"Our Nervous Systems Are Not That Strong"

After the first shock of 9/11, the Turkish-American Association (TADF) in New York stepped in as soon as possible. They were receiving telephone calls from Turkey one after another. Those who hadn’t heard from their relatives and friends were worried whether their people were also in the building.
On the second day of the event something else was added to the worries about how many Turkish citizens might have been killed -- whether Turkey’s name would be involved in this event, in which almost all Muslims were pointed to as “terrorists” by President Bush.  Bekir Şahin, the former vice president of the Turkish-American Association, says:  

“What the Association gave priority to following the attack was how the Turkish community would be affected and how these effects could be decreased to the least degree. I believe we worked very effectively in those days.”

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had given a statement and said, “It is not your neighbors who did this!” but the die had already been cast. Mosques were attacked and Muslim women who were wearing headscarves were harassed verbally and physically.  Though they are not Muslim, even the turbaned Hindu and Sikh taxi drivers had their share of these attacks. Bekir Şahin thinks that the reason why the Turkish community in New York and its periphery was not that much affected by such negative circumstances is the activities of TADF:

“We were informed that in 15 days 70 Turks were arrested. We were not concerned about 7 or 8 of them, since they were under arrest due to infamous crimes.  We tried to pursue the situation of the others as closely as possible and tried to free those we could.

In this process first Washington was contacted. And simultaneously the authorities in Turkey were asked to intervene. At the same time we were in continuous communication with the authorities in New York as well. Our aim was that the Turkish community living here should not be associated with such a terrorist action in any terms.”

After 9/11 some Turks, whose visa dates had expired, disappeared, since they were worried that the FBI and the CIA would also track them down, as they knew that Middle Eastern fugitives were being pursued. Bekir Şahin says that in order to prevent the association of Turkish citizens, who were hiding just because they were illegal immigrants, with terrorist groups, TADF tried to find them before the American authorities did:

“For example, a friend from Florida had gone to New Jersey because he was having problems with his wife. This coincided with the day of the attack and his wife informed on him to the police and he was on the wanted list. The press said that this person was a friend of those that hijacked the plane on September, 11. This pursuit took nine days. After nine days we found the guy before the American authorities and learned the truth. We took him to the authorities and told them that he was only a fugitive and was hiding from the FBI just because he was afraid of being deported.”

“We went through incredibly bad things within our own community at the beginning of the second year after 9/11! People were informing against one another, snitching on their partners for personal interests, threatening each other to inform the police...  One day an American authority told me ‘you are the only community that is denouncing itself.’  At that moment I really wanted to die. It is true, maybe we may accept such things within the community, but hearing this from a foreigner, an American, was really sad…”

After 9/11 it became known that the American government helped those who informed them where the fugitives were hiding and the illegal actions they were involved in. The magic word was the “green card” which provides permission to work and then citizenship in the USA. In the next five years the American authorities were to continue to use this weapon against the fugitives… This had enormous psychological effects on immigrants:
“Even the most insignificant event or some related information affects the individual. Because we live in a foreign land and our nervous systems are not that strong in this country. Soon a person starts to think ‘why am I here, what have I done to deserve this?’”  

Bekir Sahin first mentions his close friend Zühtü Ibis, whom he lost on the day of the attack, when he starts to talk about the psychological injuries that 9/11 left on him. He says, “things in life may not be the same as they seem…”

“I met Zühtü Ibis when he first started school. When he was a student he was working as a delivery person at my cousin’s pizza shop to cover his expenses. We were talking about the things that we wanted to do in America. His dream was to finish school and work in a job in computers at one of the big companies at the World Trade Center. After he got the job he was planning to marry Leyla, his high school sweetheart,  and he was going to buy a house. Zühtü really achieved all this in a short time. Approximately one month before the attack he told me that some of the employees would be dismissed from his company. Since he had started recently, he was sure that he would also be one of those. One week before 9/11 he called me and said, ‘We are safe, Bekir. They didn’t fire me!’”

Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07