What the holy month means for Muslims in Turkey and Syria amid earthquake destruction

Friday is Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. But in southern Turkey and northwestern Syria, festivities have been muted by a mood of mourning and calls for help months after twin earthquakes killed at least 56,000 people there and left a trail of devastation. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tomorrow is Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. But in Southern Turkey and Northwest Syria,festivities have been muted by a mood of mourning and calls for help more than two months after twin earthquakes killed at least 56,000 people there and left a trail of devastation.

    During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, but, in the evening, they feast. Istanbul's bakeries are packed for a Ramadan special, a soft Turkish pita that people line up to buy. But the festive cheer is missing in quake-crushed Southern Turkey.

    In the tent city of Kahramanamaras, the epicenter of the second earthquake, Turkish and Syrian survivors break their vast on communal dinner tables, and pray in mosques marred by the quakes, a grim reminder of what the city has suffered.

    Children in the camps are like children everywhere, swinging in a state of blissful ignorance. But mothers worry, like Turkan.

  • Turkan, Turkey Earthquake Survivor (through translator):

    Everything has gotten more and more expensive here. All our belongings were lost under the debris. We can't buy any food. We can't do anything. Turkey needs help. We need help.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In Hatay, once a vibrant city of 1.6 million people, now a ghost town.

  • Maisun Al Khateeb, Turkey Earthquake Survivor (through translator):

    Now we have returned to suffering. It's worse than the war.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    First displaced by the Syrian war and now the earthquakes, Maisun Al Khateeb lost her husband and a daughter in airstrikes in Syria. She still has her slain daughter's bloodied shirt, and now worries for her surviving family.

  • Maisun Al Khateeb (through translator):

    The kids lived all their lives in war. Then we made a life here in Antakya. But the earthquake came and ruined everything.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The life she rebuilt, her bakery in Hatay, now a pile of rubble.

  • Mutea Al Homsi, Turkey Earthquake Survivor (through translator):

    Honestly, this Ramadan is the hardest Ramadan we have been through our whole lives. We were displaced from Syria. We didn't even have one like this those in Syria.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mutea Al Homsi fled Syria to protect his wife and two daughters. His eldest, a toddler, survived serious injuries in the quake, but his wife lost her entire family.

  • Mutea Al Homsi (through translator):

    We're used to breaking our fast all together with our relatives and loved ones. Unfortunately, we lost most of them.

  • Dina Sharif, Community Organized Relief Effort:

    There are a lot of empty chairs, you can say, at the Iftar table this year for Ramadan. It's a very dark Ramadan.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dina Sharif is the global communications director of CORE, a global crisis response organization.

    Sharif has led relief work in seven earthquake-hit districts this month, packing Ramadan food boxes and meeting quake survivors.

  • Dina Sharif:

    Traditionally, on Eid, elders will give children money, candy. And he nearly broke down entirely when he said that he could not give that to his grandchildren.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    CORE, along with its local partner NGO, Islan R.D. (ph), has been delivering truckloads of Ramadan food kits and cash assistance to survivors in Turkey. It's been tough on everyone.

  • Dina Sharif:

    A lot of our staff who are Turkish or Syrian refugees actually lost their own homes, their own family members. And when they visit, it's been really difficult to see their own process of being retraumatized.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Help is also acutely needed across the border in Northwest Syria. At this cancer hospital, patients are many, but resources scarce.

    Most patients used to travel to Turkey for radiation and immunotherapy, but no longer.

    Samer Hussein, Father of Cancer Patient (through translator): Before the earthquake, Turkey was receiving patients, but now all the crossings are closed.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Samer Hussein's daughter has kidney cancer. There's no treatment for her near their home.

  • Samer Hussein (through translator):

    I appeal to the Turkish government and the world to readmit patients for treatment, or provide the necessary treatment for patients here in Northern Syria.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's a dark Ramadan at the camps for Syrians displaced by the quakes.

    Abu Wahid in the checkered shirt and his neighbor eat the morning meal before fasting. But what is Ramadan for a man who's lost his wife and seven children in the earthquake?

  • Abu Wahid, Syria Earthquake Survivor (through translator):

    When I sit down to eat, I remember how my children were around me. So I stop eating.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At the camp, the "NewsHour" caught up with baby Afraa, the miracle child born under the rubble on February 6, her uncle seen here rescuing her from the debris.

    He has adopted Afraa. Her entire immediate family died in the quake. He's now raising Afraa with his daughter, Atta (ph), born a few days after the quake, two 2-month-olds who knows so little of this calamity now, but whose lives will be forever connected by it.

    Nearby, in Jindires, it does feel a little like Ramadan at this Kurdish residence in Northern Syria. Nasik Shira (ph) was making a special cake, a sweet delicacy crafted with love for her kids, so they feel festive amid the gloom.

    Her 14-year-old son, Zakaria.

  • Zakaria, Syria Earthquake Survivor (through translator):

    Every Ramadan, we eat this cake. We ask our parents to make this sweet for us. It's an Eid tradition. There is sadness in the family. But our mothers still made it because we love it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Shira used to make this cake every Ramadan with relatives who have since died in the quake. But now, through these simple delights, she keeps them alive, beyond the disaster that took them from her.

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