(This article was first published on June 25, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here. The video was taken on June 4, 2010 during the funeral of Furkan Dogan in Kayseri.)
Furkan Dogan had just scored so high on Turkey’s rigorous college entrance exams that he could have attended any college of his choosing. But before he started school, he did what a lot of high school graduates do: He joined a humanitarian mission to help people less fortunate than him.
His choice of charities was fatal.
“He was not a political activist,” said his father Ahmet Dogan. “He was just a volunteer, a humanitarian who wanted to help people. He wanted to study to be a doctor, an eye doctor.”
Furkan was killed during the Memorial Day raid by Israeli armed forces on the Turkish flotilla, Mavi Marmara, which was attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza and, according to flotilla organizers, deliver humanitarian supplies to the embattled region. When the Israelis boarded the boat from the air and by motor boat, fighting broke out, and Dogan was shot multiple times in the head and chest, according to an Anatolian news agency.
Israeli government officials claim that their soldiers were ambushed not by peace activists, but by people ready for a fight “This was not a love boat, but a hate boat,” said . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In June 9 interview on the Colbert Report, Israel Ambassador to the US Michael Oren said, “The people on this particular boat were 70 hired thugs from a radical Islamic organization.”
But, for the Dogan family and their friends, these characterizations don’t match the man they knew. Furkan was not a paid member of the The Humanitarian Relief Foundation or IHH, the aid group which helped organize the flotilla.
Dogan was chosen by IHH after entering an online lottery to serve as a volunteer on the Mavi Marmara. Nine other residents of his hometown in Turkey, Kayseri, joined him.
Dogan attended one of Turkey’s competitive “science high schools” where students prepare for careers in medicine, engineering, and other sciences. Furkan was an honor student and recently completed college entrance exams where he placed high enough to enter any school of his choosing. Furkan took the exam as a foreigner because he was born in Troy, NY in 1991 while his father studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Furkan is a citizen of both the U.S. and Turkey.
“He was thinking he’d like to go to America for university, and was looking forward to going back to Troy to see his homeland and improve his language skills,” said his father Ahmet.
In 1993, Dogan’s father brought his family back to Kayseri, where he teaches economics as an associate professor.
Seniye Vural, an English literature professor and family friend said that Furkan’s father was often helping students, particularly a theater group in the economics faculty. Vural dismissed the idea that Furkan could have learned any radical theologies at home.
“I’ve never seen him [Ahmet Dogan] as an activist,” said Vural.
In fact, Dogan, like his son, looked positively on his time in the US.
“I had a great impression of America,” he said, “I was especially impressed with how Americans were so sensitive to issues of human rights and individual freedom.”
The family said their son went with those issues in mind, and wanted to take the opportunity to help people he saw as suffering. He joined the 600 people on the Mavi Marmara with his American passport in hand believing that it would be the best protection.
“Furkan thought that his American citizenship, his American passport, would protect him,” said his
The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, James Jeffery reportedly spoke to Ahmet by phone in early June, promising Furkan’s father he would find out what went on in the Mavi Marmara. The U.S. State Department has not asked for an independent investigation.
On June 1, U.S. President Barack Obama said he supports “a credible, impartial and transparent investigation of the facts.”
Meanwhile, the Dogan family continues to mourn the loss of their youngest son. Ahmet says his son died a martyr doing God’s work, and at the funeral on June 4, thousands of residents in Kayseri came out waving signs supporting that idea.
“We want to show the world that he was innocent, that he lived a life of dignity,” repeated his father, “We also want his life to be dedicated to humanity’s
The city plans to name a street after him, and his high school is dedicating a gymnasium to him. A creative writing professor plans to write a book, play, or movie about Furkan, while another group hopes to establish a cultural center named after him.
Jim Buie,a freelance journalist living in Kayseri, contributed to this report. View his blog and coverage of the story.
Suds, bubbles, and Bobby Darin’s “Splish, splash” are typically what come to mind when I think about taking a bath. Turkey has turned that upside down.
Turks continue a long standing tradition of bath houses that first came to prominence in the Roman Empire. Today, these bath houses feature hot rooms of marble where men and women wash themselves and are washed by attendants. Today’s baths mostly come from Turkey’s Islamic Seljuk and Ottoman Empires where an emphasis on purity and cleanliness made hamams extremely attractive.
