By Alexis Clark

NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University students held a vigil on campus to remember the massive loss of their loved ones in Turkey and Syria following the devastating earthquakes on Feb. 6. As of Feb 18, more than 44,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands injured after magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria.

TSU students prayed with their fellow Turkish students and staff who are 6,000 miles away from home. There are 15 Turkish students and approximately eight faculty members at Tennessee State University.

One of those students came to America from Turkey just six months ago. TSU freshman Berk Arapgirlioglu came to TSU with a music scholarship, and said he is distraught by the great loss of victims from his country. “People should be grateful for every second of their life … you can easily lose your loved ones in any situation,” Arapgirlioglu said. “Hopefully, all my family and relatives are okay,” he said as of Feb. 15. “But I know some friends who lost their houses.”

Another Turkish immigrant at TSU, Tuna Kurucu, said he is devastated and prayed hope that his family and friends are safe. “I feel devastated and sad,” Kurucu said. “It is the biggest disaster of this century and Turkey has declared a fourth level of emergency accepting any international help.”

Although Kurucu, who is a freshman at the university, said he is in shock about the earthquake’s impact, he is grateful for the support he has at TSU. “I am actually happy at this moment because I feel supported by all of the TSU students, my friends and professors here,” Kurucu said during the campus vigil.

Engin Ayvaz, a Turkish native who is the Director of the Intensive English Center at TSU said the outpour of solidarity and affection across the world has touched the Turkish community. “For the past ten days its been a whirlwind of emotions for all of us,” Ayvaz said. “Thank you all for being here today, it means a lot. TSU is our home away home.”

The Executive Director for International Affairs, Dr. Jewell Winn said the local community is heartbroken. “We will continue to keep our students, faculty and staff who have family in the region in our thoughts and prayers,” Winn said. “The international community has poured aid into the area, and we will support the endeavor through providing links to make donations.”

Weeks after the earthquake, crews are still pulling survivors from the rubble and the death toll continues to raise.

Visit the university’s official Linktree account to find links to donate for disaster relief in Turkey and Syria.