British Kebab Awards: Shop owners help Turkey earthquake survivors

British Kebab Awards raise money for earthquake victims

Businessman Kemal Aslan, 49, traveled straight to Turkey earlier this month to help with the rescue effort (Image: Kemal Aslan)

The Turkish and Kurdish communities in the UK are coming together to help their loved ones return home affected by this month’s earthquakes.

Restaurant owners gathered at last night’s British Kebab Awards in London to celebrate the culinary success as well as raising money for charities helping survivors.

Kemal Aslan, who saw several of his restaurants included in the awards this year, traveled directly to Turkey earlier this month to help with the rescue effort.

“There were two earthquakes in eight hours – the first time I was here [in the UK]and he was on the phone all night,” said the 49-year-old businessman.

“I was trying to help everyone get out of town and then the second thing happened.

“I decided I couldn’t stay here [after that]so three hours later I took the first flight out of Manchester.’

He said that in his hometown of Elbistan – one of the areas hardest hit by this month’s earthquakes – many people had been evacuated before the second quake.

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WEDS 7:00: British Kebab Awards raise money for earthquake victims

Thousands of people died in the aftermath of the two earthquakes in early February (Image: Kemal Aslan)

WEDS 7:00: British Kebab Awards raise money for earthquake victims

Elbistan city center was ‘completely gone’ (Image: Kemal Aslan)

“It didn’t look great … my city, the city centre, was completely gone,” said Kemal, who owns Elif Childwall and Anar restaurants in Liverpool.

“But it hit several hours after the first one, so most people were out before it happened. They were staying in their cars or had started moving to the villages.’

He estimated that about 1,000 people died, but if it was the first earthquake to hit Elbistan, “it could have been 40,000 or 50,000”.

More than 46,000 people are estimated to have been killed and more than a million left homeless in the aftermath of the two earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria on February 6. Two more strong earthquakes also struck in the last week.

“The first one was like a warning,” said the dad-of-three.

“People panicked because whole cities were gone, they were worried about food, medicine and so on.

“Some were trying to get under the rubble to reach their family members and friends. It’s hard to talk about… it took people seven days to get the bodies out.

WEDS 7:00: British Kebab Awards raise money for earthquake victims

Some of the devastating scenes filmed by Kemal while helping with the rescue effort (Image: Kemal Aslan)

WEDS 7:00: British Kebab Awards raise money for earthquake victims

Kemal lost more than 60 people he knew in the disaster, including his aunt and cousin (Image: Kemal Aslan)

“For my first four days I was there [looking through] the ruins of about 15 buildings…. but all we found were dead. I couldn’t save anyone alive.’

He said he discovered the bodies of his aunt and cousin in the rubble.

“I was trying to help all the other people… I lost a lot of people I know, family members and friends – over 60 people,” Kemal added.

After that, people had to think about where to live, because they had no houses left. Then they had to think about their children’s education, their work, how to survive.

“It just keeps getting worse. I can’t see this stopping in a day, not in a week or two. So what will these people do? That’s what I’m worried about now, so I’m trying to do something about it.

Kemal said he is struggling as he feels stuck between two countries – he cannot stay in Turkey permanently as he has to run his businesses in the UK.

But he hopes to act as a “bridge” to raise money and aid for the affected communities.

WEDS 7:00: British Kebab Awards raise money for earthquake victims

Kemal owns Elif Childwall and Anar restaurants in Liverpool (Image: Kemal Aslan)

WEDS 7:00: British Kebab Awards raise money for earthquake victims

Several of his restaurants have been shortlisted for the British Kebab Awards 2023 (Image: Kemal Aslan)

It advises people not to travel to Turkey because resources are scarce and visitors will have to share food, shelter and supplies that earthquake survivors desperately need for themselves.

“My phone doesn’t stop ringing, people are asking questions, they want to know what’s going on. I’m trying to answer, but I’m limited, because we’re still in the dark about it.

Ibrahim Dogus, founder of the British Kebab Awards, explained why the organizers launched an earthquake fundraiser this year.

“Most people who are from Turkey and live in the UK came from the area that was hit really hard,” the 42-year-old told

“I was born in a town called Elbistan, which was at the epicenter of the earthquake. About 10,000 people from there live here, they are mostly displaced Kurdish refugees.

“People left the country to settle in many areas across Europe and the UK and started small businesses including many takeaways, restaurants, barbers and so on.

Ibrahim Dogus

Ibrahim Dogus, 42, started the British Kebab Awards 11 years ago (Image: Ibrahim Dogus)

“But their families, their loved ones, their friends are still back in their homes in these cities. So when the earthquake happened, every person who lived here and was born in Turkey had a strong relationship with these people.’

Ibrahim, a Labor adviser and director of the Center for Turkey Studies, said there was “initially a huge shock” to these communities in the UK.

“Everyone was getting calls to say things like their childhood homes had been destroyed,” Ibrahim added.

“We started seeing pictures on social media where they were sharing that their close family members had died. It took a while for people to start realizing, look, there’s no time to live in shock. We just have to start supporting the families.’

He said people immediately started collecting “everything you can imagine”, including goods, clothes, blankets and money to send to charity.

“When I started the British Kebab Awards 11 years ago, it was off the back of all these communities,” he said. “They were the ones who nurtured this to become something big.

Ibrahim Dogus

He promoted campaigns to help earthquake victims at yesterday’s awards (Image: Ibrahim Dogus)

“On every main street there is a steakhouse, a restaurant or a supermarket that comes from the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Syria.”

As a result, he launched the Donate a Doner campaign to encourage people to donate the price of a kebab to the British Red Cross.

People in the UK eat 1.3 million doners a day at an average price of £5. Campaigners say that if everyone bought an extra doner this week, the country could raise £45m.

Ibrahim said the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) – an umbrella of British charities that raises money for aid and relief – has already raised £100 million, believed to be the highest amount of any country.

“The Turkish and Kurdish community are proud of this, they are proud to be British and this new campaign will really add value to what DEC and other charities are doing,” he added.

He said the aftermath of the earthquake is not “a short-term issue” and then wants to help families “who will continue to suffer for the next decade or so” while they rebuild their lives.

Ibrahim said last night’s British Kebab Awards was a timely opportunity to promote the fundraiser as well as celebrate the culture that the Turkish and Kurdish communities bring to the country.

“The British Kebab Awards are now the biggest food awards in the country – we’re taking over from fish and chips and curry to become Britain’s national dish,” he added.

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