Last week, three friends and I visited one of Turkey’s traditional hamams (bath houses). The nearly eight-hundred year-old Seljuk hamam in Kayseri’s city center was simple, but it certainly didn’t miss any services of a traditional Turkish Hamam. Most of its visitors are not tourists but instead the working men of one of Turkey’s most traditional cities. There is a woman’s side of the hamam as well, but I can’t say much about that. Our hamam was separated into three different areas: a drying and dressing room, a wash room, and a sauna.
Stone steps descending from the sidewalk led us to the entrance and into the drying and dressing area. Furnished in wood, it reminded me of a cedar closet. Each of us were given a key to one of the 20 or so dressing booths lining the room. Meanwhile, men just out of the bathing area sat in plush chairs reading the news or watching Turkish TV while drying off, some of whom who were also enjoying a full rub down at the chair. After dropping everything but a thin plaid towel provided to us by the hamam, I was ready for the cleaning of my life.
After entering the main bath room, the first thing I noticed was the room’s humidity. It wasn’t necessarily hot, but sweat immediately starting building on contact with the air. Orhan, my friend and “hamam guide” laughed at my reaction to it and said, “Today, for the first time, you will be really clean!”
The room we were in was furnished with marble floors and benches along the wall, and a mini-waterway system guided runoff splash water down the bath’s drains. The room had four smaller rooms in each corner (one being a sauna) and in between the corner rooms were spigots and sinks running along the wall with metal pans for individual bathing. On a busy day, the benches would be full of men sitting, chatting, and then pouring warm to hot water over themselves. The four of us (one Turk, two English teachers, and one Chinese teacher) sat in the center slab of the room admiring the historical nature of the building, while also frankly, sweating like pigs.
After about 15 minutes, Orhan suggested it was time “to get very hot” in the sauna. The sauna was the hottest room I’ve been in even for a sauna. Thankfully it was extremely dry. Inside, we met Ali, a tall Turkish man who was a bit off according to Orhan. While sitting down, Ali got up and started haphazardly flicking the sprinkling hose left and right. I jumped when the “cold” water hit us sitting on the bench and said, “Hey, stop.” Ali responded, “I’m making steam. I’m making steam.” We had no problem with the steam, but asked if he could make it where no one was sitting. The sauna was too much for me, so I left. From the outside looking in, I watched Ali playing with the hose from the door window. When my friends came out before Ali, Jim the American teacher said that Ali mentioned,Turkey and America are friends, “but Turkey is stronger.”
After the sauna, we were finally ready to be cleaned according to Orhan. Two men standing by the entrance were rubbing and soaping men lying down
on marble benches on the side of the walls. The first step was the kese. The kese is basically a large, rough edged glove, reminiscent of the gloves I’ve used to groom my dog. The burly and bald bath attendent (also known as a tellak) rubbed it all over my skin. The glove pulled away at all the dust and dead skin on my body and the remnants of which were left looking like wet rolled up pieces of paper. After the process, he poured water over me using a small silver bowl filled with lukewarm water. My skin felt raw, but also extremely clean. But the experience wasn’t over as the attendant asked me, “Do you want soap massage?”
Saying yes, I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever had such a thorough wash down since I was an infant. The “massage” got a bit brutal especially towards the end when he worked on my back. The attendant was excited to talk to an American in Turkish, and kept asking how the country was. I responded that Turkey is wonderful, the peopler are great, and the food is tip top. I would often find myself saying, Turkey is çok guzel (very beautiful). He would laugh and as he pressed his hands hard into my back, he shouted, “Çok guzel!” After a final rinse, I was able to head over to another side of the hamam where I could gently rinse with my own little bowl of warm water.
After we all finished with the attendants, we headed out of the hamam and took a seat in the chairs. We were given lemonade and soda while we rested and just let our bodies rest after the thorough cleaning and pounding.
