Cyprus mourns the loss of a school sports team in the Turkish earthquake

published 17 March 2023 updated 22 March 2023

Among the hundreds of thousands of stories of death and tragedy from the earthquake which hit Türkiye and Syria, the loss of a school volleyball team from Northern Cyprus has brought great sorrow to the education community.

On 6 February, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the border region between Türkiye and Syria with devastating consequences. Tens of thousands of people died, many more were injured or lost their home, their workplace, their school. The earthquakes have also affected communities outside of Syria and Türkiye. Education unions from Northern Cyprus reported the tragic story of a school sport team – students, teachers, trainers and parents – who lost their lives in Adiyaman, Türkiye.

In a joint letter, the Eastern Mediterranean University Union of Academic Staff (DAÜ-SEN), the Cyprus Turkish Secondary Education Teachers' Union (KTOEOS) and the Cyprus Turkish Teachers' Trade Union (KTÖS) informed EI of the tragic death of 24 Turkish Cypriot students from the girls’ and boys’ school volleyball teams of the Gazimağusa Turkish Maarif College from Famagusta, Northern Cyprus. All were 11 to 14 years old. Four teachers, members of KTOEOS, two trainers and five parents who were supervising the school group also died in the earthquake.

They were all in the city of Adiyaman to take part in a school volleyball tournament. The hotel they were staying in completely collapsed when the earthquake hit. Out of the 39 adults and children in the group, only one teacher and three parents were rescued.

Everyone in the small coastal town of Famagusta was affected by the losses. Thousands of people attended the funerals of the students and their parents and teachers. But it’s the whole island, Turkish and Greek communities all together, that mourns the lives lost in the tragedy.

Four people, including the hotel owner, were arrested as part of the investigations on the collapse of the hotel. Preliminary reports showed evidence of faulty design, poor quality materials and non-compliance with safety standards. The education unions joined the calls for justice.

Other Turkish Cypriot school volleyball teams – the boys’ volleyball teams from Canbulat Özgürlük Secondary School and Namık Kemal Highschool, and the girls’ high school volleyball team from Gazimağusa Turkish Maarif College – present in Türkiye to take part in the same tournament survived the earthquake.

In total 49 Turkish Cypriots died in the earthquake. Many members of DAÜ-SEN, KTOEOS and KTÖS have lost children, cousins, and family members in the earthquake. Thousands of university students studying in Northern Cyprus were also present in the regions struck by the earthquake to visit their families during the semester break.

The crucial role of solidarity

From the first hours after the tragedy, the education unions in Northern Cyprus launched aid campaigns in support of earthquake victims and deploy efforts to secure the return of their students to the country, provide them with the much needed support to heal physical and psychological wounds, and assist them in resuming their education in the best conditions.

International solidarity and local solidarity played a crucial role in responding to the disaster. Education International’s member organisations in Syria (Union of Teachers of Northeast Syria) and Türkiye (Eğitim sen) mobilized to help their members and the affected communities.  Education International has launched an Urgent Action Appeal to call on all its membership contributing to the EI Solidarity Fund in order to assist our sister organisations in their recovery and humanitarian efforts.