Support for Syria and Turkey, shared reflection on toll expressed at campus vigil

Two people hold a red and white flag while standing in front of the carillon.

A vigil February 15 at the Cook Carillon Tower in Allendale reflected on the lives lost in Syria and Turkey from a devastating earthquake and reaffirmed the Grand Valley community's support to all of those impacted by the disaster.

A group gathered at 1 p.m. to hear remarks from several people as they stood next to the carillon, which was silenced from ringing out at the top of the hour as part of the reflection on the loss of life and ongoing humanitarian crisis. The Becker Family Carillon Tower in Grand Rapids was also silenced.

The February 6 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks near the Syria-Turkey border have resulted in a rising death toll that now surpasses 40,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless.

Remarks from President Philomena V. Mantella were read by Fatma Mili, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. In those remarks, Mantella expressed disappointment that she couldn't join the vigil because she was out of state, but that she was with everyone at the gathering in all other ways.

A person looks down at papers while speaking into a microphone.
A person looks out at the audience while speaking into a microphone.
A person holding papers speaks into a microphone held for another person.
From left: Speakers included Fatma Mili, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, Yusuf Basmaci, a Central Michigan University graduate student and Feryal Alayont, GVSU professor of mathematics.

"Let us also recognize those in our community who are personally impacted by the tragedy as well as those who are stepping in with love and support for friends, families and strangers — all joined together by our humanity," Mantella said in the remarks. "I stand in solidarity with GVSU community members, survivors and aid workers in all impacted areas."

Feryal Alayont, professor of mathematics and native of Turkey, thanked the GVSU community for its support and noted how people around the world have rallied to help. Alayont also denounced the systemic factors that contributed to this tragedy and said there must be better systems in place to better handle the next disaster.

Alayont poignantly described the wide human toll this tragedy has taken on so many people and their loved ones.

"We lost children, who are our future, we lost our youth, who are our strength, and we lost our elders, who are our wisdom," Alayont said. "Take care of your loved ones because you never know if you'll have another day on Earth with them."

In remarks relayed by Jenny Hall-Jones, vice president for Student Affairs, Faith Kidd, president of the Student Senate, emphasized the need for unity and said the organization is a resource for anyone needing assistance. 

A person holds a red and white flag, which is billowing.
Aylin Gulch, a GVSU student, holds the Turkish flag while attending a vigil at the Cook Carillon Tower February 15 to reflect on the lives lost in Syria and Turkey. Gulch’s mother, Berlin Gulch, not pictured, who is from Turkey, also attended.
A baby wearing a brown furry hat rests on a person's shoulder.
Austin Moseler is held by his mother, Sinem Moseler, who is originally from Turkey. She now lives in Jenison and came to the vigil at the Cook Carillon Tower February 15 to pause for a moment of silence in memory of the lives lost in Syria and Turkey.

"I want to recognize the faculty and staff members right here at GVSU who are personally affected by this tragedy," Kidd said in the remarks. "During this time, it's important to assist in any way we can."

Other speakers included Yusuf Basmaci, an engineering graduate student from Central Michigan University who heard about the vigil and wanted to participate. Basmaci, who said he was raised in Syria, noted both the devastation and limited humanitarian aid and medical supplies needed for those affected by the tragedy.

Basmaci talked of our shared humanity and the benefit of trying to understand each other while thanking organizers for the vigil. "Nothing is more humane than sharing pain and standing together through that," he said.

In closing remarks, Mili noted that the devastation is so profound that people don't know what to feel.

"We have to accept that this is something that is devastating and to give the sadness and devastation the time and space to be there for us to process," Mili said. "We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our future generations to do that."

A person with eyes closed stands outside with amid others.

Resources for assistance:

Grand Valley’s University Counseling Center is available for students who need assistance.

Here are several ways the community can contribute to those efforts relief efforts in Syria and Turkey:

Bridge to Turkiye Give Lively: GVSU’s Turkish faculty members are raising funds for this U.S.-based non-profit that is mobilizing immediate assistance to provide, food, water, warmth, shelter and children’s needs. This effort is led by GVSU faculty members Feryal Alayont, professor of mathematics; Erkmen Giray Aslim, assistant professor of Economics; Fatma Pir Cakmak, visiting professor of chemistry, Atilla Ozgur Cakmak, assistant professor of engineering; Filiz Dogru, professor of mathematics; Figen Mekik, professor of geology, and Mehmet Sozen, professor of mechanical engineering.

UNICEF: The United Nations Children's Fund is working to provide relief for children and their families in areas affected by the earthquake.

Doctors Without Borders: An international organization providing medical assistance in the areas affected by the earthquakes.


Sign up and receive the latest Grand Valley headlines delivered to your email inbox each morning.