Thieves stole furniture from places of worship in quake-torn Hatay

Thieves stole the belongings of the places of worship that survived from Feb. 6 earthquakes in Hatay province’s Antakya district. Many historical objects were looted due to the lack of security measures in the historical Affan neighborhood, where there were several churches, mosques, and a synagogue.

Burcu Özkaya Günaydın / Gazete Duvar

The surviving places of worship have being looted by thieves in Turkey’s southeastern Hatay province, hit hardest by Feb. 6 earthquakes.

The Affan neighborhood of Antakya district is one of the oldest settlements in the region and there are worship centers of three different religions in the neighborhood including churches, mosques, and a synagogue.

Like other buildings in the neighborhood, most of the places of worship were destroyed or heavily damaged in the earthquake. Also, thieves started to break into the places of worship that remained intact.

David Çağan, one of the administrators of the Church of the Apostles which was the only surviving church in Affan, said that the neighborhood was left to the mercy of thieves.

Çağan noted that Affan has been a rare place where Affan Mosque, Hıdır Tomb, Protestant Church, Church of the Apostles, Orthodox Church, synagogue, and historical houses are located side by side. He added, "Now it is officially destroyed by looters. These historical buildings suffered great damage in the earthquake, and if the remaining ones are not protected, they will disappear.”

Çağan underscored that this theft should not be considered a simple robbery and that what was actually stolen was the Antakya's culture of living together.

Even though Hatay's Church of the Apostles is not destroyed completely, it suffers great damage.

According to the church member, thieves stole the door of the historical Affan Mosque; the copper embroidered window railing, and two organs of the Church of the Apostles; and looted the Hıdır Tomb. “Our holy book was thrown on the ground. What was looted here is the common history, the culture of Antakya,” he said.

Even though nearly one year has passed since the earthquakes, there has been a serious electricity problem in many parts of Hatay. Even in some neighborhoods where people live actively, there has been no street lighting, electricity, or water connection. For this reason, there are many thefts at night. 

Even if people whose houses are partially intact want to return to their neighborhoods, they cannot do so due to the lack of electricity and water, which are basic living needs, and the lack of a safe living environment.

David Çağan stated that the church priest wanted to return with his family and start living in the neighborhood, but he could not return due to the severe living conditions and added "If there was a safe environment, the priest would return with his family. There is no electricity, no water. The street is dark, thieves are everywhere, how can he return? We want a police point to be established in the Affan neighborhood. If they could create a safe environment, people would stay."

Feb. 6, 2023 earthquakes killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey's southeastern region and destroyed thousands of buildings. Tens of thousands of people have been living in temporary housing units.

(English version by Can Bodrumlu)