'Take pictures of my child': Photo of Turkish father holding dead daughter's hand shows world immense pain of earthquake tragedy

His daughter was crushed in her bed when the catastrophic quake struck Kahramanmaras city in Turkey on Monday

Mesut Hancer holds the hand of his 15-year-old daughter Irmak, who died in the earthquake in Kahramanmaras. — AFP
Mesut Hancer holds the hand of his 15-year-old daughter Irmak, who died in the earthquake in Kahramanmaras. — AFP


Published: Fri 10 Feb 2023, 3:58 PM

AFP photographer Adem Altan was taking pictures of a collapsed apartment building in Kahramanmaras the day after the earthquake hit the Turkish city when he noticed a man sitting alone in the middle of the rubble.

With rescue teams yet to arrive, people who lived in the block were trying to get to loved ones trapped under the piles of concrete and broken bricks.

But one man was not moving despite the rain and the freezing cold. It was then that Adem noticed that he was holding a hand. He trained his camera on him from about 60 metres. It was a delicate moment, but the man in the orange jacket called him in.

“Take pictures of my child,” the man called in a low trembling voice. For a brief second, Mesut Hancer let go of his daughter’s hand to show where she lay. Fifteen-year-old Irmak was crushed in her bed when the first pre-dawn tremor struck. The father wanted the world to see his loss. And it did.

As he took the photo “I had tears in my eyes,” said Adem, an image that would go around the world and become a symbol of the appalling suffering visited on the people of southern Turkey, but also of their quiet dignity.

Mesut Hancer’s refusal to let his daughter go touched millions, crouching amid the shattered remains of his home. “I was so sad,” said Adem. “I kept saying to myself, ‘My God, what immense pain.’” Adem asked the father his name and that of his child. “My daughter, Irmak,” he said.

“He was speaking with difficulty. It was hard to ask him any more because his neighbours were demanding silence so they could hear the voices of survivors under the rubble,” Adem added.

As a news photographer for 40 years – 15 of those with AFP – Adem knew he had caught something of the terrible tragedy. Even so, its global impact surprised him, the image appearing on the front pages of The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times and shared thousands upon thousands of times on social media. Altan has received thousands of messages from people worldwide wanting to offer support.

“Many told me they will never forget this image,” he said.


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