‘This is the responsibility of all humankind’: Following earthquake, Turkish and Syrian communities at the 5Cs urge students to take action

Turkish and Syrian students at the 5Cs are raising awareness in the aftermath of Monday’s devastating earthquake. (Courtesy: Ulas Ayyilmaz)

On Monday, Feb. 6, two massive earthquakes with magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.6 devastated southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria. 

Riddled by war and lacking infrastructure, the affected region — which had not seen any major earthquakes in over 200 years — was far from prepared to handle a disaster of this level. The Turkish government’s slow response and the extreme rain and cold weather plaguing the area only seemed to worsen the situation.

As rescue teams continue to search for survivors, the death toll between Syria and Turkey has steadily surpassed 20,000. This number only continues to rise, accompanied by the millions of people who have been injured or displaced.

The impact of these earthquakes has spread far beyond the physically affected region; at the Claremont Colleges, Turkish and Syrian students have felt these effects significantly.

Ismail Kavuran HM ’26, an international student from Turkey, has been severely affected by the earthquake. 

“I’m from Elazığ and Şanlıurfa, which are two of the ten devastated cities,” he said. “Since Monday, we have lost a lot of friends — I have personally lost 10 friends already — so it has been really emotional to process all of this.” 

Kavuran commented that this has been an especially difficult period for him because he understands the trauma that his people are going through, especially after witnessing a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Elazığ three years ago.

Charlene Baghdadi CM ’25, an international student from Syria who has family in Aleppo, has also been directly affected by Monday’s events. During the earthquake, she received a message from her dad’s side of the family.

“They were freaking out, because they thought they were being bombed,” Baghdadi said. “Out of nowhere, their chandelier fell on the floor and the wall above my cousin’s head completely cracked open.”

She explained that, luckily, her family was able to escape their collapsing home safely. They retreated to their car to wait out the aftershocks, which continued throughout the rest of the day.

“They didn’t know if their building was going to fall, which was just really scary,” Baghdadi said. “Obviously, no one could really go to physically help them in that situation.”

While many students have direct ties to victims of the earthquake, the ones that haven’t still mourn the tragedy.

“We don’t have to have lost close family members to be affected by this,” Bilge Tayyar CM ’24, an international student from Antalya, Turkey, said. “This is huge.”

Serenat Arpat PO ’25, originally from İzmir, explained how the earthquake has affected her everyday life as a college student.

“Since the earthquake happened, that is literally everything that I can think about,” she said. “There’s still school going on, but at the same time, it’s really hard to focus on classes [while] receiving news about an additional person dying back home.”

Tayyar expressed a similar struggle. 

“You can’t just go on with your day-to-day life,” she said. “When I’m in class and I get a notification about the 20,000 people dying in my hometown, I can’t focus on learning coding.”

Alongside the feelings of stress, anxiety, and grief that have been filling her mind, Tayyar explained that she has been racked with guilt.

“We’re not [in Turkey], and not being there creates this survivor’s guilt,” she said.

Baghdadi echoed these feelings.

“Being here in class, there’s a sense of guilt that I’m attending school and living my life while my family is in the middle of Syria, in their car, fearing for their lives,” she said.

Ulas Ayyilmaz PO ’24 expressed similar sentiments. 

“Turkey is a community which is so intertwined,” he said. “The entire country is bleeding right now and we are all feeling responsible, we are all feeling that we need to take some action.” 

While students acknowledged that the 5C community has been relatively supportive during this difficult time, they felt disappointed in the inability for their peers to relate to their experience.

“It’s really hard to share these experiences with people in the states who don’t know anything about Middle Eastern history,” Tayyar said. “I really feel like, in American media, there’s less emphasis on what’s going on in the Middle East.”

Many 5C students have expressed that this lack of understanding has made it easy for other students who aren’t  part of the Turkish or Syrian communities on campus to turn their attention away from recent events.

“People must understand [that the earthquake] is not affecting one country or one nation. It is not just the problem of Turkey, it is not just the problem of Syria, it is the problem of humanity,” Kavuran said. “This is the responsibility of all humankind.”

The Claremont Colleges’ Turkish Student Association plans to give students an easy way to help out through a GoFundMe. According to Arpat, the money raised through this GoFundMe will go towards non profit organizations providing survivors with blankets, clothing, and other essentials.

Kavuran highlighted the urgency of donating money as soon as possible, explaining that all contributions will help provide people on the streets with aid. 

“In our campaign, we’ve collected around $12,000, but that is not even equal to the number of people who died. It’s not even $1 for each life lost,” Kavuran said. “We need to do something as soon as possible, because in a month, that money will do nothing but fund graves,” he said.

Arpat also emphasized the time sensitive nature of this issue.

“Each minute that we’re not spreading the word, not trying to save lives, so many more people are dying,” she said. “I think [the earthquake] should be treated as an emergency, and every kind of resource that can be used should be provided to our community.” 

While monetary donations are certainly important, there are other ways for students to show support. According to Tayyar, raising awareness about the earthquake and its effects is one of the most beneficial things that students can do during this time.

“We all have a responsibility towards each other as global citizens, and there’s always something we can do,” Tayyar said. “Speak out about it. Raise your voice about the problems in the world and show support.”

She also recognized the power of simply acknowledging Turkish and Syrian students’ pain.

“Ask us what we feel like, recognize that there is a catastrophe going on in our hometowns and that we’re very devastated,” Tayyar said. “Ask us if there’s anything you can do—oftentimes, it’s just a hug.” 

Cem Öztürk PZ ’25 added to this point by stating that students need to understand that the pain Turkish and Syrian students are going through is unfathomable. 

“They have to understand that they will never be able to understand our pain,” he said. 

Donations to the Claremont Colleges Turkish Students Association GoFundMe page can be mad here.

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