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Local organizations work to provide aid after earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria

Chapel Hill’s Sancar Turkish Cultural & Community Center (STCCC), pictured on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, is collecting donations for the recent earthquakes through its website.

Turkish-American communities across the Triangle are working to support those affected by the recent earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, the first of which occurred over two weeks ago. 

A 6.3 magnitude aftershock hit the region on Monday, Feb. 20, causing further damage. 

Buket Aydemir, the chairperson of the earthquake emergency committee at the American Turkish Association of North Carolina, said the organization originally allocated $5,000 to ship immediate relief supplies to the affected areas. 

The supplies included hand warmers and other necessities, which she said have already reached their destination and are being used.

Aydemir said the logistics of providing physical aid pose a major challenge due to the distance between the U.S. and Türkiye, along with the density of the affected areas. 

She explained that Turkish Airlines initially offered to ship aid containers. However, Aydemir said the organization is still dealing with many logistical issues such as physical roadblocks in the disaster zones.

Despite these setbacks, Aydemir said the ATA-NC is receiving an overwhelming response from the community. The organization has held fundraising events, including a bake sale and yard sale, which Aydemir said was successful.

“We are really humbled by the support we received from North Carolina communities all around,” Aydemir said.

For other organizations, logistical challenges have led them to avoid sending physical supplies altogether. 

Gwendolyn Sancar is the the co-founder of the Aziz and Gwen Sancar Foundation, which operates the Sancar Turkish Cultural and Community Center in Chapel Hill. She said her organization is acting as an intermediary between the local community and organizations such as their sister organization, Bridge to Türkiye Foundation.

“One of our former board members runs the foundation, and we know that they have the contacts that are needed in Türkiye with the right people to get things to the people who need it,” Sancar said.

The academic community has also been contributing to the earthquake response effort. Duke University Professor Kathryn Morgan is the assistant director of an archaeological project in an area of Türkiye that was heavily impacted by the earthquake.

Many participants in the project donated to a GoFundMe page, organized by the project's leadership, that went toward providing supplies and supporting Turkish students who work with American students and professors, Morgan said.

“Many of the people who work for us were university students, and we don't want this event to be the thing that sets them back,” Morgan said.

Türkiye is not the only country affected by the earthquake. 

Kathryn Grossman, a professor at N.C. State University, said she is working to raise awareness of the earthquake’s impact in Syria, where she has conducted archaeological work in the past.

“It’s quite difficult to get aid where it needs to go in Syria because of the political situation in the northwest,” Grossman said.

She added that she is working with other archaeologists in the area to plan fundraising lectures to keep the needs of affected areas in the minds of local donors.

UNC students have also made an impact, with the Turkish Student Association partnering with the Muslim Students Organization and Arab Student Organization to raise a total of $4,600 in two separate fundraisers. 

Ekin Aygen, the president of the TSA, said fundraising efforts will continue into the long term.

“The issue is sustaining that help because earthquake relief is going to go on for months, if not years,” Aygen said.

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The ATA-NC is encouraging donations through its website, where individuals can provide monetary support via Venmo and other means. 

“We all want to do something," Aydemir said. "So we are trying to put our energy into doing something, reaching out to extended communities to gather donations."

Aydemir said the ATA-NC is planning to hold another bake sale and a yard sale at the Turkish House in Cary to further support their relief efforts. The Sancar Center’s website also has a link to the Bridge to Türkiye Foundation, where people can make donations

The UN Refugee Agency is working to provide emergency shelter, medical aid and other relief in both Türkiye and Syria and is accepting tax-deductible donations on its website.

@DTHCityState | 

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