The world had its eyes on Kayseri, Turkey Friday as 2,000 to 3,000 residents took to the streets for the funeral of Furkan Dogan, the 19-year-old Turkish-American killed by Israeli soldiers aboard a flotilla headed for Gaza.
I was privileged to be a close witness to this historic day, significant to the world because it represents Turkey's sharp and rapid shift from ally of Israel to vigorous opponent of Israeli policy in Gaza. Because of the flotilla attack -- the Turks think it was the unprovoked hot-blooded murder of at least six of its citizens by Israeli soldiers -- this nation has been drawn into heavy engagement in the intricacies of Middle Eastern policy. If concrete steps aren't taken soon by Israel, Turkey could become Israel's long-term adversary and eventually its most powerful foe, dramatically altering the balance of power in the Middle East.
Turkey demands an immediate apology from Israel for the killing of the activists aboard the flotilla; a lifting of the blockade on Gaza, and a full and fair accounting of what happened on the flotilla. In the next few months, Turkey will probably demand greater respect by the Israelis for the human rights of the people of Gaza and the West Bank, and (eventually) Israel returning to something like its pre-1967 borders. In exchange, Turkey could influence Muslim countries in the region such as Syria, Lebanon and Iran to accept Israel's right to exist, to end the rocket attacks on Israel, and to engage in more diplomatic and business relationships. This is a critical moment in history that will determine which direction Turkey turns in -- friend or foe of Israel -- depending on how Israel responds.
Above, mournful Kayserians in front of Furkan Dogan's home lift his casket into the air and begin a procession to city center. Below, thousands gather at the Hunat mosque near Meydani for Dogan's service.
The posters with the young man's picture could be loosely translated as "May God bless your testimony (martyrdom?)," according to a friend who speaks both Turkish and English. "The word for 'testimony' is the same word used to refer to the proclamation of faith, the first pillar of Islam," he says. A Shahadah death is one that happens in the service of God, or Allah. A Turkish friend explains that Shahid also means that the departed will live on in a middle world between earth and heaven where he will provide inspiration to others. Christianity, Judaism and other religions also celebrate martyrdom, as does secular American culture. Think of Mother Teresa, Todd Beamer (of 9/11 "Let's Roll" fame), Martin Luther King, and the Kennedy brothers.
The potential of more Islamic martyrs is, of course, frightening to the government of Israel, and to many Americans. But the fact that Dogan was an American by birth, his family thought, would protect him from harm by the Israelis. That this purportedly gentle and idealistic young man of such great promise had his life snuffed out so violently and with such excessive force -- medical experts said he was shot five times at close range -- is, to the Turks and an increasing number of Americans, representative of something deeply wrong with Israeli government policy.
Not Religious Extremists
A journalist-teacher colleague, Matt Porter, has also produced a video and an essay on these dramatic events in Kayseri, for NPR's Day-to-Day. Some pundits have simplistically characterized and dismissed Turks who boarded the flotilla as "religious extremists." Both Matt and I thought that stereotype was a result of not knowing the people of this region as we have come to know them. He writes:
"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."Turkey Buries U.S. Teen: Born in NY, (He) Won Lottery to Go on Mission, Becoming a Political Symbol" that adds details to my report. I admire the reporter, Mark Champion, for flying into Kayseri, very quickly garnering an interview with Furkan's father, and assembling an array of facts for a balanced account.
"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."
- Dissent from a Policy, Not a People
- Turkish-American Killed By Israeli Soldiers on Flotilla Was From Kayseri, Where I Live
- Jews Found Freedom in Turkey
- One month later, Israel Still Offers No Accounting for Death of American Shot 5 Times At Close Range
(Photos by Jim Buie. Copyright 2010. Not reproducible without permission.)