Familiar animal noises brought cheer to earthquake survivors in Turkiye’s southeastern city of Kahramanmaraş last week, as a retired imam sang the children’s song “Ali Baba’s Farm” through loudspeakers.
“Uncle” Ömer Faruk Şirikçi, the former imam of the city’s Abdülhamid Han Mosque, sat in a tent with a microphone and invited children temporarily living in a “tent city” to attend an entertainment event organised by three psychologists.
Mr Şirikçi improvised and started singing the song, which involves making the sounds of various farmyard animals including cats, dogs and cockerels, and is comparable to the English-language song “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
His heart-warming singing was caught on video and went viral on social media before making national news.
When asked about how the video came to light, Mr Şirikçi told the Turkish news channel CNN Türk: “I made an announcement to the residents of the tent city. I read the Quran, and after that, I said, if you send your children, we will entertain them.
“At first, they misunderstood and they were hesitant to send their children. When we were thinking about how to bring the children together, suddenly this song came to my mind, and I said if you send your children, we will sing songs like this.
“I improvised and sang Ali Baba’s farm. The children came in droves, and at the end of the programme we handed out toys to the children. We agreed to meet again the next day, and this is ordinary work for us, we are religious officials and we are a part of [people’s] lives.”
Kahramanmaraş Abdülhamid Han
Camii’nin eski imamı Ömer Faruk Hoca, çocukları eğlendirmek için hoparlörden Ali Baba’nın Çiftliği’ni söyledi. pic.twitter.com/KFRCiWmxDO
— Haber (@Haber) February 27, 2023
The former imam, who has run a soup kitchen in the city since 1992, and his colleagues have been feeding 15,000 people on a daily basis since a devastating earthquake first Gaziantep in the early hours of 6 February. It was followed by a second powerful tremor in Kahramanmaraş on the same day.
The quakes have claimed over 50,000 lives in southeast Turkiye and northern Syria. It is the worst to have hit Turkiye in the past 100 years; in 1939, an equally powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Erzincan, killing some 33,000 people and injuring over 100,000 others.