Pink Floyd, coffee, croquettes… An antique dealer brings the ruins of Antakya back to life after the earthquake

Pink Floyd, coffee, croquettes… An antique dealer brings the ruins of Antakya back to life after the earthquake

Alternately muezzin or café owner, Serkan Sincan, second-hand goods dealer in Antioch in Turkey brings the heart of the city devastated by the earthquakes of February back to life.

His two lounge chairs in worn tapestry on the sidewalk and the pedestal table cluttered with cups of coffee have become the symbol of a city’s resistance, Antakyawho does not want to die. One month after the deadly earthquake of February 6 who ravaged it without leaving a single one of its streets intact and emptied it of its inhabitants, ancient Antioch, in southern Turkey, finds a glimmer of hope in Serkan Sincan, the antiquarian of the street Kurtulus, who warms hearts with strong coffees and tubes of pink floyd.

I came back three days after the earthquake. Everyone I met told me, the Great Mosque is down, the rue du Palais is down, the Protestant Church, the governor’s palace… Serkan abi, my brother, your shop is finished… Me too I felt myself sinking», says the antique dealer of Nostaljik Dükkan, shop of Nostalgia in French, enumerating the iconic sites of the old city.

But the house was still standing and I said to myself: Allah is great!“, he laughs, wedged between a portrait of the founder of the Turkish republic Mustafa Kemal and an amateur copy of the Shout ofEdvard Munchunder the Turkish flag hanging on the facade.

Cat food

The 51-year-old antique dealer then takes up residence above the shop, in this old residence more than a hundred years old which was the property of a Christian family from Antioch, which remained intact when everything collapsed around it. “Usually I live in a normal apartment“, he specifies, red cap screwed on the blue glance.

The city is completely plunged into darkness and the neighborhood deserted. Half reassured the first evening, he lights a fire which quickly attracts the volunteers, the soldiers and policemen on patrol as well as the rare walkers who come with pain to contemplate the disaster: the beautiful houses of crumbling blond stone, the tables of the restaurants chic still erected under the collapsed beams, their familiar café… Even lost cats who sneak through the chaos of the ruins quickly find their way to Nostaljik Dükkan – where a plate of croquettes is always waiting for them.

Miraculously, the shambles of the shop, dispersed between its small salons and drowned in dust, resisted the angry movements of the earth. The small tables are covered with trinkets, porcelain, vases and silver trays, the walls with allegorical tapestries and orientalist crusts. “Music, I started last week when the telecom workers plugged me into their installation“Says Serkan Sincan who alternates between opera, rock and Turkish variety hours.

Naked voice muezzin

He also acts as muezzin, with a bare voice, the religious having deserted – “they got scaredhe laughs. Antioch, Antakya, Hatay: the city located a stone’s throw from the Syriaa French time under the mandate (1920-1939), has always mixed Muslims, Christians, Jews, Arabs, Armenians… a symbol of cultural and religious diversity, a melting pot of communities dear to the hearts of its inhabitants.

The destroyed Habib-i Najjar mosque following a deadly earthquake in Antakya, Turkey, February 16, 2023. MAXIM SHEMETOV / REUTERS

Hatay, I make it personal“, Would have hammered Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, requiring during the negotiations on the drawing of the borders of modern Turkey that Antakya be allotted to him – in spite of the Syrian dispute. “For us, everyone is on the same level“, insists Serkan Sincan who venerates the father of the nation. Even if the multiple earthquakes suffered through the centuries and the vicissitudes of time – such as the proximity of the Syrian conflict – have undermined this beautiful idea.

For now, he clings to it and his square of sidewalk has become the only place to socialize in the injured city. “I used to come here, the day before the earthquake I had bought a children’s book there… When I saw that the shop was still standing, I regained hope for the first timesays Özgel Eser, a 36-year-old teacher.

A volunteer from the city of Konya (center-west) stops to drop off sweets from his city; a group of friends from Besiktas, a popular district of Istanbul, who have come to work as volunteers meet there every evening. A pick-up from Izmir drops off hot meals for the whole company.

Serkan Sincan expects the authorities to ask him to evacuate the Nostaljik Dükkan when the renovation work begins – and, before that, the clearing. “I’m looking for a new, bigger place: we were six antique dealers in Antakya, I’m the last one, the others have been destroyed. I proposed to them to create a common fund“. At nightfall, Serkan Sincan gets up and, his hands in the mouth, starts the adhan, the call to prayer, walking down the darkened Kurtulus street.

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