Claremont International Relations Society brings Turkey-Syria relief efforts to the 5Cs

The Claremont community is rallying around students impacted by earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. (Wendy Zhang • The Student Life)

On Tuesday, Feb. 14, the Claremont International Relations Society hosted an event titled “Hot Topic: Turkey-Syria Earthquake & Relief Efforts” led by Heather Fergusson, a professor of History at Claremont McKenna College.  

This event was inspired by two emails from Claremont McKenna College Dean of Students Diana Graves that provided students with resources to support the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria and Turkey. The first email included a link to the Claremont Colleges Turkish Student Association GoFundMe page, while the second email provided a list of five additional relief organizations.

Fergusson felt that along with the email, the community needed to have an event to highlight the importance of navigating tragic global events with care and compassion.

“The 5Cs includes many faculty and students who have lost family, relatives, loved ones, friends, students and colleagues,” she said. “If we seek to actively engage as global citizens at CMC, we must begin by recognizing that global events have direct and immediate consequences for our ‘local’ SoCal community as well.”

Fergusson discussed the disaster in her history classes as well as with her students in the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies humanities lab on Race and Islam. In both discussions, she explained the importance of regional knowledge to clarify the political and historical barriers rescue teams faced in bringing relief aid to those most in need. 

In her Hot Topic presentation, Fergusson emphasized this importance of recognizing the already existing historical, territorial, political, social and economic tensions in the affected regions of Southwest Turkey and Northwest Syria. 

Fergusson warned that people should not default to the term “natural disaster” when speaking about the issue, because the term makes the severity of the aftermath seem unpreventable. 

“The 12 years of civil war in Syria, the ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity of the population in southern Turkey and the long-running cross-border tensions exacerbated by the civil war and the massive displacement of people from Syria to Turkey…as a result, [those factors] shaped the shift from ‘hazard’ to catastrophic ‘disaster’ in the seconds, minutes, days and weeks after the earthquakes and the now over one thousand aftershocks,” Fergussen said.

Nisha Singh CM ’23, a member of the Claremont International Relations Society and Diversity and Inclusion Chair of ASCMC, invited Fergusson to lead this week’s Hot Topic event. Hot Topics are a series of political discourse events sponsored by CMC’s Keck Center for International and Strategic studies. 

Singh shared that she wanted to help facilitate this event to spread more news about the severity of the earthquake and highlight the most effective ways to send aid.

“People want to help. They feel bad, but there’s some due diligence that you have to do when helping with this issue,” Singh said. “How is this aid going to get there? What organization am I supporting? What do they stand for and are they reliable?”

Singh implored students to recognize the political elements of the earthquake aftermath, including looking at the intersectionality of groups that are already marginalized in the area, such as the Kurdish community in Turkey.

“It’s not just a humanitarian issue, nothing is just apolitical, there’s always dimensions to things that need to be understood further,” she said. “I don’t think people will seek it unless, you know, you kind of bring it to the forefront”.

Fergusson acknowledged the trauma that many students with connections to the area may be experiencing. She explained the framing of the presentation required tact and sensitivity.  

“I was admittedly very nervous about hosting an event like this as the tragedy and trauma of the earthquakes are still unfolding around us,” she said. “I sought to emphasize how ‘collective’ knowledge is part of ‘ethically’ engaging in an event that impacts communities in Turkey and Syria with histories of cross-border conflict.”

Melanie Kallah CM ’25 said that as a research assistant working with Fergusson in her Race and Islam lab, she understood the urgency of having a discussion and education at the 5Cs about this crisis. She attended Fergusson’s event to continue spreading awareness about this disastrous earthquake. 

“The event was important to not only educate those who came on the ramifications of the earthquake and the existing socio-cultural and political conditions,” Kallah said. “But also to bring humanity back to disasters such as these and remind people that the trauma they produce doesn’t end once our awareness of the disaster ends.”

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