Weddings in Gaziantep, Turkey bring joy and healing after earthquake devastation

In downtown Gaziantep, Turkey, Gazi Muhtar Pasa Boulevard is known for being an elegant district filled with bridal shops and wedding venues. It is a popular wedding destination and has recently seen a significant increase in activity compared to a year ago. The sidewalks are now clear of debris and shattered window glass, with businesses opening early in the morning despite the drizzle. Brides-to-be like Aysenur from Pazarcik can be seen dreamily window shopping for their dream wedding dress.

However, in January 2023, a natural disaster brought devastation to the area. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake rocked southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, killing over 50,000 people, displacing millions, and causing significant damage. The earthquake shattered the dreams of many couples who were preparing to start their lives together. One such person was Diana Hajj Assad, who was eagerly preparing for her wedding day in February.

Many businesses, including wedding venues and bridal shops, were affected by the earthquake. Reem Masri, a Syrian refugee who had moved to Gaziantep, had set up her wedding planning agency, Dantel, in 2016 and had been hired to organize Hajj Assad’s wedding. However, the earthquake caused her to lose her home, an employee, and her source of income. The earthquake turned Gaziantep, a city known for joy and celebration, into a place of sorrow, with wedding venues and shops becoming temporary refuges for the displaced.

Aykut Goktenik, the director of the Sato Saloon wedding venue, opened his venue to earthquake survivors, providing them with warmth and safety. Weddings were suspended for six weeks after a state of emergency was declared, but even after the suspension was lifted, few were inclined to celebrate due to the losses suffered. Despite the tragedy, some couples, like Diana and Shareef, pressed on with their wedding preparations to share some positive moments with their relatives after the tragedy. Their wedding was one of the first to be celebrated after a long period of mourning.

After the earthquake, many people from other provinces flocked to Gaziantep to shop for or celebrate their big day. Reem Masri is currently organizing the wedding celebration for Aysenur and her fiance Ali, who had to postpone their wedding for one more year due to the earthquake. Despite the heartache of celebrating far from their hometown, they are relieved to finally tie the knot.

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