GV community holds vigil, encourages support for Turkey and Syria after earthquake


GVL / Chloe Schram

Chloe Schram, Staff Writer

On Feb. 6, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Syria. According to Reuters, the natural disaster resulted in the death of over 46,000 people between Turkey and Syria. Thousands of others have been left homeless, freezing or in critical condition. 

On Feb. 15, the Grand Valley State University community gathered for a vigil at the Cook Carillon Tower on the Allendale campus to honor the victims of the earthquake and all those affected by it.

GVSU President Philomena Mantella was unable to attend the vigil in person, but had other community members share her words in regard to the natural disaster.

“Let us all recognize those in our community who have been personally affected by this tragedy as well as those who are stepping in with love and support for friends, families and strangers, all joined together,” Mantella’s statement said. “I stand in solidarity with you, GVSU community members, survivors and aid workers, in all impacted areas.”

Mantella’s statement also said the community should recognize those who have lost their lives so suddenly and to provide love, support and donations to the families in need.

Staff and students at GVSU spoke at the vigil. Additionally, an engineering student from Central Michigan University spoke.

Yusuf Basmaci was born and raised in Syria. He is currently a CMU student who studied and lived in Turkey for ten years before coming to the United States. During his speech at the vigil, he emphasized the importance of community during difficult times. 

“I believe nothing is more humane than standing together through dark days,” Basmaci said.  

Basmaci told the GVSU community that we need to make people aware of tragic events happening internationally. He said these moments can help to “raise awareness and provoke empathy in international solidarity.”

Basmaci also addressed the problems with the international response to the disaster. He said the people of Syria were left alone to fend for themselves after the earthquake until about the 10th day. 

“Very limited humanitarian aid and medical supplies entered the affected Syrian areas,” Basmaci said. “Local teams were left alone to handle such a disaster with only basic equipment and very limited resources.” 

The most powerful of the earthquakes hit southern Turkey, just north of the Syrian border and was felt all the way to Lebanon and Georgia.

According to CNN, efforts to retrieve survivors in Syria and Turkey have been limited due to terrifyingly cold temperatures. The freezing temperatures in these countries have made it even more difficult for citizens to find safety and comfort as the effects of the earthquake continue to impact the countries. 

Despite the difficulty, a 17-year-old girl named Aleyna Ölmez was pulled out from the rubble on Feb. 9, 248 hours after the earthquake. She has been named “miracle girl” by the public. 

“Maybe by telling the story (of the disaster), a channel can be opened to help some people, or even a single person, but I think it is worth it,” Basmaci said.

GVSU Assistant Professor in Engineering Atillia Ozgur Cakmak was born in Turkey and earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s degrees from Sabanci University in Istanbul, Turkey. He later earned a doctorate in electromagnetics in Ankara, Turkey at Bilkent University, and came to GVSU in 2021.

Ozgur said science can increase knowledge about earthquakes and can predict disasters, information that can be used to further benefit humanity and allow people to take proactive measures.  

“Science is the number one guide in our lives,” Ozgur said. “There were predictions and models predicting the earthquake, and it happened. We’re learning the hard way and the emotional way, but we’re learning. This is an example of how things shouldn’t have been – human lives come first.”

Ozgur said he’s pleased with the GVSU community’s attention towards the earthquake and how the community has reached out in support.

“In the world of GVSU, I have been so happy and grateful for all the nice gestures and offers of help coming from the President of the University, to even my own students,” Ozgur said.

Ozgur also encourages people to donate to assist people who are struggling.

“Every cent matters for my country, Turkey, and for Syria as well,” Ozgur said. “It was extremely challenging for the people of these countries (to receive help). Help came very slow.”