They didn’t understand what was going on at first when they were woken up by a creepy noise. “It was kind of a sharp jerk,” Azizullah Haydari recalls, and it felt like a rolling motion. The ceiling over the bed moved. It was his wife Fatima Sharifi, who grabbed the baby first and stumbled over the shaking ground.
“It only took us minutes to get the older kids and rush out,” recalls the 29-year-old mother of three. Her eldest son, Mahdi, is 13, and her daughter, Nazanin Zahra, is just ten. The youngest, Taha, was born in Turkey ten months ago. They had felt safe in the apartment block in Adiyaman where they had been sheltered by Turkish authorities when Taha was born.
The massive earthquake on the night of February 6 had magnitudes of 7.7 and 7.6 and was concentrated in Kahramanmaras province, but it affected more than 25 million people in 10 provinces including Adana, Adiyaman, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep , Hatay, Kilis, Malatya, Osmaniye and Sanliurfa; Among them also refugees from Syria and Afghanistan.
Fatima Sharifi, Nazanin Zahra Haydari
The Afghan Haydari family was one of them. They spent two nights in a park near their neighborhood. Fatima took photos and videos. All the buildings around them had collapsed or were badly damaged. “I just understood what a miracle it was that we were safe when I tried to get some clothes next morning. I couldn’t open the door anymore, it was completely warped by the instability of the building”.
Azizullah Haydari is a young man of 30 with soft eyes, who has seen a lot. His gaze sweeps over his family as if he can hardly believe that they are all sitting safely on a sofa here in Istanbul. They found refuge in the home of a young student from Afghanistan. They can rest here for three days. Due to the limitation of the number of refugees in Istanbul, they are on the run. They have to go to another Turkish city, to which the authorities call them.
The Haydari family is on a long journey. They were forced to leave Daykondi, their hometown, when the Taliban began invading in the summer of 2021. They forced them to leave their home to use it themselves. Azizullah worked in construction and was training to be a police officer. Daykondi is located in the mountains of central Afghanistan in the Hazarajat region, where mainly Hazara people live. The Taliban are accused of having committed genocide against the religious minority. “They killed my cousin’s one-year-old son,” Azizullah murmurs. Fatime takes care of her baby. It’s hard to imagine the atrocities they were subjected to. “They kill the boys and steal the girls,” says Fatime with disgust, “just because we are Hazara”. After the murder of Azizullahs nephew they decided to leave.
The family first went to Pakistan, then to Iran. They had planned to stay there, but were not accepted as refugees due to an admission restriction imposed by the Iranian state. With the last of their strength, they moved to Turkey. The earthquake hit them just as they were getting used to the new place.
How much catastrophe, displacement and loss can one person take? Fatime packs what few things the family has. Mahdi and Nazarin take care of the baby. They seem much more like their parents’ younger siblings than their children. All are a very well coordinated team.
Fatime remembers being only three years older than her son now, when he was born. She had resisted her family’s plans to marry her off to a much older man and married her cousin at the age of 14; Azizullah had been just a year older. “They thought he was too young for me,” she bursts out laughing. “I was a kid too.”
The young family is on the Road again now to a new destination in Turkey. We will follow their path on Kite Runner.