“I said I would bury my son with his grandfather”: Stories from the Syria earthquake | Türkiye and Syria earthquake

Idlib, northwestern Syria At the top of a green hill separating the Syrian-Turkish border from the small village of Al-Alani in the northern countryside of Idlib, Ibrahim Al-Aswad stands contemplating the rubble that a year ago was a two-story house.

“We were 15 people and only six of us survived,” Ibrahim still remembers the first seconds of the incident A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck – Followed by a second strike of approximately the same force – southern Turkey and northwestern Syria at 4:17 a.m. on February 6, 2023.

He woke up to the sound of his mother screaming from downstairs and demanding that he leave the house. He was disoriented, feeling disoriented as he tried to find his thick glasses so he could see his way.

This delay was the reason for his survival. He was unable to cross the threshold of his room before the house collapsed on everyone inside.

Ibrahim told Al Jazeera: “I lost my father, my mother, two of my brothers, my sister and her three children, and my daughter Ghazal.”

He says he almost lost his youngest son, Hussein, too, until the family dog ​​Tiki helped rescue him four days after the quake.

Ibrahim with his children in a blue tent
Ibrahim spends as much of his free time as possible with his two sons, Hussein, 6 years old, and Mahmoud, 4 years old (Ali Haj Suleiman / Al Jazeera)

The empty tomb

Ibrahim was the first to be pulled out from under the rubble by the villagers who gathered to rescue whoever they could while communications were cut off and rescue and ambulance teams had not yet arrived.

The extent of the damage caused by the earthquake to roads across the region meant that civil defense teams had difficulty reaching remote villages.

Added to that was Rescue aid failed to enter the northwest In the early days of the earthquake, the villagers were left alone and responsible for searching and rescuing and transporting the dead, wounded and injured.

Ibrahim, who is in his thirties, was injured in his feet and head, but he remained standing, trying to move the heavy stones away from his family, accompanied by rescuers.

He reached his son and wife, then found his seven-year-old daughter, Ghazal, dead.

The villagers continued to work to find everyone who was under the rubble, and after a long day, nine new graves were dug in the cemetery next to the house. Eight of them were full and the other was empty.

Ibrahim said: “I prepared that grave for my father Al-Hussein, and for my son, whom I named after him and whom I love very much.”

Abraham crouching next to the grave
Ibrahim takes care of his family’s nine graves, removing weeds and watering the flowers he planted (Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera)

“I said I would bury my son in his grandfather’s arms.”

But the rescuers did not find the grandfather and grandson, and after finding the bodies of everyone in the basement, they no longer had hope for either of them to survive.

On the second day, the villagers continued their search, gathering to console Ibrahim and trying to help the survivors.

The family dog ​​Tiki stood near the rubble, barking non-stop and trying to attract the neighbors’ attention to one place over and over again.

At first, they thought she was barking because of the aftershocks that had already begun, but eventually, Tiki’s constant barking and attempts to dig in one place prompted a neighbor to alert Ibrahim and focus their work there on the fourth day.

They expected that Tiki would try to guide them to the bodies of the grandfather and grandson, but the surprise was that young Hussein was alive in the arms of his grandfather, who died protecting him.


With all the loss Ibrahim had experienced, one of the things he most wanted to retrieve from the rubble was a pair of gold earrings he had bought as a gift for little Ghazal.

Ibrahim's hand holds his glasses
Ibrahim believes that his search for his thick glasses was the reason for his survival (Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera)

“She died before I could give them to her,” Ibrahim said, holding back tears as he explained how he had to sell yarn earrings a while ago to raise some money, and how angry she was with him.

“She died before she could forgive me.”

After Ibrahim recovered from his wounds, he returned to work as a day laborer, trying to adapt to his new life and new routine.

Every morning, he visits his family’s graves, tells them everything that happened the previous day, waters the flowers he planted near them, and recites from the Qur’an.

The feeling of loss remains the same for Ibrahim, and ghazals in particular still accompany his thoughts.

“I remember her every minute and second… I remember her laugh, her walk, and her actions.”

Ibrahim wanted to leave the village where he lost everything, but the graves of his loved ones prevented him from doing so.

Hussein stands smiling and wearing a blue plaid shirt
Hussein, 6 years old, spent four days under the rubble in the arms of his grandfather, who died while protecting him from falling rubble (Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera)

“I can’t leave my family behind.”

Today, Ibrahim lives with his wife and two children, six-year-old Hussein and four-year-old Mahmoud, and his two younger brothers. Those still alive give him the motivation to continue trying to recover psychologically despite his deep grief.

“I am afraid of losing any of them,” Ibrahim said. “If one of them gets sick, I cannot eat or drink until he recovers.”

The effects of the shock are still evident on Ibrahim and his family, who are no longer able to live inside a concrete house for fear of aftershocks.

Standing in front of the ruins of the house that had been untouched for a year, Ibrahim said that his family are martyrs and therefore he is able to accept what happened to them.

“Many people consoled me, and their words reassured my heart. They told me a hadith about the Prophet Muhammad who said that whoever is killed in ruins is a martyr.

“That’s what gives me patience.”

Ibrahim holds a phone with a picture of a ghazal
For Ibrahim, the loss of his seven-year-old daughter, Ghazal, was the hardest (Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera)

(Tags for translation)Features

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