Turkey's last Armenian village fears for its future after quake
The elderly population of Vakifli, the only Armenian village left in Turkey, thanks God that not one of them died in the devastating earthquakes in the region, but they fear for the future of their beloved homeland, Reuters reported.
Thirty of the village's 40 stone houses, which are single or double storey and surrounded by orange and lemon orchards, are heavily damaged, and since a third huge earthquake hit, the 130 villagers are without power. They gather at the tea house for shelter and warmth.
"Vakifli is all we have, the only Armenian village in Turkey. It is our home. Seeing it like this is breaking my heart," said Masis, a 67-year-old retired jeweller, who returned to his hometown after spending 17 years in Istanbul.
"This village is tiny and our children mostly prefer to live in Istanbul... This is the only home we've ever known. After this disaster, I don't know how long it will take for the village to be rebuilt. I get really scared that most people will leave and the village will be abandoned," he added.
Vakifli is located on Mount Moses in Hatay province and overlooks Samandag, a town on the western edge of Turkey's long border with Syria. The villagers speak among themselves in a local Armenian dialect known as Moses Mountain Armenian, which is diluted with Arabic and Turkish words.
Today, Turkey and Armenia are at odds primarily over the 1.5 million people Armenia says were killed in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire. Armenia says this constitutes genocide.
Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies it was systematic.
Last week Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said humanitarian aid sent by Armenia for quake victims could boost efforts to normalise their relations.
Berc Kartun, the village head of Vakifli, said his two-story house had been torn up on the side and he was waiting for building inspectors. He had nowhere to put his valuables from the house, he added.
Armen Hergel, 64, said she has grown accustomed to living in the teahouse, which has a small generator and which she called "the Hilton," but the power outage in the village is a real problem.
"We need heating. We try to keep warm by drinking tea, but the nights are cold and really scary in the complete darkness and with constant aftershocks,” she said.
On the outskirts of the village stands the Armenian church of the Holy Mother of God. Pastor Avedis Tabasyan said that the third quake caused the most damage. The stone walls of the church collapsed and the baptismal font was broken. An altar cloth with embroidered images of Mary and Jesus was covered with paint residue from the ceiling. No mass has been held since the February 6 quake.
"We were planning to renovate... God has shown us a different way to fix and renew our beloved place," he said.
Can, a 26-year-old man, makes wine in the village, which is mostly sold to tourists.
"I studied winemaking in northern Turkey to spend my life here. Now that everything has to be demolished and rebuilt, I have no idea when we will get back on our feet," he said.