It was the story that was dubbed as a speck of hope in the darkest of hours. As Turkish authorities continued to work through the rubble in the hope of finding survivors in the devastating earthquake to hit the country’s east, a 13-year-old’s fate was to give some hope.
The boy’s name was Yunus. He was caught in the 7.2-magnitude earthquake, which struck his home town of Erciş near the city of Van, while he was in an internet cafe. He was rescued from the ruins almost 24 hours after the quake hit.
When rescue teams reached Yunus, it would still be hours before they could pull him out to safety. They gave him a pillow and told him to sit tight. Wide-eyed and trapped under tonnes of rubble, he obeyed. He waited patiently as several professionals and volunteers worked to free him.
All while a lifeless hand rested coldly on his shoulder.
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It is this frame that was captured in a photo taken by Reuters photographer Ümit Bektaş. The photo circulated the world and became “the story” of the Turkish tragedy.
The identity of the lifeless body that was beside Yunus for 24 hours is still unknown. What is known, however, is that it was a male, and, by the ring on his finger, that he was married. What is thought is that he attempted to shelter Yunus with his body as the building collapsed.
I stared in awe at the television as a satellite channel showed Yunus’ rescue live. When workers told him it was 10pm, he replied with: “Oh no, it’s late. Don’t tell my dad.”
And he told reporters that the lifeless man by him was “a sign” that he needed to survive.
But sadly, Yunus couldn’t. A day after he was rescued, he died in hospital. Author Elif Shafak’s tweet said it all: “His story was a speck of hope, it is no more.”
No one story has affected me as much as that of Yunus. As a journalist, I covered the Haiti earthquake last year from the comfort of my desk in a Melbourne newsroom. I remember updating my stories as the death toll rose from hundreds to thousands, to more than 300,000. After a while, numbers become just statistics and sadly start to have little meaning.
But it’s stories such as Yunus’ that forever stick in journalists’ minds, whether you’re on the scene of a tragedy or simply observing from abroad.
On a personal front, however, this strikes much closer to home. As an Australian citizen of Turkish descent, it goes directly to my sense of belonging.
From seeing the disturbing images of buildings flattened in one of the poorest regions in Turkey, to the tears shed on national television by talk-show hosts, it’s hard to remain oblivious to what’s taking place.
As journalists, we’re often the first to hear about disasters of this magnitude, and report on them in what can sometimes be the most trying of circumstances.
But for the first time in my relatively short career, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to comprehend and convey what’s happening on a land so far away, which means so much to me. I find myself actively scanning newspaper headlines and watching broadcasts in the hope that Turkey will be the main focus. That the story of Yunus, as well as the 530 others that have perished and the more than 1300 injured, is told, and told well.
But like most news, the “fresh angle” requirement is often not satisfied in tragedies such as these, which start to become less prevalent to the media with each passing day.
I struggled to find such fresh angles covering Haiti, and after just a few days, the same story started to become difficult to sell.
It’s inevitable that this will soon too happen with Turkey, if it hasn’t already. And the story of 13-year-old Yunus will no doubt be forgotten as others emerge.
And yet it’s this inevitability that is too often the source of frustration for many. Especially when the story is so close to home.