The Ministry of External Affairs has a job on its hands. On 11 July, a contingent of 148 Indian students (class 10, 11, 12) and 38 officials flew to Turkey to take part in the World Schools championship in a town called Trabzon, 1100 km from Turkey capital Istanbul.
With the country plunging into a deep crisis, with army tanks out on the road, the students have appealed for help. They need to make their way via Ankara to Istanbul to fly back to New Delhi on 18 July. With the kind of situation Turkey finds itself in after the audacious coup attempt to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the students are not sure if they would be able to make their journey safely.
Ten of the 148 students are from Tamil Nadu. One of them V Tamilselvi, a student of TST Rajah School in Royapuram in Chennai recorded a message on her mobile phone and Whatsapped it across for the SOS to reach India. In the video she said:
"We came to Turkey's Trabzon to participate in the World's School Championship. It is taking place from 11th to 18th, we left Delhi on 11th. This morning, our parents called and told us, around three hours before, a bomb blast took place in the city of Ankara in Turkey, but there are no problems where we are which is Trabzon. Our competition will go on till 18th, there are still two more days where the meet is scheduled to take place. What is going to happen, is it even going to go on a scheduled, we have received no information so far. On 18th, we will be travelling from Trabzon to Ankara and from Ankara to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Delhi. So, until we reach Delhi safely, we request the Central government to help us in any way possible." (Translation of message in Tamil)
"We are right now going into an emergency meeting to discuss what needs to be done. We do not know if the meet will happen the next two days," said Tamilselvi over phone from Trabzon.
Tamilselvi, who participated in the 100 m came seventh. She had performed better in the Asian School Games in China last year, winning the silver medal.
Back home in Chennai, Tamilselvi's father Venkatesh said, "Even though there is no trouble in Trabzon, the situation does not seem to be normal in Istanbul and Ankara. The students have to come through these two cities to get back. That is our worry." Molly John, the principal of the Rajah School said, "We are really concerned about their safe return."
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had already flagged off India's assessment of the situation in Turkey, tweeting early morning that Indian nationals should not travel to Turkey unless the situation is normal there. She also asked Indian nationals in Turkey to avoid public places and stay indoors.
Meanwhile Union Sports minister Vijay Goel has said that the students are safe and that the School Games Federation of India is in touch with authorities in Turkey.