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U of I grad remembered following his death in Turkey earthquake

Civil defense workers and residents search through the rubble of collapsed buildings in the town of Harem near the Turkish border, Idlib province, Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. A powerful earthquake has caused significant damage in southeast Turkey and Syria and many casualties are feared. Damage was reported across several Turkish provinces, and rescue teams were being sent from around the country.
University of Illinois and Columbia University graduate Berkhan Eminsoy died in an earthquake in Turkey in February. He was one of more than 50,000 victims of earthquakes that shook both Turkey and Syria. Photo courtesy of Columbia University

URBANA – University of Illinois graduate Berkhan Eminsoy was one of the more than 50,000 people who died in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria last month.  

The 32-year-old was just starting his career. In the last year of his life, he worked as an architect for Tosyali Holding, a steel and iron manufacturing company, in Iskandar, Turkey. 

It was at this job where Berkhan found the optimal balance of passion and economic stability that would turn into a long-term career, said his father, Hakan Eminsoy. 

Berkhan worked in the architecture industry for just over nine years. 

Hakan said he is not sure where Berkhan found his love for architecture, but he knew Berkhan’s journey pursuing a career in architecture started at the University of Illinois.  

“I sent him to a summer school in Illinois,” Hakan said. “He liked the university so much, he said that ‘I want to go to that school; I’m not looking for any other school.’”

Berkhan majored in architectural sciences at Illinois and was an active member of Alpha Rho Gi, an architectural fraternity at Illinois. He was passionate about conservation of history and environmental conservation through architecture, Hakan said. 

People on campus described Berkhan as kind, passionate and incredibly hardworking. 

“I do remember his work very well; it was really amazing, high quality work,” said Mark Taylor, an architecture professor at the University of Illinois who had Berkhan in one of his classes in 2010.

Berkhan Eminsoy turned in this model for his Anatomy of a Building class in 2010 at the University of Illinois. Thirteen years later, Mark Taylor, who taught the class, still uses Eminsoy’s work as an example.

“[Berkhan] really enjoyed working. He was one of those rare students that could manage to tap into the joy of producing good quality work.”

Taylor said he still uses Berkhan’s work as examples for his classes. 

Beyond academics, Hakan said Berkhan loved the social part of college and thrived in Illinois’ student culture. 

“The university is relatively close to Chicago,” he said. “But from time to time, I was telling him, ‘Why don’t you go to Chicago over the weekend?’ 

“Berkhan said, ‘Well, the university and the area is so lively. I don’t need to.” 

After graduating from the University of Illinois, Berkhan worked for four years at an architectural firm before continuing his education at Columbia University in New York. 

He planned to stay and make a life in the United States, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Berkhan has to go back to Turkey, said Hakan. 

After complications with paperwork, visas and working permits, Berkhan realized he would not be able to go back to New York, Hakan said. 

Berkhan faced a period of uncertainty and confusion in Turkey, he said. Since the pandemic derailed his post-graduation plans, he resorted to working jobs he had little passion for. 

However, in the last year of his life, Hakan said Berkhan was finally happy with his life in Turkey. He settled in Iskanderun, a historic city in the Southern part of Turkey, where he worked with the preservation of buildings that dated back to the 1400s.

It was in Iskanderun, Turkey, where Berkhan died on February 6 after the earthquake destroyed his high-rise apartment complex.

“In Turkey, we generally have concrete buildings, so he [Berkhan] would criticize Turkey, saying that these concrete, high rise buildings are really not sensible,” Hakan said. 

“For an architect to lose his life in something that he used to criticize, I mean, it’s not only sad, but it’s really an irony in life.”


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