Updated: Aug 23
By Emily Rosenberg, Associate Editor
John Umit Palabiyik remembered his wife was pregnant with their now 23-year-old daughter when buildings around him began to forcibly shake, leaving him scared, shocked, and praying for his unborn child.
It was 3 a.m. on August 17, 1999 in Istanbul, Türkiye. The region had just experienced a catastrophic magnitude 7.6 earthquake. Palabiyik said his instinct at the moment was to run, but he did not want to leave his pregnant wife.
Later, while checking in on family and witnessing collapsed buildings, he estimated 1,000 people died, only to soon find out the number was closer to 30,000.
On Feb. 6, 2023, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastated southern and central Türkiye and northern and western Syria, causing more than 56,000 people to die and 2.5 million to be displaced, according to Reuters.
Upon learning this news, Palabiyik immediately called friends in Türkiye and California to see how he could help. To start, he asked for donations on social media and by calling groups and individuals.
Now, Palaybiyik, chair of the Management, Business & Information Technology Department and four other Turkish-born faculty have raised over $13,000 for Turkish Philanthropy Funds.
His four colleagues are faculty; Marketing Professor Ella Karat, Management and Business & IT Professor Borga Deniz, and Sociology Professors Kaan Agartan, and Zeynep Gönen.
The faculty were connected after Palabiyik reached out to Dean of the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences and Education, Susan Dargan who suggested he outreach to other Turkish faculty members, he said. They were able to set up a donation link on the crowdfunding page on the website of Alumni Relations and Development.
Turkish Philanthropy Funds (TPF) is a nonprofit dedicated to serving Turkish and Turkish-American communities by connecting philanthropists to a variety of investments, including disaster relief.
Palabiyik said he trusts TPF because the organization has a history of opening schools in and outside of Türkiye and supporting children’s activities, including Olympic sports.
“They do a lot of really good things,” he said.
Anyone is encouraged to donate to the fundraiser and can do so by searching “crowdfunding” on alumni.framingham.edu. The fundraiser is currently scheduled to close March 25, but the group may continue to keep the campaign open in the following weeks to support ongoing relief, according to Palabiyik.
Palabiyik added, having heard anecdotes from Turkish-born professors across the country who work at other institutions, he found FSU’s administration was far more open-minded about partnering with faculty and helping to spread awareness of the fundraising campaign.
He is part of a network of Turkish-born and dual-citizen professors, and he heard stories of groups trying to perform similar efforts, but they received minimal support from their administrations.
Palabiyik said he shared his story with the network, hoping to provide an example of what could be done at their institutions.
“That is something we can maybe be proud of as Framingham State,” he said.
In early February, supplies such as tents, sleeping bags, and baby food were being collected for donation in the McCarthy lobby. However, Palabiyik said due to cost of living differences and the funds required to transport supplies by plane, the campaign redirected its efforts toward collecting only monetary donations so the beneficiary could choose how best to use the money based on need.
For example, Palabiyik said the $13,000 could hypothetically be used toward rebuilding a school.
Zeynep Gönen, a sociology professor, said she joined the campaign because being from Türkiye, she knows friends who are from the region who were impacted. She said this fundraiser was important for her because she saw her campus community supporting her.
She said, “That community got together in such a supportive way. You want to be known and seen and to be supported by your community here. So I was really happy that the Framingham community actually showed up.”
Gönen said the destruction is widespread and the rebuilding of the cities is going to take a long time, so she encourages people to donate any small amount of money they can.
She also thanked Dargan, who helped spread awareness of the fundraiser, and connect faculty and the group with alumni relations.
In relation to the recent earthquakes, the department of Sociology & Criminology will host an event titled “Natural Disasters are not Natural,” featuring speakers Environment, Society and Sustainability Professor Vandana Singh, Sociology & Criminology Professor Xavier Guadalupe-Diaz, Accounting, Economics, and Finance Professor Luis Rosero, as well as Gönen.
She said it will focus on the effects of political and economic decisions that cause and exacerbate natural disasters.
“Especially in the contemporary global era, earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, floods aren't necessarily all the result of nature,” Gönen said.
Palabiyik said the five faculty members knew of each other prior to the fundraiser, but only ran into each other on campus occasionally, adding the campaign was a way to bring them closer together because of something they all had in common.
Ella Karat, a marketing professor, said she joined the campaign because “as a Turk and a human of the world,” the thought of people losing their families was heart-wrenching to her.
“During the first week of the quake, every time I took a hot shower or sat down to eat a meal, my mind couldn't help but wander to those still trapped under the rubble, waiting to be rescued. You know, Turkish rescuers managed to pull three people alive from the rubble, 12 days later? It felt almost sinful to indulge in such simple pleasures when others were suffering so immensely,” Karat said.
She said she was grateful to be surrounded by like-minded people who shared her desire to help.
“From the very beginning, we understood that even the smallest contributions could have a significant impact,” Karat said.
She added, “We must remember that we are all part of the same global community, and it's our responsibility to stand together and support one another during times of crisis. We owe it to each other to do everything we can to alleviate the suffering of those affected by disaster.”
Karat said there is a saying in Turkish, "Azdan az, coktan cok vermek,” which translates to English as, "To give little from little, to give much from much,” which means to give from your means rather than holding back, because a lot or a little can make a difference.
She said, “We must also help these families and children deal with the trauma and reconstruct their lives in the long term. Although it may appear challenging, they haven't given up, and neither should we. … azdan az, coktan cok.”
Palabiyik said people have been asking if he was expecting this amount of support from the community and he said that he did because it is in the culture of Framingham State to be supportive.
“Framingham State University showed that we care for the people,” he said.
President Nancy Niemi said she was proud of the “Framingham State community for their generous efforts on behalf of the earthquake victims in Türkiye and Syria. This is the type of support, attention, and care that we must offer, wherever we see a need. It is so important to see that Framingham faculty, staff and students act with purpose and meaning.”