Crowd outside Islington Town Hall for the earthquake vigil

Heart-rending vigil held in Islington for Turkey and Syria earthquake victims

A vigil was held outside Islington Town Hall on Monday in solidarity with the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.

The vigil took place at 6pm, only an hour after reports emerged of another 6.4 magnitude earthquake in the border-region between the countries and at the time, it was unclear how much damage was done.

The crowd stood in silence as councillors and community leaders delivered speeches from the top of the steps in front of the Town Hall.

The speakers, some of whom had suffered personal losses, expressed profound despair at the scale of devastation across Turkey and Syria.

Labour councillor Ilkay Cinko-Oner told the crowd: “The official death count is 45,000, but we know with all of the areas that haven’t been reached yet, that it is more than 150,000.

“I am Kurdish, I have no words. I can’t explain how I feel. I’m not OK, they are not OK, we are not OK.”

Syrian Nebal Istanbouly, 43, had lost 25 members of his family in northern Syria before Monday. 

The morning of the vigil, another member of his family died in hospital.

Istanbouly said: “Over the last two weeks we’ve been working hard day and night to help our friends and family with anything we can.

“Unfortunately yes it is difficult being far away. We are trying to make sure that they are – I won’t say that they are ‘fine’, they will never be fine again unfortunately – but that they’re OK.

“The northern part of Syria has been seized over years now by the Syrian regime, very little aid can get through the borders.

“So now, they have nothing. They don’t have access to anything, even like drinkable water, I’m sorry to say even toilets. So that’s why we’re here and we should be here.”

Walid Saffour, 72, was informed on the morning of the vigil that his nephew’s body had been recovered from the rubble.

Saffour was formerly the UK representative for the Syrian National Coalition – the coalition of forces still engaged in a civil war against the Assad regime.

He said: “In north west Syria, because of international sanctions, no help came into the area for five days after the earthquake. 

“The only people helping were the White Helmets and local groups. They were looking for survivors with their hands.”

Saffour is the chairman and founder of the Al Amal Foundation, through which he has been fundraising to help recovery efforts in the region.

He added: “The people over there now who survived, many, many of them are homeless. They need tents, they need food, they need shelter.

“Al Amal, means ‘hope’, in both Turkish and Arabic. 

“It is hope for the refugees, for the displaced, for people who are affected in natural and war disasters.”

Walid Saffour, left, and Nebal Istanbouly, right, outside Islington Town Hall after the vigil. Photo: Alex Croft

People of all ages and faiths attended the vigil, which grew in size as by-passers stopped to pay their respects.

Saffour said: “For people to come in solidarity with each other, to feel that politics will not set us apart from each other, this is more important than money.

“Money and financial help come second. When we feel sympathy for each other, then help and cooperation come.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the MP for Islington North, also spoke at the vigil and afterwards said: “We had the churches, mosques, synagogues all here and we’ve raised a great deal of money locally.

“But it’s also about the moral support for people. Here we are all these days after the earthquake and we still don’t know what’s happened to their families.

“It’s the moral support that is important, as well as the financial and the physical and the material.”

Joshua Richards, 28, clergyman of St Mary’s parish in Islington, said: “Just coming together is a comfort.

“When one member of this community is mourning, it’s right that we come alongside and say: we’re here for you, we’re supportive of you, and we stand with you.”

The central theme throughout the speeches was a heartfelt plea to the community to continue donating, and a commitment by the council to be unwavering in their support for the region.

The Islington Council website encourages donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee, British Red Cross, Human Relief Foundation, or Islamic Relief.

KMEWO (Kurdish And Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation) and local women’s centre IMECE offer counselling to Islington residents affected by the earthquakes.

KMEWO may be helpful for Arabic, Dari, Farsi, or Kurdish-Sorani speaking women.


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