I am pretty sure you all know the feeling of moving from your home, giving up your comfort zone and leaving your families behind, being just a few weeks away from your new life, apart from the stains of your mistakes in the past, ready to start drawing on a clean canvas.
On move-in day, Dr. Sheryl Tynes invited us to imagine a different move-in experience that happened 15 years ago, just before 9/11. Now, I invite you to imagine a move-in in 2016.
You’re an international first year from Turkey. The country you once would have died for is now the last place you ever want to be. Why?
Your father is the governor of social services in Istanbul. That is to say, you have met many victims and witnessed child abuse incidents happening in orphanages around the city. So you are pretty familiar with such stories that people just skim through in newspapers. Your father stands up and fights against this sick and inhumane system in Care and Social Rehabilitation Centers (CSRCs) on every side of the mega-city. Of course, just like they will with every person who wants to make a difference, politicians get into your father’s way. Against his will, they move your father to Konya, a much smaller, but still beautiful, city in Turkey. You think they should be grateful to him for his endeavor, and yes, they should, but this is not how things work in your country right now. It is then you realize that, if you are an honest person with common sense, you are going to have enemies. And in Turkey, things get harder every other day for people who are not such lovers and no-matter-what obeyers of the ruling party, AKP.
Just two days after a coup attempt on Friday, July 15, your father gets fired. Wednesday of that week, your bell rings and you open the door to face five police officers, one cameraman and a high-ranking public prosecutor. They come into your house and search every corner, not leaving a single box unfolded. They take your books, bank receipts, computers and every electronic device as evidence. They detain your father, then arrest him without a trial or a fair hearing because the government has declared a state of emergency! Since then, Turkey has been ruled by executive orders of the president, who cannot be sued or questioned by any authority, not even that of the constitutional court. In a few weeks, more than 40,000 people get detained, and around 20,000 get arrested, including two of your uncles. Lawyers are threatened and tortured, so that people like you will not have any judicial help. When you finally find a lawyer, which was not an easy or cheap process, government officers don’t let your father speak to his lawyer. When they eventually do, they impose limitations and record their meetings. For more than ten days, you see pictures of torturing in the news everyday and have no idea how your father is.
When the first visitation day comes, you, as a family, decide not to cry in front of your father. Five hours pass and you keep waiting for the 15 minute meeting, which will feel like a couple of seconds. You finally have the chance to see him, behind bars and a thick dusty window. You talk to him through an old handset receiver. He keeps telling you and your brothers not to let anything distract you from pursuing your goals and passions. He says he is always praying that you get a degree from a successful U.S. college. Then during the last seconds, your parents start saying how much they love each other and you all burst into tears, breaking your agreement. And that is all: this is the only meeting you will have with your father for at least a year.
Why? Because he is accused, without any evidence, of attempting to destroy the constitutional order and taking down the democratically-elected government. On top of this, the government is trying to make the death sentence legal in your country again in order to execute people like your father and put their bodies in a place they call “traitor cemetery.”
But, what can you do? Even your friends don’t believe you because they trust what they see on TV more than your words! Your neighbors “” whom you used to share dinners with “” will not get in the same elevator with you and do not reply to your greetings. Why not? Because you are officially traitors! Your passports are canceled and your bank accounts are blocked. You are known and treated as terrorists! Your car is stopped and searched by an anti-terror team in the middle of your neighborhood. You are barely let into your father’s workplace (the governor’s building) even with a cop accompanying and directing you, because you are labeled dangerous. Despite everything, you never forget what your mom keeps saying to you: “Keep your heads up and never look down! We are strong because of our innocence.”
Right after you get your new passport, you leave the country that you don’t want to call home anymore, and you start a journey of your own to find a new home. And on the front cover of your adventure book, your mom is looking at your eyes and saying, “My little sons, my lives, my precious ones, I am sorry that you had to grow up so early.”
In this long journey, you finally find a big island overseas, but you can’t call it home yet. Then you are welcomed by your beautiful ISO coordinator, Seà±ora Samsara and her friends, lifesaver Ono and ever-smiling Charlotte. They get into your face and shout altogether: “Hey Lutfiiiii! We are so glad you made it here.” Later on, your super-cool roommate Will’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Skinner, open their arms and treat you as their son. You become No. 1 pals with your other roommate, The Real Nabeel. Days go by and what you see on people’s faces is a smile, not disapproval, and what you hear from them is “Hi Lutfi,” not curses or threats. Then you look around, and every corner of campus starts crying: “You Belong Here.”
I decided to write these lines after witnessing the courage on the speakers’ faces at the NSO Diversity Session seminar. Their brave souls and confident manner showed me the power of sharing. And here I am, trying to tell you how I have discovered, grown and become a totally different person in a month. I want to thank you all because I did find my home here at Trinity University.
Yes, I belong here!