After a devastating Feb. 6 earthquake killed more than 41,000 people in Turkey and Syria as of Feb. 15, Elif Gencer (24C) said she and her fellow Turkish international students knew they couldn’t “just sit and cry,” skip classes and “lose” their mental health.

Instead, Gencer said that she and her Turkish friends decided to fundraise, grieve and support each other throughout the earthquake’s aftermath.

Students grieve family back home 

Several Turkish and Syrian students said they felt helpless hearing horrible news from home while being thousands of miles away.

There was no cell service in the region when the earthquake hit, so Ilayda Baykan (26C) spent the day trying to contact people who could check on buildings where her friends and family reside. Though Baykan’s family remained safe, her close friends lost family members, which Baykan said “really hurts the heart.”

“These people that are so close to me were suffering unimaginably and I was experiencing this firsthand with phone calls I made to them and everything,” Baykan said. “It’s just extremely tragic.”

Others echoed Baykan’s sentiment, stating that the hardest part was watching the earthquake from afar. Hamit Tatari (26C), who is from Turkey, said it was “saddening” to be so far away from home during the crisis.

“I’ve seen people saying their homes and the streets they used to live in smell like blood,” Tatari said.

Ibrahim Jouja (22Ox, 25C) is both Turkish and Syrian, but most of his family is from Homs, Syria. He said his second cousin and her four children were missing for nearly a week. On Feb. 12, he learned they were dead.

“That was really devastating because, in Syria, even though she was only my second cousin, it’s very connected and you know your family,” Jouja said. “She was roommates with my mom’s best friends.”

Emory University’s Office of Spiritual and Religious Life is holding a vigil on Feb. 15 at noon in Cannon Chapel for students, faculty and community members to grieve the earthquakes. Gencer along with other Turkish students will be speaking during the gathering.

The Turkish-Syrian earthquake devastated the region on Feb. 6, ultimately killing more than 41,000 people as of Feb. 15. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Voice of America

Policy sanctions impact aid 

Syria has also been sanctioned by the United States since 1979, which hinders the nation from receiving U.S. aid, Ameer Rifai (21Ox, 23C) said. As such, he worries that Syria might not get as much aid as Turkey due to foreign policy marred by tension and closed borders. 

“For Syria, the civil war is definitely playing a role in the speed that aid is getting to the people in the northwest,” Rifai said.

However, the United States issued a 180-day exemption for sanctions on Feb. 9, meaning Syrians can temporarily receive aid for the earthquakes.

Rifai pointed to the Syrian American Medical Society, a humanitarian aid organization, as one of the nonprofits that have provided assistance despite the barriers.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology Kemal Budak (22G) added that donating to the right organizations, such as the Ahbap Foundation, is important. For those who may not trust the Turkish government, the fact that the money is going directly to the Ahbap Foundation instead has helped encourage donations, Budak explained.

​​”Unfortunately, the trust [in] the Turkish government is at an all time low level,” Budak said.

A 2021 poll found that 53% of Turkish citizens do not have trust in the presidency. 

According to Budak, the Turkish government is “one of the main responsible parties for this earthquake.”  

Turkey and Syria are in one of the most seismically active regions in the world, Budak said, comparable to Japan. However, Japan’s earthquakes cause significantly less deaths than the earthquakes which devastated Turkey and Syria — which Budak said was because of greater governmental preparation and support.

“Unfortunately, I don’t see it in the public or, I don’t see any government effort to make sure people are not going to allow for the construction of a flimsy building,” Budak said. “That means people unfortunately didn’t do their best and it hurts me more than the earthquake itself because my, not only a prayer, but also my request to the people: they need to have the same mindset of the Japanese people, that they should be ready for earthquakes anytime because we don’t have any crystal ball to predict any earthquake.”

Students, faculty mobilize to fundraise

Various groups, such as the Muslim Student Association, along with Turkish students are planning fundraisers to support those affected by the earthquakes. 

During a Feb. 13 bake sale, a group of Turkish students raised about $6,000, Baykan said. While many donors have sent food, water and clothes to Turkey, medical supplies are currently the biggest necessity, Baykan added.

A group of Turkish students are also holding a bake sale on McDonough Plaza from 1 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 16 to fundraise for a community foundation called Turkish Philanthropy Funds, according to Baykan and Gencer.

Budak, who is from Western Turkey, and his son, who is a high school freshman, also started a fundraiser to support Turkey. The fundraiser garnered about $2,000 within the first 24 hours. A few days later, his fundraiser surpassed $3,000.

As of Feb. 15, Budak and his son raised $3,180, which is equivalent to 59,936.77 Turkish liras.

“It should help at least a couple of families or maybe a small community in the short term,” Budak said.”

Rifai, whose family is from Damascus, Syria, which was less impacted by the earthquake, also plans to fundraise for Turkey and Syria. He will run the Publix Atlanta Marathon on Feb. 26 with another student as a fundraiser.

“It’s been very beautiful seeing the Emory community come together,” Rifai said. “The most important thing for me is just people knowing that their money is going where they want it to go.”

News Editor Madi Olivier (25C) and Assistant News Editor Ashley Zhu (25C) contributed reporting.

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News Editor | Eva Roytburg (she/her, 23Ox) is from Glencoe, Illinois, majoring in philosophy, politics and law. Outside of the Wheel, Roytburg is an avid writer of short fiction stories. In her free time, you can find her way too deep in a niche section of Wikipedia.

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