3 girls | Eda Kaboğlu and her friends at a training. (Photo: Burcu Özkaya Günaydın)

Eda Kaboğlu, a 15 year-old from Turkey’s southern Hatay province, didn’t lose any of her immediate family in the earthquakes that hit parts of Turkey and Syria in February. But many of her friends were killed, including a close friend she was due to meet just a day after the first quake hit. 

In order to get over the losses – or at least to forget them for a while – Kaboğlu threw herself into kickboxing, a sport she’s been practising for the past four years. 

Now, Kaboğlu trains at a sports field set up in the container camp she and her family are temporarily living in. 

“Sports settle my mind,” she tells Inside Turkey. “Girls can achieve a lot in sports. But means are limited in the earthquake zone. We need more support to be successful. I want to continue playing sports both for myself and for the friends I lost.” 

The twin earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria in February not only claimed tens of thousands of lives. They also drastically altered the lives of the survivors. 

In Turkey’s southern province of Hatay, where more than 20,000 people died, almost half of the population has left the provincial capital Antakya. Most of the city’s buildings have been damaged, while more than 70 per cent either collapsed or have since been demolished. The struggle to provide access to basic necessities, like clean water, safe accommodation, health care, and education, continues after nine months. 

Kung fu enthusiast Kibar Nur Kabadayı and her coach Ahmet Yüce (Photo: Burcu Özkaya Günaydın)

While the post-quake conditions remain dire, teenagers – especially young women – are one of the groups most affected by the disaster. Nine months on, the education system in the quake zone is still fragmented, while people of all ages in the region are suffering from the psychological aftershocks. With limited resources, young people’s social needs have taken a back seat.

Even though new sports halls and youth centres have been established, young women athletes say there is still more to do, and they need support to continue their efforts. 

The Antakya family home of Kibar Nur Kabadayı, 17, was heavily damaged by the earthquakes. Since her father works at the city’s open prison, Kabadayı’s family have moved onto the facility’s site for the time being.  

Kabadayı is a kung fu enthusiast, but sharing a conference hall with almost 500 others meant that she no longer had time for the sport. She started jogging in the prison garden, but her mother told her to stop. 

Having moved into a container camp, Kabadayı has resumed training, but not often enough for her liking. 

“I turned to sports after the earthquakes,” she said. “It’s not a hobby, it’s a way of life.” 

But a lack of money and the inability to train properly meant she can’t compete in tournaments right now. 

Kabadayı’s coach, Ahmet Yüce, did manage to take his students to a tournament in March, only a month after the earthquakes. 

“They were staying in tents, yet despite those circumstances, they returned home with medals,” he said. “But without proper training and help, our means are limited.” 

As a result, Yüce was unable to enter Kabadayı and 23 other students for a championship in İzmir last month.

Hatay’s directorate of youth and sports told Inside Turkey that sports facilities, like many other buildings in the region, were damaged by the earthquakes – though the authorities have been carrying out renovations and setting up temporary substitutes.

“Several sports centres have been opened in container camps,” an official with the department saod. “We are doing our best to help our youth heal their wounds and prepare for a bright future.”

Psychologist Nilgün Yeniocak, who has worked to support survivors of the earthquake, described the lack of social space, along with problems in areas ranging from transport to education, as a second kind of trauma for young people. Sport is a particular problem, since inactivity also has both physical and psychological effects.

“Young people who lose their fitness and gain weight will also become demoralised,” Yeniocak pointed out. “There is nowhere in Hatay where they can de-stress and socialise. Areas should be created for young people to spend time and relax with their peers. Otherwise, their trauma will deepen.”