September 11: Through the Eyes of the Turkish Community

By Elif Özmenek
Photographs by Cem Yücer
Turks are Muslims, but they are not Arabs. They are also a minority in the U.S., but a minority whose origins are hard to tell from their physical appearance. However, their dramatic stories display the fact that the U.S. has started to go through a transitional period and has passed the point of no return. The documentary, which questions the approach of the U.S., which is known as land of immgirants, to the “other”, indicates the breaking point of the intercultural fault lines.

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The relatives were looking for Zuhtu with the lost notice.

The Yellow Leaf  is a documentary which tells the story of September 11 through the eyes of Turkish people and from their own mouths for the very first time.   

Just as in movies, you know, in which someone witnesses an incident that he is not supposed to see, and then encounters that “not supposed to see” for the rest of the movie, September 11 created a similar situation for the people in this documentary. Witnessing the worst terrorist attack in the world will haunt them wherever they go for the rest of their lives.

I am one of these people...  I had no thought that my life would change on September 11, 2001 on my way to work on Wall Street, which is 300 meters from the World Trade Center…  

That day, I was on-air as one of the closest eye-witnesses to “Ground Zero”. I reported live on Turkish television, forgetting my fears, worries and agitation. And I started on my path in the profession of journalism, from which I have made a living for five years, since that day...  

As I was one of  the first journalists who reported from the site, I knew that the things I experienced that day would haunt me forever. I am also aware that the impact of the transitional period which the U.S. is going through will linger for many years. So this documentary is, in a sense, the five-year journey of people who have made abroad their country and their country abroad, beginning from the day I started in this profession...
 
WHY YELLOW LEAF?    
A lot of people wonder why the documentary is called The Yellow Leaf. Even though we tell the story of The Yellow Leaf in the documentary, I think I need to make an additional note for the articles:

September 11, 2001 - 8:46 A.M.

A plane hits the first tower of the World Trade Center at 1790 km per hour.

Zuhtu Ibis, who works on the 103rd floor at Cantor FitzGerald, calls his wife and says, “Don’t worry, I am all right! I have to go now, the building’s being evacuated!”
 
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Zuhu Ibis' tombs in Sari Yaprak, Yozgat.

Turan Ayaz, who works on the 65th  floor at Port Authority, reaches for his phone. His words are the same. “I am alive, don’t worry!”

When Turan Ayaz reaches home 13 hours later his wife looks calm. Ayaz asks his wife later that night, “Everybody came here worried about me and you are passing around glasses of tea as if nothing has happened. Didn’t you worry about me at all?” His wife’s brief reply still makes him burst into tears even after 5 years: “You told me that you would come home no matter what!”   

The 38 floors in between is a matter of life and death... Nobody hears from Zuhtu Ibis after that phone call! But his wife Leyla Uyar also waits hopefully. After all, he had whispered the same words in haste: “Don’t worry, I will come!”   

Leyla Uyar waits for him patiently for five months. She waited for years; what is five months compared to that?

Both Leyla Uyar and Zühtü İbiş were born in the village of Sari Yaprak in Yozgat and attended the same primary and high school. When Zuhtu Ibis came to the U.S. along with his father to get a college education, Leyla Uyar waited for him patiently. Zuhtu would return to Yellow Leaf and marry Leyla after graduating from college and starting to work as a programmer at one of the big companies in the World Trade Center. Zuhtu was 25 years old and he had kept all his promises so far! He also said he would come home on September 11.   

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Zuhtu's wife Leyla and his sister Hacer.

When she was informed five months later that parts of his husband’s body had been found, she and her 2 year old son Mert were still keeping their spirits up…

The only Turkish citizen who lost his life on September 11, Zuhtu Ibis’s body parts were taken to his village Yellow Leaf and buried there...

He was propelled to the U.S. in order to follow his dreams. Just like other immigrants coming to this country from many other parts of the world... Zuhtu Ibis lost his life like a withering leaf in a terrorist attack. And the ashes of the collapsed building withered the dreams of many immigrants who came to the new world for a better life...       

The Yellow Leaf, without knowing how, became the symbol of an America where dreams did not come true anymore...

(October 2006, Issue 22nd)

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