks. We say that the flag
doesn’t go down and the Adhans (call to prayer) don’t stop,” he
A man who has made a living from old things, Sincan said he
took a historical view of the earthquake’s devastation.
Antakya has been heavily damaged
or destroyed several times over more than 2,000 years, both by
earthquakes and conquest as it changed hands between ancient
Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Ottomans.
Sincan said he was confident the city would rise again.
“Antakya has fallen six times, this was the 6.5th time. God
willing, we’ll rebuild it until the 7th time.”