April 6, 2023

Antakya’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce on recovering the city’s post-earthquake economy

Turkish Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank at the earthquake disaster area in the city of Hatay in conversation with Samet Fırat Soydemir and Hikmet Çinçin of Anktakya Chamber of Industry and Commerce

After the earthquakes, Antakya needs a thriving SME environment to encourage the city’s commercial activities to resume. In conversation with Samet Fırat Soydemir of Antakya Chamber of Industry and Commerce about paths to earthquake recovery in Turkiye .

More than a month has passed since the deadly earthquakes that claimed the lives of more than 48,000 people in Türkiye. Among the 11 officially recognised earthquake-affected provinces, Antakya is one of the worst affected. Unofficial estimates place the number of displaced people at 400,000, 80% of the pre-earthquake population. The city is in distress, with large portions of the buildings in the city in ruins.

As earthquake-affected provinces struggle to recover from the destruction, SPARK’s local partners remain in the city and continue their operations under difficult circumstances. 

We interviewed Samet Fırat Soydemir, Head of ABIGEM (European Union – Türkiye Business Development Center) at Antakya Chamber of Industry and Commerce (ACIC). ACIC is  SPARK’s partner since 2022 under the European Union funded DAHIL project. Antakya, a city where agricultural products are well renowned and have a large potential for agro-industry, is now experiencing a setback due to the earthquake.

Economy of a earthquake-stricken city

According to Soydemir, economic activity within the city has come to a halt. “Antakya’s economy currently runs on the external aid sent to the city,” he explains. “Everyone who has remained in the city depends on the relief efforts. No one gets to spend money as aid organisations deliver all services and goods are currently. People need to return to the city to reestablish economic activity.”

“I believe that 70%of the blue-collar workers have left the city. Some will not return because industrial employers in other cities have already hired qualified personnel. I believe many will remain settled in these cities. 90%of the white-collar workers have left. Many, I believe, will be hesitant to return. Antakya’s housing situation must be resolved before anyone returns.”

Need for accommodation

The lack of housing is Antakya’s biggest economic challenge at the moment. “Temporary tent settlements have been set up in the city but these are not enough. The city urgently needs container houses as a midterm solution”, says Samet Fırat Soydemir. These houses will provide shelter for earthquake survivors, allowing them to contribute to future reconstruction efforts. Building viable accommodation options is crucial for the city’s recovery before people return. Soydemir stresses that the construction of permanent houses in this phase is a mistake. This is due to aftershocks damaging the sites and reducing earthquake resistance.

Acting on a similar need for educational spaces  in the city, SPARK is currently collaborating with Hatay Mustafa Kemal University where many classroom buildings are in damaged condition. With the funding of the European Union, under the DAHIL project, SPARK is delivering six containers. These contianers are equipeed with amenities required to function as a classroom for the university students attending classes.

Fragility within small and large industrial zones

“The industrial zone in the city stands, but the small-scale industry zone containing 2,000 firms has been devastated. Only 300 of these enterprises that remain functional.” Soydemir recounts that the condition of industrial production in Antakya has come up during Turkish Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank’s visit to Antakya.

Turkish Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank at the earthquake disaster area in the city of Hatay in conversation with Samet Fırat Soydemir and Hikmet Çinçin of Anktakya Chamber of Industry and Commerce
Samet Fırat Soydemir (centre right) in conversation with the Turkish Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank (centre) during the Minister’s visit to earthquake zone.

Small and medium-sized enterprises 

According to Soydemir, the earthquake has been detrimental to the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Antakya.

“The government’s assistance to SMEs is limited to the passage of a debt relief act. For the time being, this ensures that SMEs do not apply for default. However, in order for these businesses to continue their operations, they require assistance that goes beyond debt relief. Non-governmental organisations will have to step in to help strengthen the capital of SMEs.”

A thriving SME environment in Antakya would encourage the city’s commercial activities to resume. Those who have left the city will have more reasons to return, once SMEs are back in business..

Soydemir can think of a starting point. “At first, local production of container houses must be supported. Such assistance would boost local production capacity, allowing them to provide houses to earthquake victims faster.”

The city needs workforce adjustments as accordint to Soydemir. “To draw the blue and white collar workers back to the city, local businesses will have to compete with firms outside the area. However, because of their capital fragility, they are at a disadvantage. NGOs can begin by providing salary assistance.”

Prior to the earthquake, SPARK had organised business networking conferences, and business-to-business meeting events. These events expanded local SMEs’ access to new markets. SPARK partnered with Antakya Chamber of Industry and Commerce in implementing these events, under the DAHIL project funded by the European Union. The project provides capacity enhancement support to chamber staff and business skills training to local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

SPARK’s Earthquake Response

SPARK developed an earthquake response programme providing emergency and early recovery support to those affected by the earthquake across 11 cities. The Reviving Jobs: Rebuilding Sustainable Economy in Earthquake-Affected Regions of Türkiye and Syria Programme will focus on providing early recovery and growth tracks to a wide range of groups, including students, entrepreneurs and business owners. The programme aims to contribute to the recovery efforts of the Turkish government, European Union and international community in rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure, businesses and industries in a safer, more sustainable, shock-resilient and climate-focused way than before.

Currently, SPARK is working to enhance the operational capacity of its partners in the earthquake-affected regions. With 20 partner organisations, some of which have had to halt their activities due to the earthquake, SPARK is supporting them to restart and rebuild their operations so they can continue to support the higher education and entrepreneurial ecosystems around them.

To address the urgent need in revitalising the economic activity in the region, SPARK is providing grats, technical support and access to finance instruments to 250 businesses in the earthquake-affected areas. To contribute the efforts in minimising the effects of the current and the potential disasters, SPARK will support entrepreneurs with digital and green business ideas, as part of the programme.One major challenge faced by many entrepreneurs and business owners in the affected cities is the lack of working spaces. SPARK plans to create shared working spaces that provide the facilities needed to restart businesses. By offering these spaces to local entrepreneurs, SPARK hopes to jumpstart economic growth in the region.

Damaged interior of the building of Antakya Chamber of Industry and Commerce after the earthquake
Damage to their building have led Antakya Chamber of Industry and Commerce to relocate to a temporary location.
Damaged interior of a grey room in the building of Antakya Chamber of Industry and Commerce after the earthquake
Damage to their building have led Antakya Chamber of Industry and Commerce to relocate to a temporary location.


Residents of Antakya have a long road ahead of them to bring their city back to its former vitality. Recovery of the city’s economy is essential for rebuilding efforts. As a business development expert, Soydemir highlights the importance of fast accommodation solutions, such as container homes, in bringing people back to the city. Accommodation options ensure that businesses open their doors and resume the city’s bustling commercial activities.

Small business owners are in a fragile condition in terms of their capital flow and face the risk of closing down. This vulnerability transitions into a risk for larger businesses and industries as they rely on small businesses in their daily operations. NGOs can make a change within the current business environment, starting with salary assistance and capital support.

The upside is NGOs are active in delivering services and support to the city, as shown by Antakya Chamber of Commerce relocating to an undamaged school building to rebuild their operational capacity so that the organization can support the rebuilding efforts within the city.

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