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Thursday, November 30, 2023

UF students honor Turkish, Syrian earthquake victims

Intimate ceremony moves students

<p>UF Turkish Student Association members turn off candles as the vigil dedicated to those who died during the Turkey-Syria earthquakes draws to a close Thursday, March 2, 2023.</p>

UF Turkish Student Association members turn off candles as the vigil dedicated to those who died during the Turkey-Syria earthquakes draws to a close Thursday, March 2, 2023.

On a quiet night at the Plaza of the Americas, about 30 UF students stood together around a Turkish flag made from candles and white roses in a moment of silence. Century Tower was lit up blue in the distance. 

Dense feelings of grief floated in the air, but students found comfort in each other. 

The Turkish Student Association organized a 7 p.m. vigil Thursday to honor victims of the earthquakes that devastated Turkey and Syria in early February. Students of various ethnicities showed up to support the organization, according to TSA President Ece Zivrali. 

Zivrali, a 28-year-old UF tourism and hospitality second year graduate student, began the service with a short speech about the impact on the affected cities and their residents.

“We just wanted to get together to show respect for those who lost their lives, their families, their homes — everything,” she said. “Imagine everything is gone in one night.”

On Feb. 6, in the middle of the night, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale ravaged southeastern Turkey and northern Syria. A series of earthquakes with varying degrees of magnitude followed the initial quake. A second major earthquake hit just nine hours later.

On Feb. 20, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Hatay, a province in the southern region of Turkey. Millions are displaced across Turkey and Syria, according to The Guardian. 

Zivrali doesn’t have any family in Turkey, but she said the Turkish community is feeling the effects as they continue to follow the news. More than 108,000 are injured as the death toll reached 51,000 Wednesday, according to Reuters. 

“It feels very good to be able to support each other because we all feel a little desperate that we can’t do anything,” Zivrali said. 

Attendees stood in a moment of silence for one minute while a Turkish song played. The song, which is usually played before the Turkish national anthem as a sign of respect, and the nearby sound of cars driving down Union Road were all that could be heard. 

TSA spent the month of February fundraising for victims of the earthquakes. 

The organization supports and donates to the following organizations: The Ahbap Association, a grassroots organization providing emergency relief in Turkey; The Turkish Philanthropy Fund, which provides emergency relief and supports front-line workers; UNICEF, which provides in-person response to the needs of thousands of families and children impacted by the devastating earthquakes in Syria and Turkey; and Support to Life, which provides emergency relief and focuses on rebuilding efforts in Turkey. 

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Nicole Irmak, a 19-year-old UF political science sophomore and TSA social media coordinator, said her extended family resides in Adana, Turkey. They felt the physical shock in their sleep. 

Irmak’s family was displaced but physically unharmed, she said.

“Apartments were just crashing and crumbling down,” she said. “I was really worried here — having to contact them, always on edge, just trying to make sure everyone’s safe.” 

Virendra Chudasama, 22-year old UF biology senior, isn’t of Turkish or Syrian descent but was informed of the vigil by his professor Wednesday and wanted to show his support. 

“It’s very touching,” he said. “It's very thoughtful that there are people who, even after a little bit of time, have still thought about and kept this in mind.” 

Sami Sumer, a 21-year-old UF sociology major, has roots in Turkey. 

“When I heard about the earthquake, it was devastating, personally,” he said. “I felt like this was the least I could have done.”

Sumer’s family doesn’t live in the southeastern region of Turkey, the most affected area, but the impacts on the country are wide-reaching. He hasn’t seen his family in Turkey since 2015, he said.

“It’s still scary for us,” he said. “We have family in Istanbul and a lot of earthquake-prone areas. We’re all paying attention.” 

Sumer is grateful to have a community like TSA to turn to right now, he said. 

“You don’t want to be alone during situations like these,” Sumer said.

Contact Ella at Follow her on Twitter @elladeethompson.

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Ella Thompson

Ella Thompson is a third-year journalism major who's on general assignment for The Alligator's metro desk. In her free time, she likes to read, cook and think of feature stories for The Alligator.

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