Remembering Furkan Dogan
Commentary by Chippy Dee, Photos © by Bud Korotzer
March 3, 2011 – Desertpeace
Late last week there was a meeting at The Commons on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn that few attending will ever forget. Organized by Al-Awda, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild and several other groups, the speakers were Professor Ahmet Dogan of Erciyes University in Kayseri, Turkey – the father of Furkan Dogan, the 19 year old Turkish-American who was one of the 9 humanitarian aid workers murdered on the Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos attacked the flotilla on it’s way to Gaza last May, Lamis Deek, Palestinian lawyer and activist, Dima Abi Saab, co-chair of Al-Awda, Katherine Gallagher, Sr. Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Felice Gelman from the US Boat to Gaza Campaign.
Deek spoke first saying that the tragedy on the Mavi Marmara was part of a long history of violence against Palestinians and their supporters perpetrated by the “rogue Israeli regime”. The rights of Palestinians have been abused from the very beginning. After the Goldstone Report, issued as a result of the violence that took place during Operation Cast Lead against the people of Gaza, Israel tried to get international law changed so that they would not be held liable. Israel is able to do whatever it wants and face no consequences because the US protects it from any punishment. Now efforts are being made in this country to stop people from supporting justice for Palestine by using the “material support” statute against them. According to a recent Supreme Court ruling material support is now being interpreted to include words in support of people or organizations. Essentially it nullifies the 1st Amendment. Deek pointed out that we all face danger because we have lost the right to freedom of speech.
Abi Saab, speaking next, said that Furkan was killed because he loved justice and there are no meaningful words of comfort that we can offer his family. She pledged that we will continue to work for justice in Palestine and to “expose the racist Zionists”.
Then Professor Dogan began to speak. He spoke quietly and the packed room fell silent. Nobody moved, all were intent on hearing every word. He said he wanted to give some information about his son who was born in Troy, NY while he was studying there. The family returned to Turkey when Furkan was 3 years old. While a high school student he became very interested in humanitarian issues in Gaza. Furkan had a huge heart – he worried about the pains of others. While in his final term in high school he heard about the flotilla to Gaza campaign. He wanted to go very badly but his parents reminded him that he had another priority, graduating. But Furkan took his exams early and got into the best medical school in Turkey – he wanted to be an eye surgeon and then go to Africa to work with the people there. He had wanted to go see Troy because he was born there and then visit friends in Chicago but all that changed when he learned about the flotilla. He asked his parents for permission to go. They knew how bad the situation in Gaza was but didn’t want to crush Furkan’s strong humanitarian instincts. They finally agreed that they couldn’t reject his request. They also thought that he would be safe because he would be using his American passport.
Furkan pushed the IHH organizers to accept him – he was relentless. Finally he was the last person chosen and he was very happy and excited. Furkan bought toys to bring to the children in Gaza with his own money. There was a good bye ceremony in their city. The last contact that Professor Dogan had with his son was a request from Furkan to rush documents that were needed by the Turkish authorities which he forgot to bring. The father called to tell him that he had done as he was asked and that he, Furkan, was accepted to attend medical school. Furkan was overjoyed.
On May 31st at 4 AM his wife heard news of the Israeli attack and began to scream. They were very frightened having never expected a military attack. The father’s voice broke, he paused a moment, wiped away a tear, and then continued the story.
The next morning the parents tried to get information about what had happened but nobody knew anything, including the American Embassy. They hoped he was OK, thinking that he was probably sleeping on one of the lower decks.
On June 3, 2020 the Turkish government sent a plane to pick up all the people in the flotilla who were being held in an Israeli prison. The parents went to Istanbul with clean clothes to greet their son. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs had a list of all the passengers – Furkan was not on the list. His parents assumed that it was a mistake and waited by the gate for their child to disembark. He didn’t. Since he was a US citizen they thought he might be elsewhere. Again they called the American Embassy and got no information.
The next morning they learned that there were 2 unidentified bodies at the morgue. They went there as a formality not expecting Furkan to be there. “He was and I identified him.” The father continued his narrative, ‘I saw his face. He was shot 3 times, between his eyes and near his nose. We took him home for burial. 100,000 people came to his funeral.’
The autopsy report said that he was shot 3 times in the back and then turned over and shot in the face. “They deliberately murdered my son.” Furkan had come on deck with his camera to photograph the attack. What they did was “unacceptable”. No human could do that in international waters in the middle of the night. “My son was executed with a US weapon”.
He explained that he was here to search for a legal remedy. “I want to know what is the US planning to do about this?” There is an ongoing investigation in Turkey and at the International Criminal Court at the Hague, but nothing in the US.
Katherine Gallagher, acting as Ahmet Dogan’s attorney, said that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the murder of Furkan an ”extra-legal, arbitrary, and summary execution” and reiterated that the Gaza blockade was illegal. Further, the report stated that in Gaza 80% of the people need assistance, 45% are unemployed, and 90% of the factories are closed. The destruction that Israel caused is massive. The boats in the flotilla could have been stopped without the attack. The US is the only country in the world that voted against the report.
It was determined that Felice Gelman should give her report from the US Boat to Gaza Campaign before the Q & A session. She said that 5,000 people had contributed but they still have to raise a little more money. There will definitely be a US boat named Audacity of Hope in the next flotilla which will be sailing in May and will have boats representing 22 countries from all over the globe. During Israeli Apartheid Week, coming soon, there will be 20 activities connected to the flotilla. She concluded her report by assuring the professor that we will all always honor his son and what he tried to accomplish.
Many people had questions but some just wanted to say something about Furkan. One audience member thanked Professor and Mrs. Dogan for raising such an extraordinary son who will remain part of us forever. Two others said that when they were on the Viva Palestina 5 humanitarian aid to Gaza convoy they went to Furkan’s high school for a ceremony in his honor. They added that there was not a dry eye to be seen. Another, representing a peace group in Jersey City, presented him with a framed Certificate of Honor and a portrait of Furkan that they made for him. As these people spoke there was a visible diminishment of the stress on the father’s face. He seemed to realize that he was among people who were very deeply moved by his son and just as deeply outraged by what had been done to him. The proud father said, let me tell you something else about my son, and he recounted stories of his beautiful child’s kindness and generosity, his genuine caring for people in need giving whatever he had to them. He would never give his old clothes away, only his new ones.
One questioner asked what the legal process was in the US about this case. Gallagher said that one possibility was asking the US to investigate “war crimes” The Department of Justice could begin a criminal investigation because one of the ships, Challenger 1, was American. Civil action, however, would be difficult. As of this moment there is no ongoing litigation in the US. This country has made it clear that their relationship with Israel is more important than protection of it’s citizens. Turkey has pushed the UN to take action. Turkey has also created a Panel of Inquiry which wrote a report. They are requesting an apology and compensation from Israel as well as the return of confiscated property. Witness statements and autopsy reports have been collected. All military cooperation between Turkey and Israel has been canceled.
As the meeting concluded the organizers gave some ‘movement’ t-shirts to the Professor. He smiled and said that his other 2 children would be happy to wear them. Furkan was his youngest.
No one at the Commons that cold February night will forget the gentle but anguished voice of the father recounting the painful story of what had happened to his cherished child. Tragically we can multiply this story thousands of times over when we think of what is being done to the children of Palestine every day while the rest of the world stands silently by.