Originally created 08/28/99

Students aid Turkish residents from afar



ATHENS, Ga. -- Bayran Yuksel, a doctoral student in genetics at the University of Georgia, was eating breakfast last week when he saw a CNN report on the earthquake in his home country of Turkey.

As the death toll rapidly climbed throughout the day, Mr. Yuksel began spending every spare minute calling friends and checking death reports published on a special World Wide Web site set up on the Internet for worried Turkish citizens working and studying abroad.

He's also joined in a relief effort in Georgia, along with about 20 other Turkish students at UGA, part of a web of an estimated 12,000 Turkish students in the United States. They gathered donations outside Memorial Hall at lunchtime Friday and blanketed Athens with flyers asking for financial help.

It's a way to relieve themselves of the pain from haunting images of children being pulled from under heavy concrete and Turkish residents holding vigils beside collapsed buildings. Students here say they share in the psychological anguish that is the aftershock of the 7.4-magnitude temblor that tore through a wide swath of western Turkey on Aug. 17.

The death toll reached 13,009 with 26,000 injured.

"I wasn't directly affected, but indirectly affected," said Celil Ekici, a graduate student in education whose family lives in southern Turkey. "A friend of mine in California, he had to fly back for three weeks just to help his family. It's so emotionally (wrenching). It affects everyone; 200,000 lost their homes. I had very immediate friends living there.

"Now the picture is very sad, all over Turkey," Mr. Ekici said. "This burden is so much more than we can really handle; it's like $28 billion in damages, which is more than the gross national product.

"Being here is very difficult during this time," he said.

Last week, Mr. Yuksel spent an anxious three days trying to contact relatives before finding out through an uncle that his immediate family was alive. Then he began the grim task of searching Web sites to see if his college friends from Bogazichi University in western Turkey survived.

"I have no idea," he said. "I'm trying to find out from this Web site."

"It affects you; you read the newspapers; you see the pictures," said Yusuf Yilmaz, a UGA doctoral student in food science."We didn't know what to do."

"Then you start counting the deaths -- it's like 1,000, 2,000, you don't know when it's going to stop," said Mr. Yilmaz, who was in Turkey three months ago for a wedding of a friend who lives in the hard-hit Izmit province.

"One of my relatives lost a house," he said.

Working within a web of Turkish-American associations nationwide, students are hoping to tap into the South's generosity while the public consciousness is still steeped in the horror of the earthquake and images of rain-soaked tent-dwellers. Donations will be forwarded to Atlanta, where a major relief effort is under way in the Turkish-American community.

Tax-deductible donations may be left at the International Student Life office at 210 Memorial Hall on the UGA campus. They also can be mailed to TACA-GA Inc., P.O. Box 190013, Atlanta, GA 31119-0013.

Checks can be made payable to the non-profit Turkish American Cultural Association of Georgia and a receipt will be mailed in return. Also, the U.S Agency for International Development Web site at www.info.usaid.gov includes a list of responsible relief organizations.