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Harvard Affiliates Gather at Vigil to Mourn Victims of Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

Dozens gather on the steps of Memorial Church in last Thursday night vigil for the victims of last week's 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
Dozens gather on the steps of Memorial Church in last Thursday night vigil for the victims of last week's 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey and Syria. By Sophia C. Scott
By John N. Peña, Crimson Staff Writer

More than 50 Harvard affiliates gathered on the steps of Memorial Church for a candlelit vigil on Thursday to mourn the victims of earthquakes in Turkey and Syria earlier this month.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake, which struck Feb. 6, killed more than 40,000 people and left tens of thousands injured or missing. The initial earthquake was followed by more than 30 aftershocks of at least magnitude 4.5, leaving hundreds of thousands facing freezing overnight temperatures without shelter or power.

University Muslim Chaplain Khalil Abdur-Rashid spoke at the vigil, offering prayers to victims, rescue workers, and volunteers who are responding to the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

“We are deeply moved in our own community, not only by the catastrophic loss that affects us all, but — more importantly — by the news that some of our own students here on campus were directly impacted by both of these earthquakes,” he said.

Abdur-Rashid added he was “inspired by the glimmers of hope and survival” in the aftermath of the earthquakes, referencing the rescue of a young woman who was trapped underneath rubble for 10 days.

“Throughout this huge — this tremendous — catastrophe, there are amazing inspirational signs of human resilience, strength, courage, and hope,” he said.

Sarah Aziz, a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, said she attended the vigil to support her friends and colleagues who have been affected by the earthquakes, adding that it offered an opportunity to reflect on the “human connection” to victims in Turkey and Syria.

“This is the least I think we can do being so far away. So I came here because I think I need this. As a human being, it’s good for me,” she said. “It’s good for us to come together.”

Jana Amin ’25 said in a speech that she has felt “vulnerable, empty, exhausted and lost” since the earthquakes.

Amin, the vice president of the Harvard Society of Arab Students, thanked attendees for their support in the wake of the earthquakes but called for more recognition for students on campus who are grieving.

“In the past two weeks, I’ve watched as collective processing here on campus has turned into mobilization, solidarity, and community. And for those efforts, I am so, so grateful,” she said. “Sadly, I’ve also watched as fundraising efforts have been met by blank stares, disrespectful comments, and exhausting apathy.”

At Harvard, two ongoing fundraising campaigns by the Harvard Society of Arab Students and the Harvard Turkish Students Association have collected over $35,000 in donations since the earthquakes.

Hundreds of Turkish Harvard affiliates also penned an open letter to the administration to call for increased recognition of the earthquakes.

“The Harvard community has done a lot so far, and we’re really grateful for all those efforts,” Amin said in an interview after the vigil. “But I think they can continue and do more.”

—Staff writer John N. Peña can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @john_pena7.

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