Furkan Dogan, the 19-year-old Turkish-American citizen killed by Israeli soldier(s) aboard the flotilla is from Kayseri, where I've been living since late September, 2009. Dogan was one of nine Kayseri residents aboard the flotilla. On the cultural surface, where I reside since I don't speak Turkish, it's difficult for me to imagine "terrorists," the label Israelis put on the activists who joined the flotilla and allegedly attacked the solders -- radicals eager to kill Israelis, Americans, and other Westerners -- emerging from this environment.
Kayseri, the hometown of Turkish President Abdullah Gul, seems a lot safer to me than many American cities. It has been enormously friendly and welcoming to my family in the eight months we've been here. We are three of only a handful of Americans and native English-speakers in Kayseri. It's a close-knit community that acts like a small town, though the metro area is nearly one million, with a vibrant and growing middle class. We Americans are easily spotted in a crowd, and Kayserians take a special interest in us. Just one of probably a hundred examples: a school bus driver proudly drove me, his only passenger one recent afternoon, to his home to meet his grandson and to give me food from his garden. It didn't matter to him that I didn't speak Turkish and he didn't speak English. We communicated with body language, smiles, laughs and baby talk in each others' languages.
People here tend to be religious, rather like people in the American South, except of course that the religion here is Islam, not Christianity. Many are followers of Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish imam now living in Pennsylvania who is trying to modernize Islam for a secular age. The world-wide Gulen Movement emphasizes education, with hundreds of Turkish schools around the world, including the U.S. Shortly after I arrived, I was invited if not begged to teach English at two private Gulen schools here in Kayseri. Never mind that I was a Christian from America -- the students welcomed me with open arms, standing up and applauding me when I entered classrooms every day for the first few months I taught. Gulen himself emphasizes moderation, healthy living, devotion to work and family, dialogue with Christians and Jews, and prudence. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Friday, Gulen criticized the Gaza Flotilla Movement for not first "getting the permission of Israel." That should put a damper on any Turkish establishment support for fanning the flames of violent hostility to Israel.
Here in Kayseri, neighborhood president is a paid position and the responsibility of the neighborhood president is to know everyone in the neighborhood (even in high-rise apartments), their needs and struggles, help people care for one another and also keep each other in line. No one should stray too far into non-conformity or extremist religious beliefs that might threaten Turkey's semi-secular government. No one is allowed to disrespect the memory of the founder of the modern Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an ardent believer in the separation of religion from politics. There's a very low crime rate in this town. It's kind of like America in the 1950s, I wrote on my "Turkish Delight" blog.
Furkan Dogan and the other Kayserians who joined the flotilla to Gaza were not isolated individuals, part of some sub-culture or anti-Jewish cult. They were/are respected members of the community, moved by what they see as the plight of the Palestinians and the arrogance of the current Israeli government. Young Dogan was studying at a private high school in Kayseri, similar to the one I teach at -- he had recently passed the university entrance exam with high marks, hoped to study in America and eventually become a doctor. His father is a professor at the local university, and the Dogans are neighbors of several students of mine.
Furkan's brother, Mustafa, described him to Today's Zaman as “clean-hearted with a happy face,” and said that he had asked for his parents’ blessing before leaving with the flotilla. “We didn’t expect him to come back like this,” his brother was quoted as saying. “However, we were not sorry to hear that he fell like a martyr.”
Today's Zaman also reports that Kayseri residents prepared a memorial book for him in which people could express their feelings stemming from the loss of the high school student at the hands of Israeli commandos. The book will then be delivered to his parents, who said their son had taken the university entrance exam only a few weeks ago and was dreaming of becoming a doctor one day.
Here's an excerpt from the ABC News report on Furkan Dogan's death:
Furkan Dogan Was Shot Five Times, Including Four Times in Head
By ZOE MAGEE
A U.S. citizen who lived in Turkey is among the nine people killed when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship heading for the Gaza Strip, officials said today. The victim was identified as Furkan Dogan, 19, a Turkish-American. A forensic report said he was shot at close range, with four bullets in his head and one in his chest, according to the Anatolian news agency.
Dogan was a high school student studying social sciences in the town of Kayseri in central Turkey. He was born in the United States and moved to Turkey at the age of 2. He will be buried in his hometown tomorrow.
Dogan's body was returned to Turkey today along with eight others, all Turkish nationals, who were on board the Mavi Marmara.
The Christian Science Monitor also includes quotes from people who knew Dogan:
“Furkan was my friend,” said Ali Yunusoalu, who went with Dogan for pre-dawn prayers on the top deck of the Mavi Marmar on Monday. Israeli naval boats soon approached the ship, he said, and then commandos dropped from helicopters.
“The soldiers started shooting and bombing” with bullets and percussion grenades, said Mr. Yunusoalu. “It was a big sound – you can’t hear a thing because of the noise.”
Dogan ran “everywhere” before he was killed, recalled Yunusoalu. “We were very afraid.”
Dogan's father told the state-run Anatolia News Agency that his son had been shot in the forehead, but that the family took comfort believing that Furkan had died with honor, reports the Associated Press.
"I feel my son has been blessed with heaven," said the father, who was not named by AP. "I am hoping to be a father worthy of my son."
President Obama and the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey have expressed their deep condolences "Our ambassador [to Turkey] has been in touch with his father and I would reiterate that we have with the U.N. Security Council condemned the acts that have led to these deaths." to Dogan's family, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.
The Wall Street Journal sent a reporter to Kayseri, and in the short time he was here -- less than a day -- he did a remarkable job of covering the Dogan story, including briefly interviewing Furkan's father. Turkey Buries U.S. Teen Killed on Flotilla: Born in New York, Furkan Dogan, 19, won lottery to go on mission; becoming a political symbol.
Today's Zaman reported that another Kayseri resident, Ahmet Aydan Beker, was critically injured in the raid. So far, the deaths of nine Turks in the raid have been confirmed. In addition, it has been reported that Israeli solidiers shot a photojournalist in the head at point-blank range.