February 21, 2023

FRIEDMAN | Strong Will in a Time of Crisis

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On Feb. 18, at 6 p.m. in Klarman Hall, the Turkish Student Association, in partnership with the Arab Student Association, Muslim Educational and Cultural Association, and International Student Union held a fundraising event to provide disaster relief for those affected by earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. 

Under the leadership of the organizers, the event was a resounding success, raising over $8,000 in donations, with 75 percent of the money going to Syrian efforts and the remaining 25 percent going to Turkish groups. Though various groups were involved in this event specifically, Taylan Özgür Ercan ’25 deserves commendation as the President of the Turkish Student Association for founding and promoting such a major and impactful student group. Too many students are reluctant to break the mold and create and promote groups of their own, opting to compete for the select few groups with name recognition instead.

In this case, the forming of the group during the last academic year could not have been more timely, making the groundwork for rapid mobilization following this disaster that much easier. The event was held after a week of preparation and featured two speeches, including a moving address by Selina Balcı ’26, who has family in Diyarbakır, a city in Turkey known for its frequent earthquakes.

Attendees were treated to a range of activities, including a silent auction, tea station, traditional Turkish Baklava, and games like Tavla. From the videos posted after the event, the attendees looked engaged and the activities opportune.

Following the terrible 7.8 magnitude quake on February 6th, there was another 6.3 magnitude shock on Monday. In the American media, these events have been covered with less attention than necessary, with the news of the most recent second quake six panels down on the New York Times online front page as of Tuesday morning and later disappeared entirely. With a death toll of over 42,000 affecting a major nation according to official numbers cited by the AP, it is unimaginable that the U.S. media is not devoting additional resources and time to coverage there.

I attended one of the TSA’s social events in the fall semester and was impressed with the tight-knit atmosphere on display. Though that environment was appropriately much more lighthearted, as Ercan emphasized to me, collective gathering is a hallmark of Turkish culture in all scenarios. The deep personal ties within the group preceding this period of hardship have certainly contributed to the success of the current efforts.

A private company even stepped forward and offered to match the donations raised, effectively doubling the total amount of donations. Thus, the Turkish Student Association will be donating a total of $16,000. Due to inflation, this figure is roughly equivalent to 300,000 Turkish Lira.

In times of crisis it is critically important to honor and respect those with close family in the region. Wendy Wolford, vice provost of international affairs, wrote to the Cornell community and offered her condolences, which was certainly a positive measure. However, watching from afar has no parallels for receiving emotional personal messages from friends and family as the members of the TSA have been dealing with for the past few weeks. It is impossible to truly understand the heartfelt devastation of these students and their compatriots abroad.

The success of the Earthquake Disaster Relief Fundraiser reflects the hard work of all of the organizers and the generosity of the broader community. The Turkish Student Association, along with its partners, demonstrated that it is possible to make a significant impact even during a busy time of the year for students and faculty.

When I wrote to Ercan, his love of country was made absolutely clear in every statement he made. It is understandable that for various personal reasons students may feel more or less pride for their ethnicities, religions, or other forms of identity. Even still, Ercan’s example of rallying around his community should be followed by all, no matter what community they are a part of.

Aaron Friedman is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]Honest AF runs every other Tuesday this semester.