For those few hours, it was interesting to have such a personal and thorough cleaning. Spas are not usually my thing, and I can’t say I’d go back to hamam on a regular basis. But, when you’ve been travelling and you just want to get completely clean and relaxed, it’s a great start. Some people say you can feel like the Sultan, and I can see why. From the minute you enter until the minute you leave, the hamam is all about your needs, nothing else.
As for the price of this full service, the bath will run you about 35 Turkish Lira or $23.00 US Dollars.
The sun has set on my last day in Kayseri. It’s 12:30AM in Turkey (5:30 PM the day before in Boston). In three hours, I’ll take my final Turkish Taxi and have my last wild ride during this journey in the place where East meets West. I’ve shared a number of good memories, some of which I’ve reflected on or wrote about already, and many more I still have to put to paper. I’ve lived a double-life while here. During the week, I’m a teacher of English for about 150 students, and on the weekends, an explorer of history, culture, and life.
I’ve found myself exploring cities thousands of years old. Crawling through caves, exploring entire cities underground. I’ve walked, or sometimes stumbled where Alexander the Great and St. Paul passed by, along with numerous other greats, Caesar, Cicero, Mehmet the Conqueror, and Ataturk among others. I’ve seen dervishes whirl, skied down one of Turkey’s tallest peaks, and spent a few days in a village amidst the lush trees of Turkey’s Black Sea region.
But it’s the people I’ve met, and am unfortunately saying good-bye to that is in my mind the most tonight. I’ve shared at least 1,000 cups of tea while here. I’ve shared stories, and hours of my life with people from all over the world including (but not limited to) Turkey, China, Korea, England, Pakistan, Gaza, Greece, Germany, Israel, Australia, Italy, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Japan, Ukraine, Scotland, Egypt, Syria, Bosnia, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iran, France, Canada, and the United States. As I get ready to leave for the final time this trip, I can think of a lot of great adventures that would make a good post. But for my final post from Turkey I’ll take this opportunity to share photos of just some of the people who made those adventures great.
My journey may be ending, but this blog is not finished. There are still stories and videos to share. Even though the pace of posts will slow over time, I still envision this as a living resource, and hope that some students will pick up where I leave off. I also don’t plan to make this my only trip to Turkey. As my neighbor David says, “Turkey is a virus. Once you’ve got the bug, you’ll come back.” I don’t think I’ll ever make a permanent home in Turkey, in fact, I don’t know if I want to make any home permanent at this stage. Something I learned over here. But certainly I want, and hope, to be back.
Thanks for the memories.
NOTE: This article was first published for “Today’s Zaman,” an English daily newspaper in Turkey. View the article as it originally appeared here.
During my year in Turkey, I’ve tried to turn my Turkish from a “caveman dialect” where requests for bus tickets sound like, “Konya ticket need. Tomorrow, early day,” to something friendlier, like: “I’d like to go to Konya tomorrow, please. Is there a bus in the morning?” Working my way through that process has taught me a lot about the differences between English and Turkish etiquette.
My linguistic adventure began with the words “please” and “thank you” (in Turkish, “lütfen” and “teşekkür ederim”). In the US, they are my bread and butter words when it comes to politeness. At the dinner table, at work, at school — almost every request I make in English includes the word “please” and is usually followed up by “thank you.” So naturally, I made sure to memorize their Turkish counterparts and use them equally as often.
After hundreds of “lütfens” and “teşekkür ederims” to my host family and other Turkish friends, I got the sense I was not sounding natural. I asked my Turkish teacher and she explained that rather than using individual words, Turkish infers its politeness by formalizing its suffixes. Unlike English, Turkish words have multiple added-on endings (suffixes) that can tell the reader who is speaking, whether the word is a subject or an object, who is being addressed and formality, among other usages.
For example, “How are you?” in Turkish has a polite and less polite form. “Nasılsın?” is seen as the more informal version because it takes the “singular you” suffix while “Nasılsınız?” takes the “plural you” suffix, which is seen as the more formal and polite usage. Also, rather than using the word “please” for requests, Turks use the “Can I…” phrase (in Turkish, “… -bilir miyim?”).
As an English speaker, it took me a long time to think about it in this way. The other strange thing which I refuse to give in to is using “thank you” less. I’ve always been taught to say “thank you” even for services I’ve paid for, like a minibus trip downtown, a cashier at the market or for change at the bank.
