Californian loses 14 family members in Turkey earthquake
Almost two weeks ago, Bakersfield resident Sherry Jones received a text message from her ex-husband, Mervan Ergun, informing her that there had been a major earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
Jones, 49, immediately texted her back and asked if anyone had been hurt. All of Ergun’s extended family lived in Turkey, specifically in Hatay province, one of the areas hardest hit by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on February 6 and its aftershocks.
A few hours later Ergun, 41, responded by telling him that his mother, two sisters and a brother had been killed, along with their children and wives.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Jones said. “I thought he was making a horrible joke, then it quickly became clear that he wasn’t.”
In total, Ergun lost 14 family members, including two aunts and an uncle. Mervan’s brother, Mecdi Ergun, 38, Mecdi’s wife and their two children, along with his 40-year-old sister, Meyse Yalman, her husband and their three children were killed when their buildings collapsed during the earthquake.
Jones is acting as a spokesperson for Ergun, a Bakersfield resident who is currently in Turkey arranging funerals for his loved ones.
“He said, ‘It would be one thing if there was only one family member and how difficult it would be, but losing 11 close family members at the same time is almost unbearable,'” said Jones. “To me, I still feel like part of their family and they still treat me like that. I can’t believe they left.
Mervan’s 70-year-old mother, Fatma Ergun, and 30-year-old sister, Merve Ergun, the youngest of 11 siblings in the family, were primary caretakers for Mervan’s father, Abdullah Ergun, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and Mervan’s brother, Mesut Ergun, who is developmentally delayed and blind.
All four lived together in Antakya, and when the earthquake struck, Mervan’s mother and sister died while his father and brother survived.
“Mervan’s mom probably did her best to handle him,” Jones said of his former stepdad. “And now she’s gone and the siblings are doing their best to take care of him.”
A 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Syria on Monday, two weeks after the earthquake killed tens of thousands and destroyed thousands of buildings in the province.
At least eight people were killed and 294 people injured in the latest quake, which was followed by a second 5.8 magnitude quake and dozens of other aftershocks.
The recent earthquakes have been concentrated in the town of Defne in the Turkish province of Hatay. Ergun and his surviving relatives were “frightened” by this week’s earthquakes but made it through them unscathed, Jones said.
After learning of the deaths of his family members, Ergun frantically searched for a way to get to Turkey, according to Jones. He was able to fly from Los Angeles to Istanbul, but there were no flights from there to southern Turkey. Ergun took a bus part of the way and ended up walking until he was about 30 miles from Antayka, when someone picked him up from the road and drove him the rest of the way. .
Ergun helped find the bodies of her sister, Meyse, her husband and their three children from the rubble of their collapsed building. On Thursday, he located the bodies of his brother Mecdi and Mecdi’s wife and two children.
They were buried in the nearby village of Kirancik.
“He said the town smelled like death, everywhere they went,” Jones said. “There are families waiting for rescue teams to arrive and remove their missing family members so they can put them to rest. They have no hope that anyone is alive, given the state of the buildings and the time that has passed.
Jones said she first met Ergun in 2007 on the internet, and after talking online for six months, she traveled to Turkey and they got engaged. They arrived in the United States in late 2008 and married in early 2009. They lived together in Bakersfield until their divorce in August 2021.
Jones and Ergun share two sons – Grant-Abdullah, 13, and Lance, 9. In 2018, the former couple returned to Turkey with their children for the holidays.
“They didn’t treat me any different,” Jones said of her ex-husband’s family. “I am the mother of his children and they will always see me as his wife. They knew we weren’t together, but they still treated me like one and welcomed me with open arms.
Jones said Grant-Abdullah took the death very seriously after recently meeting all of his cousins and members of his extended family.
“He’s struggling a bit on his own because his memories are very fresh and he’s bonded to his cousins and his grandmother, aunts and uncles who are now gone,” Jones said.
Jones also created a GoFundMe page to help raise money for the family.
Fatma Erdun, Jones said, had been a “very strong matriarch” to the family.
“He had a very strong mother and it was hard to convince her, but from what I understand I did it,” she said. “It meant a lot to know how special she was and the expectation she had of people. It’s hard to believe she’s gone.”
Jones said the family is struggling to understand what happened and how to move forward.
“They are afraid to be at home right now, because what if another earthquake happens? ” she says. “It’s a huge loss. They are an extremely close family. This is one of the things that attracted me to Mervan, he was very close to his family.
Los Angeles Times