I’m known as a movie hardman but nothing prepared me for horrors I saw in earthquake-hit Turkey… it’s changed me forever
IN the aftermath of the Turkish quake, Layer Cake actor Tamer Hassan was surprised when one displaced family cheerfully teased him over his passing resemblance to Antonio Banderas.
He quipped back: “If Antonio Banderas and Steven Seagal had a baby, it’d be me.”
It was a rare moment of laughter for the family who had lost their home and possessions in the 7.8 earthquake which struck southern Turkey and Syria on February 6.
More than a month on, the movie hardman – who’s starred in Layer Cake alongside Daniel Craig, as well as classics Football Factory and The Business – has carried out a harrowing humanitarian mission through the country.
As part of an aid effort, Turkish Cypriot Tamer – a household name in Turkey – has been rushing food, water, clothes and sanitary products to those who were left with the clothes on their backs.
He said: “The families were just walking around like they were in a trance.
“The smell of death was something I have never smelt before.
“If there was a hell, I was standing in the middle of it.
“You couldn’t see the sky, it was just so bad. Dead bodies in the rubble and stuff like that.
“When I actually got down to the affected areas it was too late.”
Tamer was in his native Cyprus when he heard on the news about the devastating quake, which eventually killed more than 50,000 and left 150,000 orphaned children – with numbers set to rise as the recovery effort continues.
After tracking family in the region, Tamer says he was shocked by the Turkish survivors who had travelled to Cyprus.
He said: “Survivors were literally coming into Cyprus with no shoes and socks on.
“These people went to bed thinking they were gonna wake up and take their children to school and go to work or open their businesses and within a few minutes that whole life was devastated.”
Survivors were literally coming into Cyprus with no shoes and socks on
There, he and some expat volunteers set about finding housing for the survivors and shelling out for essential items.
As well as using his personal funds, he started a GoFundMe which to date has raised more than £56,000 towards helping survivors.
Four days after the first quake, Tamer found a safe route to Izmir after hearing reports of lorries being held up.
He and his brother in law Moustafa – who worked tirelessly as his fixer – travelled from Izmir to town Kusadasi, 40 miles from holiday hotspot Bodrum.
There, he would take lists of what families needed and handed them out, sometimes working up to 20-hour days non-stop for a month.
He said: “Each family of six to eight will probably cost about £2,000 to clothe, feed and water for about a month.
“We start at 7am and sometimes keep going until two, three in the morning when we’ve finished.
“We’ll be going home and then someone will ring and it’s a crying mum on the phone saying ‘we haven’t got food, we haven’t got water’.
“I’ll look at my brother in law and he’ll say ‘are we going out?’ and I’ll say ‘what do you think?’.”
He also got in touch with hotels and holiday letting company Holiday Swap to sort out rooms and apartments for families who had been displaced in the quake.
Tamer would hand deliver aid to the families who were shocked to find a major star on their doorstep.
I put my arms around these people
He remembers one elderly lady who sobbed as she told him how she had lost her entire family in the natural disaster.
Tamer said: “It was heartbreaking, but heartwarming.
“I put my arms around these people and sat down with her and gave her a few hours, to just show that we’re here for you.”
The actor then told how he and his volunteers then found a families’ and orphans’ emergency shelter.
He said: “We stumbled upon an athletic summer camp which was housing some orphans there and some families.
“What was great is we could concentrate on a bulk of food, clothing, toys, educational staff, female hygiene packs, all the usual stuff.
“And it was great because we got a few lorries and would really load up and go down and I’d sit with the kids every day, and hear their stories.”
Journey into hell
But it wasn’t until Tamer travelled down to towns Hayat, Gaziantep and Nurdagi at the epicentre of the disaster, that the chilling reality took hold.
He said: “I wanted to go down to the affected areas to see exactly what they needed, how it was done, and get an understanding of what these people have been through.
“I tell you what, I have never experienced anything like it in my life.”
There, he witnessed families desperately digging through the rubble in the hopes of finding a family member.
I was looking behind this teddy bear and there was this guy just staring at the rubble
One man in particular in Nurdagi – which saw 90 per cent of the population killed – has stuck in his mind.
An uncharacteristically emotional Tamer said: “There was this teddy bear and I was looking behind this teddy bear and there was this guy just staring at the rubble.
“These houses had just crumbled – like a bulldozer had pulled them down.
“He was just standing there and I walked over and put my arm around him and asked ‘are you ok?’
“He couldn’t even talk. He said ‘my kids’ and I asked ‘where are your kids?’ and he pointed up to the sky and said ‘they are ok they are with their mum, up in heaven’.
“For someone to look at it, it’s just a teddy in the rubble but it’s the story behind it – there’s kids lying underneath it.”
The long haul
At that moment Tamer decided he would stay as long as it takes to help the people of Turkey get their lives back.
He said: “That was the drive to keep me as long as I can and to keep me down for the next two years, three years whatever it is.
“I know I’m gonna have to find a balance somewhere.”
After surviving on four hour’s sleep a night for a month, Tamer’s manager begged him to take one day off as he was showing signs of burnout.
Now, as well as helping families, Tamer is planning fundraising on a major level to help rebuild the destroyed cities.
“They need millions,” he said.
This week he arranged with a team of volunteers in Drayton Nursery, in Enfield, west London, to take an articulated lorry of supplies across Europe to Turkey.
He and Entourage Sport agency have started signing names like Brazilian international Roberto Carlos for an NGO Football for Peace charity match.
Although Tamer started filming on his social media to encourage donations, he is now making a full-length documentary using his footage.
The actor has been bowled over by Sun readers’ generosity in our campaign, which has so far raised more than £1.5million.
He said: “Now is a time when the survivors really need the world’s help.
“The UK has been phenomenal to now and they’ve really come right together and it just goes to show the love that they have for Turkey.”
Tamer plans to go back to England soon but is looking to find a way to spend the next few years in Turkey when he’s not filming.
But he says he’ll never forget the memories of the devastation quake sites.
He said: “My heart will always belong to the Turkish people.
“I might be known as a hardman but this has changed me forever.”
Tamer’s GoFundMe can be found at gofundme.com/f/please-help-the-people-of-turkey
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