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Turkish-born faculty at Framingham State mobilize to help earthquake survivors

John Umit Palabiyik boxes donated supplies on the Framingham State University campus. Organizers hope to reach $20,000 in donations by March 24 and potentially continue the drive after that.Framingham State University

When last month’s catastrophic earthquake struck his native country of Turkey along with Syria, Framingham State professor John Umit Palabiyik felt an immediate need to help.

“The second this happened I knew that huge numbers of people were trapped under the debris,” said Palabiyik, assistant professor and chair of the university’s Management and Business & Information Technology Department. “The first thing I thought was, we have to do something for the victims.”

Spurred by common grief at the events in their native country, Palabiyik and four other Turkish-born faculty members at Framingham State are leading a fund-raising campaign to aid survivors of the Feb. 6 earthquake, which has led to more than 48,000 deaths.


A fund created by the university on behalf of the faculty group has raised more than $13,000 to date, above the $10,000 originally targeted. Organizers now hope to reach $20,000 in donations by March 24, and potentially continue the drive after that.

The university, whose alumni office is administering the fund, will donate all donations collected to the Turkish Philanthropy Funds, the relief organization the faculty members selected to receive the money. While TPF is a Turkish-American charity, Palabiyik said he will ask the organization to try and ensure the donation aids earthquake survivors in both Turkey and Syria.

Initially, the faculty members also collected donated supplies for earthquake survivors. Those items — including hygiene products, blankets, tents, and clothes — were delivered by Palabiyik to the Boston office of Turkish Airlines, which included them in free supply shipments to the earthquake areas.

John Umit Palabiyik, assistant professor and chair of Framingham State University’s Management, Business & Information Technology Department, is one of five Turkish-born faculty members leading a fund drive to aid survivors of the Feb. 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria.Framingham State University

Palabiyik said the supply drive was halted after two weeks because relief organizations were asking donors to contribute money rather than materials.

Joining Palabiyik in leading the campaign are Kaan Agartan, associate professors of sociology; Zeynep Gonen, assistant professor of criminology; Ella Karat, assistant professor of marketing; and Borga Deniz, associate professor of management & business and information technology.


Agartan said his family and friends in Turkey all reside in the Istanbul area, which was not affected by the quake. But he said for all people of Turkish descent, “The collective trauma we are experiencing is very strong. It really crushed our souls to see those people under the rubble for days. The tragedy is unspeakable.”

Palabiyik’s family and friends in Turkey also escaped physical harm — all Iive in his native Istanbul — but he is shaken by the tragedy.

“For at least the first two weeks I only slept like two hours a night. I was waking constantly, listening to the news,” he said. “One region of Turkey was affected but Turks from all over the world are feeling trauma.”

He said the episode is particularly painful for him because he is a survivor of the 1999 earthquake in Istanbul. The powerful 3 a.m. quake devastated his neighborhood, and while he and his wife managed to safely evacuate their apartment building, many in the area did not.

“When we got out of the building, we couldn’t believe what we saw. Many buildings had collapsed,” he said. “It’s very similar to what we saw last month. It’s kind of deja vu.”

Palabiyik and Agartan are grateful to the university for agreeing to administer the fund drive and for the support the campaign has received from the Framingham State community.


“Many of our colleagues not only reached out to us personally but also donated as much as they could,” Agartan said.

Participating in the fund drive helps ease at least some of the sorrow he and his fellow Turkish-American faculty members are experiencing, Agartan said.

“Being so far away from the region, not being able to be directly involved in relief or other efforts going on now in the country, this is the least we can do,” he said.

“This is giving back to the country we grew up in,” Palabiyik said. “But more than that, it’s giving to ourselves because while we are not there, we can still help. It’s kind of a cure for the trauma we are experiencing.”

To donate to Framingham State University’s earthquake relief fund, search for crowdfunding under the give tab at

John Laidler can be reached at