Gaziantep, Turkey – A couple of hours after the primary large earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria final 12 months, Ahmad Nached determined to marry his companion, Anna Rudnichenko.

Ahmad, 30, and Anna, 23, had been asleep of their previous eighth-floor condominium when the primary tremors woke them from a deep sleep.

The 2 large earthquakes, which struck a couple of hours aside, killed greater than 50,000 folks in each nations.
The couple, who hail from Syria and Ukraine respectively, assumed that the noise and destruction had been an air raid, a well-known prevalence for them.

It took them a couple of minutes to understand it was an earthquake, which neither of them had ever skilled of their lives.

From their cosy house in Gaziantep, as they discuss in regards to the final particulars of their first Valentine’s Day as husband and spouse, they clarify that they had by no means talked about marriage earlier than the tragedy.

Rudnichenko determined to maneuver to Turkey from her native Zaporizhia in 2021, in search of independence after graduating from college. “I at all times had this affinity for Turkey as a result of, once I was little, I lived right here for a couple of years,” she informed Al Jazeera.

She selected Gaziantep, a metropolis well-known for its delicacies, the place she discovered part-time jobs in lodge administration and instructing English.

What for her was a alternative was compelled on Ahmad by the battle ravaging his nation. In 2012, after collaborating within the protests in his native Aleppo that, over time, led to clashes with the federal government and a conflict, his mother and father despatched him and his sister to security in Gaziantep, simply throughout the border.

Since then, Nached has been working with Syrian humanitarian organisations in Turkey whereas cultivating his ardour for digital music at Room41, a collective of Syrian and Turkish DJs attempting to brighten up Gaziantep’s nights.

A proposal, a sundown, and a hoop [Courtesy of Anna Rudnichenko]

Initially disenchanted by Gaziantep’s lack of nightclubs, Rudnichenko ended up attending certainly one of Room41’s events.

“All I keep in mind of that night time is that the music instantly turned off at what, in keeping with me, was fairly early – round 1am,” Rudnichenko remembers. “So I went to the console, fairly indignant, complaining to the DJ and asking him why the celebration was already over,” she laughs from the sofa, sipping a sizzling cup of Turkish tea.

Nached remembers being confused by the way in which she approached him, however he had had a sense all day that he would meet somebody that night time.

It took time, however finally, their friendship advanced into one thing extra. Nached says courting somebody from a distinct background makes the connection richer.

Rudnichenko had by no means met a Syrian refugee and was fascinated by Nached’s story. Little did she know that in lower than a 12 months, she, too, would turn into a refugee.

When the conflict in Ukraine began, Nached knew the precise phrases to consolation his companion as a result of he had been via it.

“We now had one thing extra in widespread drawing us nearer,” he says. “We each had been very upset for our nations, however as a Syrian with a decade-worth background in conflict trauma administration, I knew the right way to move on the talent of retaining calm whereas your family members are caught in a conflict zone.”

Whereas the weird couple shared a tragic backstory, it additionally highlighted the numerous variations of their displacement.

As a Syrian in Turkey, Nached says he experiences a whole lot of racism. “I’ve at all times felt like I needed to disguise my id, attempting to not communicate Arabic within the streets or portraying the very best model of me to not be labelled as ‘the dangerous one’,” he explains.

Turkey hosts greater than three million Syrian refugees, and there have been tensions between them and the native inhabitants since 2012, highlighted by the earthquake fallout and nationwide elections characterised by a ferocious campaign against Syrians.

Anna Rudnichenko and Ahmed Nached
Anna and Ahmad married on Christmas Day [Courtesy of Anna Rudnichenko]

However, since early 2022, Turkey has additionally welcomed 1000’s of Ukrainian refugees, who really feel much more welcome and built-in. In Gaziantep, each refugee communities dwell collectively however are handled in another way. “Once I say I’m Ukrainian, I get a whole lot of compassion and sympathy,” says Rudnichenko. “However the identical doesn’t occur to Ahmad.”

In February 2023, Nached and Rudnichenko spent a few days in a shelter within the metropolis earlier than being evacuated to a lodge in Ankara via Nached’s office. They had been so shocked they determined to depart Gaziantep.

They appeared into Canada resettlement programmes, however finally opted for Germany, a typical vacation spot for Syrian and Ukrainian refugees. Rudnichenko left first, hopeful to search out help upon arrival.

“However since I used to be not coming straight from Ukraine, I couldn’t qualify as a refugee, although I couldn’t return to my nation, which is the outline of a refugee,” she explains. The identical went for Nached, because the Syrian disaster is not thought-about an emergency in Europe that entitles Syrian asylum seekers to be accepted for resettlement.

In Germany, Rudnichenko lastly skilled the identical type of racism that Syrians expertise every day in Gaziantep. “Solely then, I might actually empathise with what Ahmad had lived via for over 10 years,” she says.

After 5 months, they determined to surrender and keep in Turkey. Within the meantime, life had gone again to regular within the earthquake zone they usually felt secure sufficient to return to Gaziantep collectively.

Final September, throughout a visit to Istanbul’s Princes Islands, Nached proposed to Rudnichenko, and the 2 got married in Gaziantep on Christmas Day.

After the final 12 months, they by no means imagined they might be spending Valentine’s Day in Gaziantep. However they are saying town – regardless of the tragedy it witnessed – stays their good refuge.

“Regardless of the future is hiding for us, spending it with the best particular person simply makes the world and this life rather less traumatic,” Nached says.


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