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Duke community mourns Turkey, Syria earthquake victims at vigil

<p>Graduate student Mert Gökduman spoke to the crowd at the vigil on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.</p>

Graduate student Mert Gökduman spoke to the crowd at the vigil on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.

Dozens of Duke community members gathered outside the Chapel Thursday night to mourn the victims of the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday. 

More than 21,000 people across the two countries have been killed by the magnitude 7.8 quake, the deadliest earthquake to hit Turkey since 1939. Hundreds of thousands have been left homeless. Subfreezing temperatures and widespread heating and electricity shortages have made it especially difficult to rescue victims.

Thursday’s vigil was organized by the Turkish Circle, Duke International Student Center and the Muslim Student Association to provide a space for people — many who have loved ones in the hard-hit regions — to grieve and support each other.

“When tragedy hits like this, we lose sense of time and place. We can't be there with our families, friends, communities. And that's the hardest part,” said Didem Havlioglu, associate professor of the practice of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. “We come together here today, in our home away from home, to support each other.”

Mert Gökduman, a graduate student from Turkey in the Pratt School of Engineering, said that 10 provinces in Turkey are under a state of emergency for the next three months. Some of the cities only have one hospital intact, and some areas are so damaged that only one-fifth of the ruins could be searched for bodies.

“After four days, the voices coming from those ruins [became] more and more faded,” Gökduman said.

Omur Kayikci, a postdoctoral associate in the biology department, is from Antakya, Turkey, one of the earthquake’s hardest-hit regions. Antakya is “not unfamiliar” to these earthquakes — Kayikci was in Turkey last month when the city had an earthquake, she said, but no one made much of it because people were used to it.

Monday’s earthquake, however, was one of “destruction at biblical scale,” Kayikci said. 

Stanley Borden, a sophomore and a member of the Duke men’s basketball team, is an Istanbul native. He told the crowd that he is organizing a fundraising run next week to raise upwards of $7,800 for relief funds in commemoration of the fact that the earthquake's magnitude was 7.8.

All the speakers expressed their gratitude to everyone in attendance at the vigil.

“If you're here, it’s because you recognize that a tragedy there is a tragedy everywhere,” said Rashad Rahman, a junior and president of the Duke Muslim Students Association. 

The vigil closed with a speaker reading a poem called “Let My Friends Remember Me” written by Aşık Veysel. Part of the poem read, “Did I not come?/ I wouldn't go/ From day to day my sorrows grow/ Strange the home I used to know/ Let my friends remember me.”

Fliers were distributed to attendees encouraging them to donate to the Syrian American Medical Society and the Bridge to Türkiye Fund. MSA is also collecting winter clothes, bags and gloves that will be sent to the Turkish Embassy, according to Rahman.

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Katie Tan | Digital Strategy Director

Katie Tan is a Trinity junior and digital strategy director of The Chronicle's 119th volume. She was previously managing editor for Volume 118. 


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