The Aftermath of the Earthquakes: What About Turkish Heritage?

Can a natural disaster erase history?

Ceylan Ersoy
4 min readApr 25, 2023

As Turkey struggles to mend its wounds from what’s now being called its worst national disaster in a century, organizations like UNESCO are calling to attention how the country’s historical heritage has been impacted by the devastating earthquakes.

The recent earthquakes resulted in over 45 thousand deaths and led to the collapse or heavy damage of 214,000 buildings. The structures impacted also include significant historical landmarks including castles from the Crusades era, Ottoman and Roman fortresses, mosques, churches, and a citadel from one of the oldest inhabited cities on our planet. Among these sites also is the 2,000-year-old Gaziantep castle that hosted both the Roman and Byzantine Empires, which is now significantly damaged.

So far, many international organizations, including UNESCO have issued statements saying that they will be supporting the restoration efforts of these heritage sites. But, many are saying that simply rebuilding these structures will not be enough.

How do we rebuild?

Turkey is a country that is prone to earthquakes, and this is not the first nor last time these sites have been and will be impacted by natural disasters like these. Experts are suggesting that the restoration work should not only ensure minimum damage risk for future earthquakes but also rebuild these sites in a way that honors the present and the past.

Oya Pancaroglu, professor of history of Islamic art and architecture at Bogazici University said: “We need to actually not only build back the buildings but also bring back the communities because, without them, there is no continuation of cultural life. This is a source of their identity. This is where their roots are, and they need to find and recognize themselves in this heritage.”

Some citizens are similarly voicing their concern that these heritage restoration efforts should not take precedence over quake victim relief efforts. Local historian Emre Can Dağlıoğlu said“I’m heartbroken that some people seem more interested in old buildings than in the intangible heritage of the many communities in this region. A lot of people in Antakya have been displaced by the earthquake. We have to find a way to allow them to settle here again. These communities are irreplaceable. There’s no reason to restore a church without its people.”

Could the Scale of Devastation Have Been Avoided

Many have called to attention that some ancient historical buildings have withstood the earthquakes at a capacity that significantly exceeded modern constructions in the region. Indeed, Italian historian of seismology Dr. Emanuela Guidoboni said: “even the Romans had knowledge of the strong seismicity of the Anatolian and Syrian area — currently known as the Dead Sea and the Anatolian faults. That’s the reason why they used to build constructions with higher anti-seismic standards in Anatolia”. Indeed, many have named the mismanagement of Turkish urban planning and construction industries as the reason for the scale of devastation. Gencay Serter, the president of the Chamber of Urban Planners said: “The most important reason why this disaster caused such great destruction is the government not showing the will to bring the fragile building stock up to safety standards.”

A Glimpse Into the Sites Impacted

Here is a list of historical structures and heritage sites that have remained fully intact:

  1. Göbeklitepe
  2. Perre Ancient City
  3. Mesudiye Medrese
  4. World’s first cave church: Saint Paul Church
  5. Şanlıurfa Museum
  6. Maraş elephant
  7. Cendere Bridge

Here is a list of historical structures and heritage sites that have suffered minimal damage:

  1. Karakus Tumulus
  2. Arsemia Ancient City
  3. Diyarbakır Fortress
  4. Hatay Museum of Archeology
  5. Arslantepe Tumulus

Here is a list of historical structures and heritage sites that have unfortunately suffered extensive damage:

  1. Gaziantep Castle
  2. Gaziantep Şirvani Mosque
  3. Gaziantep Kurtuluş Mosque
  4. Habibi Neccar Mosque
  5. Malatya Yeni Mosque
  6. Antakya Latin Catholic Church
  7. Antakya Synagogue
  8. Ancient Hatay Houses
  9. Adıyaman Ulu Mosque
  10. Ancient Yeşilyurt Houses
  11. Hatay Mar Yuhanna Greek Orthodox Church

How can you support the earthquake relief efforts?

One way you can support the relief efforts is by donating to respectable organizations that focus on cultural heritage and rebuilding. Among various groups which have been organizing relief efforts, Ahbap’s work received significant public appreciation in social media. This non-governmental organization is spearheading relief work by providing victims with shelter, food, medical supplies, and more. Other global organizations you can look into include UNESCO and UNDP.

Special thanks to Ünsal Koslu for his support in this article.



Ceylan Ersoy

I am an alumnus of UC Berkeley with a BA in Psychology and minors in Human Rights and Theater. I specialize in the creation of news content.