Healing page by page in earthquake-affected Türkiye

Ahead of World Book and Copyright Day, marked annually on 23 April, Miko Alazas of IOM caught up with a bibliophile in Adiyaman, Türkiye, who is helping to heal his community through the power of books. 

Muhammed vividly remembers the day his uncle gifted him his first storybook. At the age of 10, this was the beginning of his love for literature and poetry. 

Growing up, he would arrange book club gatherings with friends. In his teens, he would organize book fairs. After university, he worked in journalism. 

In his 20s, he had already envisioned his dream retirement plan: open a bookshop. 

When earthquakes struck his hometown of Adiyaman in 2023 and left a trail of devastation, little did he know that his retirement plan would come to fruition decades early. 

“I lost many relatives and saw many horrible things,” Muhammed recalled of the immediate aftermath. “We all had to come together as neighbours, as a community. 

He spent some time in Istanbul to receive medical treatment, then returned to Adiyaman wondering what his next steps would be. 

As part of recovery plans, authorities constructed a ‘social market’ in the town centre – where various shops would cater to residents’ needs and revive economic activity. Included in the plan was a bookshop. 

Muhammed, already known in his community as a booklover, came on top the list of recommendations of who could be trusted to open and run the bookshop. 

“I was selected by authorities to lead this effort and provided by the Turkish Red Crescent a first set of books,” he says. “I started from zero. Everything was devastated after the earthquakes.” 

Despite the uphill battle, Muhammed was driven by his belief that books could aid in his community’s collective healing. 

“My goal was to help people recover through books. Books can teach everything and make one feel everything, from pain to happiness.” 

Starting with old iron shelves, Muhammed wanted to transform his bookshop into a more charming and comfortable environment. 

Through the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) cash grant programme, Muhammed was able to purchase new bookshelves. 

“The cash grant programme is part of IOM’s wider support to recovery efforts in the affected region. Working closely with local authorities, we aid select entrepreneurs to purchase items or equipment, enabling them to re-establish or expand their business. This, in turn, drives socioeconomic activity,” explains Çağlar Yetişkin, IOM National Project Officer (Livelihoods). 

As of March 2024, 333 entrepreneurs in 10 provinces have received cash grants. Recipients include migrants, refugees and host community members, covering sectors such as food, textile and services. 

Muhammed is one of over 300 earthquake-affected entrepreneurs to benefit from IOM’s cash grant programme.

Muhammed is one of over 300 earthquake-affected entrepreneurs to benefit from IOM’s cash grant programme.

Almost a year since he opened the bookshop, Muhammed is happy with where life has taken him, despite going through such a shocking disaster not too long ago. 

“I love this business. I’m happy being around books. I meet people of all walks of life and have a unique relationship with each of my customers.” 

Muhammed is also involved in efforts to re-establish public libraries, named in commemoration of literature teachers who perished during the earthquakes. Through this, he hopes to make books more accessible. 

“When you read, you are captured by a new world,” he remarks. 

Indeed, each day, Muhammed hopes that his customers are captured into a new world of healing and hope amidst the tragedy. 

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