San Francisco Chronicle
Lake Merritt vigil honors quake victims
As Oakland resident Cigdem Cogur held her Turkish flag around her body, she fought back tears thinking of her family and those she grew up with in the city of Antakya.
“I haven’t been able to sleep or eat because it is so hard when you think about those who have lost their lives,” said Cogur. “It puts this ball in your throat where you can’t speak. I have an aunt where the city is and friends from high school and middle school. Everyone has had to move and the city is unpredictable.”
Cogur and others held white and red roses and candles Tuesday evening during a Valentine’s vigil and silent march in Oakland from Snow Park to the amphitheater at Lake Merritt to honor those who died in last week’s earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Organizers also created an altar in honor of the dead.
The event was organized by Turkish transgenerational trauma and healing practitioner Nermin Soyalp and Lebanese psychotherapist Kholoud Nasser as a way to provide a space to grieve for people affected by the earthquakes.
Soyalp — who came to the Bay Area from Turkey two decades ago — said anyone who leaves a country leaves a part of their heart there.
“We learn to exist in multiple places at one time,” she said. “It is hard to be alone. I hope this place provides that with us being together.”
Creating spaces for collective grief, Nasser said, is a method of self care for people who are far from their homeland.
“Togetherness in community is crucial for us as people of a diaspora to be able to survive and exist as healthy as possible,” she said. “Also, sending solidarity and support energetically and emotionally for everyone who has lost their lives — it is a moment of acknowledgment of grief.”
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria on Feb. 6 and nine hours later an aftershock of 7.5 rocked the region. As of Tuesday, the death toll for both earthquakes in Turkey had reached more than 35,000 people, according to Reuters.
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag on Sunday said 131 people were under investigation for their roles in the construction of buildings that failed to withstand the earthquakes. Public scrutiny in the wake of the earthquakes has fallen heavily on the faulty construction. On Saturday, the overall death toll in Syria was at 3,553 people, according to a report from the Associated Press, although experts say the numbers from the Syrian governmentcontrolled areas had not been updated in days and may be higher.
Nasser Meerkhan, who attended Tuesday night’s vigil and identifies as Kurdish and Syrian, said the areas hit by the earthquake in Syria contain some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.
“It is not that there is a good place for an earthquake to happen but these are particularly vulnerable people even within Syria, Kurdistan and Turkey,” he said. “It is heartbreaking — especially if you don’t believe they are in a better place. All I can think is that they are in a terrible place.”