Nearly two weeks ago, Bakersfield resident Sherry Jones received a text message from her ex-husband, Mervan Ergun, informing her that there had been a major earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
Jones, 49, immediately texted him back and asked if anyone was hurt. Ergun’s entire extended family lived in Turkey, specifically in Hatay province, one of the regions hardest hit by the magnitude 7.8 earthquake on Feb. 6 and its aftershocks.
A few hours later, 41-year-old Ergun replied that his mother, two sisters and a brother had been killed, along with their children and husbands.
“I didn’t believe it,” Jones said. “I thought he was playing a terrible joke, but it soon became clear that he wasn’t.”
In total, Ergun lost 14 relatives, including two aunts and an uncle. Mervan’s 38-year-old brother, Mecdi Ergun, Mecdi’s wife and their two children, as well as his 40-year-old sister, Meyse Yalman, her husband and their three children were killed when their apartment buildings collapsed in the earthquake.
Jones acts as spokesperson for Ergun, a Bakersfield resident who is currently in Turkey and is organizing his family members’ funerals.
“He said, ‘It would be one thing if it was just one family member and how hard that would be, but to lose 11 close relatives at once is just almost unbearable,'” Jones said. “For me, I still feel like part of their family, and they still treat me as such. I can’t believe they’re gone.”
Mervan’s 70-year-old mother, Fatma Ergun, and 30-year-old sister, Merve Ergun, the youngest of 11 siblings in the family, were the primary caretakers of Mervan’s father, Abdullah Ergun, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and Mervan’s brother, Mesut Ergun, who is developmentally delayed and blind.
The four of them lived together in Antakya, and when the earthquake hit, Mervan’s mother and sister died while his father and brother survived.
“Mervan’s mother probably handled him the best,” Jones said of her former father-in-law. “And now she’s gone and the siblings are doing their best to take care of him.”
A magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit Turkey and Syria on Monday, two weeks after the quake that killed tens of thousands of people and destroyed thousands of buildings in the province.
At least eight people were killed and 294 injured in the latest quake, which was followed by a second magnitude-5.8 quake and dozens of other aftershocks.
The recent quakes occurred in the town of Defne, in Turkey’s Hatay province. Ergun and his family were “afraid” of the earthquakes this week, but managed to get through them unscathed, Jones said.
After learning of his relatives’ deaths, Ergun frantically searched for a way to get to Turkey, Jones said. He was able to fly to Istanbul from Los Angeles, but there were no flights to southern Turkey. Ergun took a bus part of the way and eventually walked until he was about 50 kilometers from Antayka when someone picked him up on the road and drove him the rest of the way.
Ergun helped find the bodies of his sister, Meyse, her husband and their three children in the rubble of their collapsed apartment building. On Thursday he found the bodies of his brother Mecdi and Mecdi’s wife and two children.
They were buried in the nearby village of Kirancik.
“He said the city smells like death everywhere they go,” Jones said. “There are families waiting for rescue teams to bring their missing relatives out so they can lay them to rest. They have no hope that anyone is still alive, given the state of the buildings and the time that has passed.”
Jones said she first met Ergun in 2007 over the internet, and after six months of talking online, she traveled to Turkey and they got engaged. They came to the United States in late 2008 and married in early 2009. They lived together in Bakersfield until their divorce in August 2021.
Jones and Ergun share two sons: 13-year-old Grant-Abdullah and 9-year-old Lance. In 2018, the former couple went back to Turkey for vacation with their children.
“They didn’t treat me any differently,” Jones said of her ex-husband’s family. “I am the mother of his children and they will always see me as his wife. They knew we weren’t together, but they still treated me as such and welcomed me with open arms.”
Jones said Grant-Abdullah takes death very seriously after recently meeting all of his cousins and extended family members.
“He’s struggling a little bit himself because his memories are very fresh and he’s bonded with his cousins and his grandmother and aunts and uncles who are gone now,” Jones said.
Jones also has one GoFundMe page to raise money for the family.
Fatma Erdun, Jones said, had been a “very strong matriarch” to the family.
“He had a very strong mother and it was hard to win her over, but from what I understand, I did it,” she said. “That meant a lot knowing how special she was and the expectation she had of people. It’s hard to believe she’s gone.”
Jones said the family is struggling to process what happened and how to move on.
“They’re scared to be in their homes right now because what if another earthquake hits?” she said. “It’s a huge loss. They’re an extremely close-knit family. That’s one of the things that attracted me to Mervan: he was very close to his family.”