Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

At the dawn of 2023, I was feeling that things in the world had been showing signs of improvement. First and foremost, at great sacrifice to its people and infrastructure, Ukraine had managed to repel the invading Russians from its heartland and seemed poised to launch an effective counter-offensive to its east when conditions permitted in the spring. What’s more, hundreds of thousands of Russian professionals were fleeing Putin’s autocratic state to avoid conscription in his unjust, illegal, and immoral war. Meanwhile, Lula da Silva had managed to consolidate his rule in Brazil around the new year, despite some Trumpian-backlash from former President Bolsonara’s supporters. Finally, protests in Iran over the  Mahsa Amini killing in September, 2022, seemed to be peaking at around the same time. The uprising of women and ethnic minorities together seemed to be offering a credible threat to another corrupt autocratic regime.

Things seemed to be moving forward around the globe – and then the earthquake hit in Southern Turkey.

Careful What You Wish For

On February 5th, 2023 – the last day of our winter, end-of-semester, holiday, me and many of my fellow teachers and our students were rejoicing at the news of an impending blizzard in Istanbul and a short snow holiday. These are common enough here, since the prevalence of so many hilly neighbourhoods and narrow twisting streets makes snow removal, except for the major traffic arteries, a challenge.  At any rate, spirits were high as we anticipated a day of playing in the snow. Little did we know that owing to the earthquake, we would not return to school for another 10 days. We were dumbfounded. It felt like a rug had been pulled out from beneath all of our feet.

The Aftermath

The next day, at 4:17 AM, a devastating series of earthquakes began in Southern Turkey and Northern Syria, the first measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale. Over 50,000 people lost their lives during the quakes and myself and many of my colleagues knew people who suffered losses or lost loved ones themselves. To say the news was heartbreaking would be a vast understatement. Whole cities were destroyed. Antakya, one of the first centers of Christianity, lies in ruins. The cities of  Adıyaman, Hatay, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Osmaniye, Gaziantep, Malatya, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, and Adana, encompassing a region where over 14.5 million people live, suffered major damage. Delayed recovery efforts only made things worse, and to this date, millions are homeless and surviving in tent or container cities. For weeks I couldn’t stop weeping whenever I saw an update on the news or caught myself thinking about the overwhelming scale of human loss. A few days after the quake, I published my previous blog, Earthquake in Turkey… , wherein I detailed my experience of the 1999 earthquake in an attempt to exorcize that event from my unconscious, having never properly processed it at the time due to the work and finacial obligations of having become a new dad one month before the disaster. I feel as if this recent catastrophe has activated a spate of PTSD which I am still recovering from. So I can only imagine how those people who lost loved ones and are still surviving under basic conditions in Southern Turkey are feeling. One friend of mine, a former student who lost both his own father and his father-in-law in Adana, says he has been living in a brain fog since the catastrophe.

Moving Forward

The loss of life and the scale of the destruction in Southern Turkey and Northern Syria prompted an outpouring of global concern and donations to the affected regions. Many international organizations joined the efforts to find survivors, recover bodies, clear rubble, and provide emergency housing, food, and sanitation for the survivors.  I know of several  foreign teachers, myself included, who joined our Turkish counterparts in donating generously to the recovery efforts, which, on the verge of an historic election, continue to this day. And in the aftermath of that great disaster, all eyes have pivoted towards fortifying Istanbul, where predictions of another devastating quake are already overdue. We live here with the apprehension that we too are in danger; we too could be next. It is a sobering consideration indeed.

Efforts to assist those affected by the quake are ongoing. Please follow the link to learn how you can help the survivors of this disaster today:

Michael Wray

Hi, My name's Michael. I'm a writer/illustrator working as a primary ESL teacher in Istanbul. I love art, music, literature, and traveling.


  1. Judy Wray on May 1, 2023 at 8:15 pm

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention again. So very sad about the devastation to such a beautiful country. The news (in Canada) has moved on to more recent crises . It’s hard to imagine the suffering is ongoing and so many are homeless still.

  2. Stephanie on May 2, 2023 at 6:19 am

    Thank you for this lovely essay. İ feel like even though İ didn’t live through 1999, hearing everyone’s stories has made it very real for me. İt is important that we remember and keep the victims of this most recent tragedy in our thoughts and also continue to help as much as we can.

  3. Sue Houston on May 4, 2023 at 9:49 pm

    A wonderful piece of writing, Michael, as was your one about the 1999 earthquake. We can never underestimate the effect these catastrophes have on our lives. Stay well. Xx

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