Ferdi Ferhat is known with his admiring work, Why Am I in Turkey, collects the stories of migrants. The motto of the project is “We can only understand each other when we know the other’s story”.
I’ve made an interview with him to ask some questions about the background of the project.
So far you have asked people to tell their story of being in Turkey. Now, could you please the story of this project? How come did you decide to do this?
Ferdi Ferhat Ozsoy: Well, it started in 2014 when I was completing my Masters in International Relations at Istanbul Bilgi University. My thesis was about new internal migration trends in Turkey to Istanbul. From 2007 to 2014 nearly 3M people had moved to Istanbul. I wanted to know why. To get to the answers I had conducted over 70 in-depth interviews randomly walking in the streets of Istanbul. One night I was walking in Kadıköy and I came across a father and son playing on the bench. I approached them and said “Hello” in Turkish and his first reply was “Sorry I do not speak Turkish”. I was surprised when he said he was Syrian. He had blue eyes and light brown long hair. At first, I questioned myself, why was I surprised. At the end of the day, I was born to a Turkish family and raised in one of the world’s diverse city “New York City”. After listening to his story, I had published it on my thesis project web page and I got lots of reactions from people. But the most moving one was the mother of the child. She thanked me for sharing their story. This really moved me. During that time we had just founded the Common Future Association with a group of friends, that aimed to engage the youth in Turkey to have created dialogue. Since then we have done various projects geared to this end. I always had this in my mind but never really got a chance to started with everything else that was happening in life.
I have always been following the Syrian Crisis very closely, and I well inverse of the migration patterns that Turkey had faced in the last 100 years. And it has never been a pretty sight. The context of the people that have migrated within and to Turkey have always been used to establish the other. The issues that Syrians would face in Turkey would be in a greater context, due to where they were coming from and how they were coming, along with no sound political efforts from politicians that would determine their futures in Turkey.
Human life has become a commodity. It has been used in ways that fit the narrative that is wanted the be portrayed. Politicians use Syrians as a political leverage and media to manipulate the masses to believe things in most cases that are not true and reported or shown in a way that does not reflect the truth. In turn in the past few months, the hate and racist statements on social media have increased. This is why we choose to start this project to combat the misinformation and allow people to have a chance to see the real human stories of people. And possibly change their outlook towards the Syrians living in Turkey.
You have been listening plenty of stories from many people. How those stories affect you?
Ferdi Ferhat Ozsoy: We have interviewed over 100 people, in Istanbul, Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa. There are times when the people we interview speak English and that’s when they would tell you the story but not the people that are around you and at times when the interviews are conducted in Arabic and with an interpreter on site. Even when the interpreter is there they still speak to the one that is there to listen to that person’s life and story. At that moment a person that doesn’t speak the language is put in a position to observe and listen not to the words but the expressions while they are speaking. Even when you don’t understand the language the eye contact and body language put the observer in this state of feeling what the person is sharing. On a personal level, it has affected me of course, I feel as if in some way I have lived a fraction of what they have lived through.
You know the most common question that is asked about Syrians living in Turkey is “Why don’t go and fight for your country?” From these stories, you see a people that have been fighting for their basic rights as humans. That fight soon became a full out war. Most of the people that we have interviewed have been affected by the war in some way. One thing is certain all have fought for their country in one way or another. Now every day they fight the past that was left behind and everyday are fighting to secure a future. They are fighting with what they have gone through and will continue to fight with what they will face in the future.
But what affects me the most is, I don’t only a see people that’s tired of what they have experienced, but people that have not given up faith and dreams to continue their lives and to push forward.
It looks that the project has reached out many people in short time. What do you think about reason/motivation behind it?
Ferdi Ferhat Ozsoy: The reach we have achieved cannot be measured by a number of people that have followed or liked our social media pages. To measure the effect we aimed to have on these followers might never be quantifiable. The reason or motivation, are the stories of real-life people. It is the courage they had to take time out of their lives and talk about themselves. It is the stories itself that we all can find something similar to our own lives and experiences.
What do you think about the outstanding feature of this project which distinguishes it from the other project in the field?
Ferdi Ferhat Ozsoy: There are absolutely many great projects in the field that have been integral in making, helping and improving the lives of Syrians in Turkey. In the end, all of them have their own purpose and aim but all have one common goal, that is to seek ways for life to continue. Most of the projects that are being done are on the daily survival, on the other hand, this project is trying to break the perceptions and awareness by sharing the stories of people who walk, breathe the same air as we do. They are not different than us.
Pointing out the stories of people rather than degrade them into numbers is applaudable. What do you think about how this affects the behaviours of Turkish people towards Syrians?
Ferdi Ferhat Ozsoy: They are affected due to the misinformation and lack of information on Syrians and Syria that is portrayed by media outlets and politicians. That forces people to take up sides or formulate a portrait of Syrians. The media and politicians are publishing and stating statements before fact-checking, events and stories. In turn, fuels hatred for Syrians living in Turkey. In order to change the perception of Syrians living in Turkey, we must break bias perceptions on them. To show that they are not beggars, fundamentalist, but people from many social economic backgrounds, with various belief systems, lifestyles and people need to see this. As we continue to do this would further divide people that are living in these borders that can arise larger problems in the future. Civil society cannot act alone to do the right thing, politicians and media outlets need to use the situation not to fuel further divisions but to enlighten the public with the correct information. We just need to stop WAIT and listen. We all have stories, dreams, hope in this life. We need to share it instead of dividing it.