Earthquakes, flooding in Turkey and Syria prompt community response


Photo Courtesy of Ozgun Bursalioglu

A member of the Turkish American Association of California collects donations in their car

On March 15, Turkey experienced a flood event in its Sanliurufa and Adyiman provinces, both of which were affected severely by a series of earthquakes in Turkey and Syria that occurred in February. According to Reuters, at least 10 people died in the floods, and thousands of others were displaced. Yet these floods are just the latest in a series of cascading, casual events which, starting with the earthquakes in February, have left an indelible impact on the Turkish and Syrian communities, prompting people, both in their respective countries as well as locally in the Bay Area, to speak out.  

Local activism efforts

At Gunn, a few clubs have started spreading awareness about the events in Turkey and Syria. Sophomore Karen Tang, president of Amnesty Club, detailed a recent meeting where the club viewed footage of the aftermath of the earthquakes.“We observed around 200 refugees, mainly women and children, trying to escape from the area through maritime passageways, and the boat started sinking—the people were drowning,” she said. According to Tang, viewing the footage helped the club members understand the gravity of the situation. “We did a lot of discussion around how we can spread the message about why asylum is important and why we should be holding countries towards (granting those in need asylum),” she said. 

Gunn Titans for Justice had a meeting talking about the earthquakes in February. President of the club junior Nishi Goyal organized a slideshow highlighting the key statistics and personal stories from victims as well as opened up a broader discussion on the U.S.’s role in helping Turkey. “There was also a list of resources if people would like to donate,” she said. “It is important for people to be aware of current events that are going on outside of the USA and to know how we can support other countries.”

It is important for people to be aware of current events that are going on outside of the USA and to know how we can support other countries

— Nishi Goyal

In Palo Alto, people are rallying to help spread awareness about the disasters in Turkey and Syria. Many are rallying through the non-profit Turkish American Association of California, which emphasizes providing help in different ways to affected areas. TAAC volunteer Ozgun Bursalioglu highlighted some ways the organization provides aid. “We have been very vocal,” she said. “We have probably sent over 200 extra large boxes of essential items to Turkey.”

The TAAC organized these drives throughout the Bay Area, including Palo Alto, with lists sent from the Turkish government. They have raised around $60,000 for Turkish organizations and help programs through fundraising efforts.

Next Steps

One of the first steps to helping spread awareness is understanding the issue yourself, according to Goyal. “Just knowing about it and talking about (the earthquakes) is really important,” she said. “Even more so when you cannot donate or help make kits and support packages.” Goyal also acknowledged that the severity of the earthquakes, although covered by many newspapers and outlets, sometimes does not fully land on students. “People probably have heard about it, but they do not know the details,” she said.

A more hands-on approach to helping could also be donating time, resources or money to help victims. The TAAC, for example, is eager to have teenagers participate in their events. “We would be very happy to work in partnership with Gunn students who may want to do something for people in Turkey and Syria,” Bursalioglu said.

Bursalioglu, however, also believes that even small acts can have big impacts on the victims of the earthquakes. “There is always a way to assist people who are in need,” she said. “It does not have to be something major.” 

Even though the Bay Area is thousands of miles away from the events in Turkey and Syria, Bursalioglu explained the importance of advocating for those affected by the earthquakes and floods. “Just because it is not your country or is not (part of) your past, it should not stop young people from following up after such a disaster,” she said.