The photos of the Turkish historical city of Antakya: in ruins after the earthquake, awaits a new reconstruction

Turkish citizens check out the historic Habib Najjar Mosque which was destroyed during the devastated earthquake, in the old city of Antakya, Turkey. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Hussein Malla/)

For almost two weeks, Mehmet Ismet has lived in the ruins of Antakya’s most beloved historic mosque, a landmark in a now-ravaged city that was famous for thousands of years as a meeting place of civilizations and revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews. .

The 74-year-old took refuge in the Habib Najjar Mosque after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake killed tens of thousands of people in Turkey and Syria on February 6. He has slept and prayed under the few arches that remain standing, lamenting the future of a city. known from his past.

The destruction in Antakya was almost total. Much of the city is rubble. What is still standing is too insecure to live. Almost all have left. On Monday, a new 6.4 magnitude earthquake, centered on Hatay province where Antakya is located, struck again, killing people, injuring more than 200 and causing more buildings to collapse, in some cases trapping people. .

View of the Antioch Greek Orthodox Church which was destroyed during the devastating earthquake. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Hussein Malla/)

“It can be rebuilt. But it will not be like the previous one ”Ismet said, pointing to the destruction of the mosque, where he sat in the courtyard with a friend next to a wood heater. “The old is gone. Only the name remains.”

Antakya, known as Antioch in ancient times, it has been repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt throughout history. But residents fear it will be a long time before it recovers from it, and that its unique historical identity may never be fully restored. The destruction is so great, and they say the government cares little about this area.

antioch, built in the year 300 a. C. by a general of Alexander the Great in the valley of the Orontes riverwas one of the largest cities in the Greco-Roman world, rivaling Alexandria and Constantinople. Saints Peter and Paul are said to have founded one of the oldest Christian communities here, and it is here that the word “Christian” was first used.. Later it attracted Muslim and Christian Crusader invaders.

Most of the city was totally destroyed, and will have to be rebuilt again. (AP photo/Hussein Malla) (Hussein Malla/)

The fusion of religions is part of the character of the city.

A parable from the Koran kept running through Ismet’s mind. Three messengers of God came to a town, urging his sinful people to follow his word. They refused, and God destroyed the city with a mighty blast. The Qur’an does not name the city, but many traditions say that it was ancient Antioch.

Ismet saw a new lesson in the current devastation.

Turkish national Mehmet Ismet prays in front of the rubble of the historic Habib Najjar mosque that was destroyed during the devastating earthquake, in the old city of Antakya. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Hussein Malla/)

“All religions are here. We lived well. Then politics and hypocrisy prevailed, and disagreement followed,” Ismet said. “People…have been at odds and are stealing from each other. God is punishing them.”

Now the mosque can only be reached by climbing over piles of old cement and stones that were once the old city of Antakya. It traces the many stories of Antakya: the site originally housed an ancient pagan temple, then a church, before finally settling down as a mosque, built in the 13th century. The mosque was destroyed by an earthquake in 1853 and rebuilt four years later by the Ottomans.

Even the legends surrounding Habib Najjar, the mosque’s unknown namesake, are intertwined with multiple religions.

View of the Sheikh Ali Mosque which was destroyed during the devastated earthquake. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Hussein Malla/)

Ismet told a popular story: Najjar was a resident of Antioch who urged the locals to believe in the messengers of God mentioned in the Qur’an. They beheaded him and his head rolled down the mountain to the place where the mosque now stands. Another version of the legend says that Najjar was a believer in Jesus, whose disciples cured his son of leprosy and was killed for promoting the new Christian faith.

Modern Antakya was already a shadow of its former self.

In recent years, it has witnessed a sharp economic decline and increasing emigration to Europe and the Gulf. Tension had been mounting between a dwindling local population, which included Christian and Alevi communities, and a growing Syrian population fleeing their country’s civil war.

Turkish citizens walk past a historic hotel that was destroyed during the devastating earthquake. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Hussein Malla/)

Some city residents complain about the neglect of a central government busy helping other provinces where it has a stronger voter base. With little evidence, locals accused the Syrian refugees of shoplifting and the government of downplaying the death toll. Many fear that more people may leave if Antakya does not rebuild quickly.

Faced with mounting criticism from several quake-hit cities, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials have acknowledged delays in the response. No one addressed the Antakya issues in particular.

“Maybe in a month, we will start renovation or organization,” Yahya Coskun, Turkey’s deputy director general of museums and cultural heritage, said of the destruction of the city’s monuments.

A Turkish woman on the rubble of heritage houses. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Hussein Malla/)

“The destruction of Antakya is a loss for humanity”said Jan Estefan, a silversmith and one of the few remaining Christians in the city. “We still want to live here. We have no intention of leaving.”

The Antakya Greek Orthodox Church was destroyed. The church, which was the seat of the Greek Orthodox patriarch until the 14th century, was leveled by an earthquake in 1872 and rebuilt.

“History has been erased once again”said Fadi Hurigil, chairman of the board of directors of the Antakya Greek Orthodox Church Foundation.

Some city residents complain about the neglect of a busy central government in helping other provinces where it has a stronger voter base. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Hussein Malla/)

The old mosques were cut off by mountains of rubble. The old bazaar was in ruins. Collapsed buildings line Kurtulus Street, said to have been the world’s first illuminated street when it was lit by torches at night in Roman times. Parts of the archaeological museum have been damaged.

Outside the city center, Mount Starius protected one of Christianity’s oldest churches, St. Pierre, which is built in a cave in the mountain and has sections dating back to the 4th century. A set of stairs leading up to it was damaged.

There were cracks in the walls of the Antakya Synagogue, home to the area’s 2,500-year-old Jewish community. The president of the city’s Jewish community and his wife did not survive. About a dozen Jewish residents and the synagogue’s Torah scrolls have been temporarily relocated to Istanbul, said Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, president of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States.

FILE – People walk on the rubble of heritage houses that were destroyed. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, file) (Hussein Malla/)

Chitrik said it will be difficult for the small elderly community, shrunken by years of emigration, to rebuild. “However, I am sure that he will return.”

Many residents seem to have accepted that their city’s destiny is to come back from the disaster.

“After seven times, they rebuilt it and brought it back to life. Now it is the eighth time, and God willing… we will live in it again”said Bulent Cifcifli. His mother died in the earthquake and it took a week to get her body out.

Antakya, known as Antioch in ancient times, has been repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt throughout history. (AP photo/Hussein Malla) (Hussein Malla/)

One way or another, Antakya will survive, he said.

“Death is inevitable. We will die and new people will come, ”she said, choking on tears. “Who is Antakya? Today we are. Someone else tomorrow.”

(with information from AP)

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