A faculty colleague told me, “We don’t say ‘thank you’ for something that is someone’s duty.” For me, more is always better than less.
But for what Turkey lacks in “thank yous,” it has a wonderful tradition of polite phrases that my language lacks. Three of my favorites are “kolay gelsin,” “afiyet olsun” and “eline sağlık.” The first means “may your work come easy” and can be said to someone working. It can be used as a salutation or, as I love, when you’re just walking by. I once said it to a man painting the third story of a building on scaffolding; he nearly fell off shouting back, “thank you!” The other two are used during meals, with the first meaning “enjoy your meal” and the second “health to your hands,” usually said to the cook. At noon, my department’s hallways echo with a flutter of “afiyet olsuns” as everyone leaves for lunch, and we often exchange the phrase with each other right before eating, and sometimes even after. It’s a language trait I’ve really come to enjoy and will not be surprised if I say unconsciously at lunch with my American friends and colleagues.
Looking at the two languages, I don’t think English is “too polite.” But I don’t think Turkish is less polite either. Instead, my thought is that Turkish relies less on words for manners and more on actions and body language. Because once you’ve been invited in for tea and given a big two-cheek embrace, a thank you really is just words, isn’t it?
Over the last week, there has been a lot of news about the Israel blockade and storming of an international aid flotilla. 16 of the passengers were killed in the incident, nine of which were Turks. Since then, demonstrators have been out in force. The Turkish government condemned the raid and has demanded not only an apology from Israel, but also an independent investigation over the incident. Turkey has been the longest Muslim ally to Israel, and the incident has added more tension to an already strained relationship.
Interestingly enough, the situation developed last Friday to where Kayseri was the center of focus. Furkan Dogan, a 19 year-old high school student, was flown in to be buried. Dogan was not only the youngest passenger to be killed, but he was also an American citizen (as well as Turkish). Below is a video clip I took from the funeral day as well as my commentary published today on NPR’s Here and Now. A more detailed report with interviews is also coming soon.
Kayseri is a fairly quiet, middle-sized city in Turkey. Last Friday however, the place where I’ve served as a Fulbright teaching fellow was turned upside down when the body of Furkan Dogan, a 19 year-old high school student, was buried after being reportedly shot multiple times at close range during the Flotilla raid last Monday. Dogan was also an American citizen, who moved back to Turkey when he was 2 after being born in Troy, N.Y.
A sea of hands carried the casket out of Dogan’s apartment building at 11 a.m., while mourners chanted prayers and looked on in shock. After a short procession to the city’s main mosque in the center square, the casket was prayed over for another two hours during the weekly Friday services. Furkan’s father, Ahmet Dogan, stayed very quiet as he stood by his son’s casket and made his way through the grim process of burying his youngest son.
After the Imam concluded the prayers, the crowd of more than 2,000 people became enlivened. The casket was again carried by hand out into Kayseri’s main street, as the flood of residents followed chanting slogans from, “God is Great,” to “Israel: Terrorist.” In the march to the cemetery, the anger and grief over the loss of an honor student who had plans to attend medical school in the fall was aimed straight at the actions of the Israeli government.
At the end of the march, city buses waited to take anyone who wished up to the burial site on the top of one of the mountains overlooking the city. At the burial, family members including Ahmet Dogan picked up a shovel to bury their fallen son while the rest crowded together in the dusty cemetery and prayed.
The news of Dogan’s death last week rocked the city of Kayseri where I live. Although Kayseri is a city known to have a religiously conservative bent, I would hesitate to say it is a hub for any sort of extremism or fundamentalism. Many women not only abstain from veiling themselves, but also wear stylish, designer threads. The students I teach are hungry to learn and find a successful career in Turkey as engineers, doctors, or in business. For most residents, the situation is far from desperate. Many have large families whose members live close together, sometimes even in the same apartment buildings, while taking jobs at local factories, hospitals, or schools.
Ahmet Dogan and his family were just one of those families. He is an associate professor in Erciyes University’s economics department, where I also teach English. Although I don’t know him personally, he seemed to me like any faculty at my university, someone working hard in their career in order to provide a better education for their children.