While the pictures and images of the earthquake replay over and over again, information about the province of Van is lacking in some mainstream news reports. The news refers to the area hit as Van. Van is both the name of a large city, as well as the informal county. In Turkey there are over 70 counties or regions that are named after the largest city in the region. The city of Ercis, a small city near Van and a part of the Van region experienced more damage than the city of Van itself. The region of Van is a beautiful and historical area in the southeast region of modern Turkey. It rests along the eastern shore of Lake Van, and is surrounded by large mountains. The ruins of several different civillizations can be found in the area. The land of Van once rested at the heart of the Urartian Kingdom and the Kingdom of Armenia.
Van is referred to as “The Pearl of the East” because of the natural beauty that surrounds the city . There is an old Armenian proverb that states “Van in this world, paradise in the next.” The city historically had a large Armenian population. While the Armenian community was tragically wiped out, Armenian churches and schools remain within the old city.
Van is located in a county with a Kurdish majority, a notable factor in understanding the population and politics of the area. It is a conservative region of the country. In this part of Turkey, families are traditional, and more women are bound to the domestic sphere. Unfortunately, in the context of the earthquake, this means that more women than men were inside their homes when the earthquake hit. Thus, more women and children appear to be among those injured and killed in the collapsed apartment buildings. While so much is unknown, it is certainly an issue that has caught my attention in the first wave of news coverage and photographs. It was striking to me to see how few women are on the streets or involved in the recovery efforts, in comparison to the large number of men that can be observed. As of today, Turkish news outlets report that 459 people have been killed, while hundreds of people remain unaccounted for. Electricity has been cut because of the threat of fire. The lack of strict building codes, and the poor quality of building material seems to be an underlying cause of the high death toll. So far, 2,262 buildings have collapsed (including a university dorm), and recovery teams are still attempting to search the rubble for survivors.