Turkish actor and philanthropist Mert Firat is among the country’s most popular talents, known to international audiences for his roles in romantic blockbuster “The Butterfly’s Dream,” thriller “Pure White,” and Netflix Turkish original “Love 101.” A United Nations Development Program Goodwill Ambassador in Turkey, Firat is a co-founder of Ihtiyac Haritasi (Map of Needs), a website connecting those in need.
On Feb. 6, when the catastrophic earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 19,000 by the latest count, Firat’s charity was busy campaigning for war-torn Ukraine. “But now our Ukraine office is campaigning for us,” he says.
Firat spoke to Variety from the city of Antakya where rescuers on Thursday were still pulling survivors from beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings, though after more than three days, hopes of finding many more people alive are beginning to fade.
Whereabouts are you?
I am in Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, Turkey’s hardest-hit province. The situation is awful because thousands of houses have been destroyed by the earthquake and nearly 7,000 people in this area have died.
Are there still people under the rubble?
Yes. One of my aunts and her husband were in a six-floor building, in which they live on the first floor. So they could not run away. We are still working to try and reach them. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I don’t have much hope for them, unfortunately. Like me, there are lots of people who are hoping for good news, but unfortunately it’s almost 70% bad news because the first day [of the earthquake] was very cold. We are just waiting and working. Supporting others and hoping to hear voices. People who were living in the higher floors are luckier.
Is there snow on the ground?
There was snow on the ground on the first day [of the earthquake]. It’s not there any longer, but it’s still cold.
How is the relief effort going?
We are just trying to make the system work again. We are finding new solutions to feed people, setting up caravan kitchens, and trying to reach out. These three cities in the province — Hatay, Adiyaman and Marash — are the most disaster-stricken. Rescue teams are at work; they are coming from different countries around the world.
What are the most critical problems?
The biggest problems are lack of water, gas, electricity and Internet. Gas stations have been destroyed. We are using tankers to carry gas to make the electricity work and using generators as well. And food is a problem. All markets and restaurants are shut. Also finding locations to set up camps is important because many people no longer have houses. Thousands of houses have been destroyed and people need to sleep outside. So we need tents, we need blankets. We are also trying to set up trailer camps. We’ve launched a campaign called One Rent, One Home. The campaign brings together people who have lost their homes after the earthquake and those who want to give rent support or open their empty houses for use. We are trying to take people out of the hardest-hit cities and give them shelter elsewhere. In Antakya, roughly 30% of the population has left the city.
How much support are you getting from the Turkish film and TV industry community?
Actors, artists, writers and producers have stopped working to support charity work. Producers sent us their caravans with kitchens in them. Theaters have shut down. Many of my actor friends are working with us to find solutions and sending trucks with clothing and food. We are sharing information through our website and people from different cities are supporting us. We are just trying to get more money and support from volunteers.
What can the international film and TV community do to help?
We need their support. Just a few months ago we were campaigning for Ukraine. But now our Ukraine office is campaigning for us.
The creative sector can support us. Artists are sensitive people, and they are supporting us. Turkish TV series are watched in more than 120 countries, so this can give us an extra advantage, because the world knows our culture. They know us. Our mindsets are very similar. We need their support. We need our actor and artist friends around the world to raise money to support our effort.
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