The earthquake that has struck Turkey and Syria has been devastating. So far there are seven thousand, two hundred and sixty-six people confirmed dead. For a comparison point: as a result of the earthquake yesterday, more civilians across four countries—Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine—have died in just two days, than have died in the entire past year of fighting in the Ukraine. This is truly a staggering human tragedy, deserving of deep mourning. The humanitarian response in Turkey has been quick to mobilise; in Syria, it has been slower—not at all for a lack of will on the part of the people or the government, but for a lack of resources.
The eastern Mediterranean has long been a hotbed of seismic activity, with the southeast of Anatolia basically being one long strike-slip fault zone. In the 520s Antioch—a great city in the heart of this very region—was levelled by a series of similarly crushing earthquakes, each of which also killed thousands of people at a stroke. Patriarch Saint Ephraim of Amida was among those who pitched in cleaning up the city and rescuing survivors in the aftermath, among whom were Saint Martha and her son Saint Symeōn the Younger Stylite. Prayers asking the intercession of any of these three saints with our Lord Christ and the Holy Theotōkos will surely be efficacious in aiding the victims.
We should not, however, be content merely to offer prayers. Our energy, our money and our hearts should go out to the victims as well. International Orthodox Christian Charities has set up a special response for the victims of the 6 February earthquake. So too has the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Please consider donating to either of these two response funds.
There is another important step that people in the United States and the European Union especially can take for the victims of this earthquake. That is: we can call for an immediate halt to the cruel sanctions policy of our government. Over ten million Syrians have already been placed in dire straits financially on account of this sanctions policy. But more to the point: this sanctions policy directly hinders international aid efforts for the Syrian people, which they need now more than ever.
Another thing we can and should pressure our government to do after this earthquake, is to recall our troops from the oil fields in al-Ḥasaka in northern Syria. We should begin allowing the Syrian people themselves to benefit from their own natural resources, instead of pillaging the stuff out from under their feet—a Trump-era policy that Biden has not seen fit to end. That wealth, which justly belongs to the Syrian people, could well represent the difference between suffering and flourishing, even between life and death, for hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
May God soften the hearts of our leaders, and preserve in faith and steadfast perseverance the long-suffering people of Syria!
EDIT: Russia and China have both offered Syria significant aid packages to help with disaster relief. The US is still slowing humanitarian aid from entering the country with its sanctions policy, which appears to be motivated entirely by geopolitical self-interest. The three Patriarchs of Antioch, including Patriarch John X, have issued a letter condemning sanctions against Syria, and calling for them to be lifted.