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“Fighting Against the Dark” – An Interview with Turkish Activist and Bombing Survivor Ramazan Basar

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Today we bring you an extended interview recorded in Istanbul by longtime Bloomington resident and WFHB correspondent Filiz Cicek. Cicek spoke with an activist who had just survived a bombing as he was attempting to cross into the Syrian area of Kobani.

Kobani is the name of both a city and a larger area in northern Syria near the border with Turkey. Kobani is also part of Rojava, referred to by some as Western Kurdistan.

Against the backdrop of the Syrian Civil War, in late 2013 a left-wing revolution took place in Kobani and Rojava. The revolution established a society based on direct democracy, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. Rojava’s government is formed by ethnically inclusive popular assemblies and it has a feminist army of women’s militias that has been key in fighting the Islamic State.

Yet less than a year after this revolution, in the fall of 2014, the area came under siege from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Most of the city of Kobani was destroyed and much of the population fled to Turkey.

However by January the people of Rojava had driven the Islamic state out of Kobani. In late July a group of leftist youth activists from across Turkey travelled to the border near Kobani with the goal of crossing over to help the local people rebuild.

On July 20 a bomb was set off during a press conference in the Turkish border town of Suruc, killing at least 32 people and wounding more than 100 more. It is believed that supporters of the Islamic State were behind the attack.

Cicek was able to speak with Ramazan Basar, a survivor of the bombing. The interview was originally recorded in Turkish and was translated into English by Leyla Keskiner. Voice-over by Dan Young. Editing by Dan Withered.

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TRANSCRIPT:

FC: I am here with Ramazan Basar in İstanbul. Welcome to WFHB News…. Can you introduce yourself to our audience Ramazan?

RB: My name is Ramazan Basar. I was born in Mardin in 1986, but I live in Istanbul now. I’ve studied journalism and now work as a freelance journalist. I also lived in Boston for about four months, in 2010.

FC: You got wounded during a bomb attack recently…

RB: I was part of a group who had volunteered to build a library, plant trees, and also to donate toys to the children of Kobane. We came to Suruc for a short period of time. We were almost 300 people from different cities, Most of us did not know one another; though some did. I went on my own, independent of any affiliation.

FC: How did this relief campaign started? How did you hear about it? How did people gather?

RB: The campaign was announced over the internet, it resonated among the socialist, anarchist, leftist, democratic, progressive, oppositional youth…

FC: I believe you’ve been working on this relief organization for almost three months now

RB: I don’t remember exactly, but I guess it took two or three months to get organized

FC: Did you go on a bus?

RB: Yes, we did

FC: Did you spend a night in Suruc before the attack? Can you elaborate how the attack happened? Starting from the beginning of the trip?

RB: The trip was like going on a picnic. We shared food and laughter. There was a perfect camaraderie and collaboration among us. We were among the first groups to arrive in the city.

There was none of the usual security search by any of the police when we arrived, nor while the road. But some of our friends said the police asked for their identity cards. There wasn’t any special security measures at the Suruc cultural center either. Not by the state, nor by the local government or by any of the NGOs. And we felt no need to search or suspect our friends – because what we were doing was an act of good will and compassion done in collaboration.

We weren’t there to fight, we went there to rebuild, to reconstruct. We had no idea that we could be facing an attack, we had no idea that such good intentions would be so violently attacked. We never thought we would end up being the target of such a dirty trick.

FC: You said that your group was not searched by the police upon entering Suruc but others were. Were you traveling in groups?

RB: We were on different busses. At the city entrance, police stopped some of the busses and checked people’s identities with a routine general information surveillance or GBT background check. This resulted in two of our friends being put under custody as military service deserters. But no one’s bags were searched, at least not that I’ve heard about.

FC: It seems you didn’t worry about safety, nor did the police. So you went directly to the cultural center in Suruc? Were they expecting you there?

RB: The relief mission was previously announced, and so everything was within the knowledge of the state.

FC: Were they waiting for your arrival at the center?

RB: Only the employees of the center and the other young people who wanted to help us were waiting for us. There was no precautions nor there were people other than the ones who would aid us when we crossed the border. The members of the association (Federation of Socialist Youth Associations) were present.

FC: So the members of the association in Suruç knew you were coming. When did the attack happen? Immediately upon your arrival?

RB: The attack happened on the day we arrived. We read our press release at the cultural center, and there was a small pop first. It sounded like a champagne bottle had popped, or one of those confetti gizmos. Then a few seconds later there was the big explosion… I was playing with my phone then, sitting by myself on a bench further away from the epicenter of the event. I fell, and my phone was shattered. Immediately there was dark smoke, and I saw dead bodies, and body parts, and brain matter. There were flames everywhere, and burnt, darkened bodies.

FC: Yes, it looked like hell on TV.

RB: It was a horrible tragedy for mankind. I still cannot come to my senses. The sounds keep echoing in my ears. With the explosion I’ve temporarily lost my hearing, which is going on for five days now. I have a piece of shell fragment in my left arm.

FC: Couldn’t they remove it?

RB: The hospital was very busy, they gave priority to the severely wounded ones. And the doctors said that removing it may cause more damage to my arm, and there will be no consequences from leaving it in. I’ve decided to keep it in my arm, as a token of the event, as a memory of my friends who died in the event.

FC: So you’ll keep living with this shell fragment in your body?

RB: To be honest, I don’t want it to be removed, so as long as I live I will remember what happened, and honor my friends who have lost their lives. The doctors said that there will be pain in the next couple of weeks, and later that will also go away. So I am not planning to get it removed from my body, I’ll carry it as a medal of honor.

FC: How did you come back to Istanbul?

RB: Our friends from Urfa, from the Socialist Youth Association, and members of the HDP , or the Peoples’ Democratic Party, hosted us in their homes for a few days, after my release from the hospital. Then I’ve got my ticket, and again independent of any group or organization I came back to Istanbul, to my family.

FC: Your family must be in shock, too.

R.B: Yes, they are.

FC: What are your plans now? Or are you in any state to even make plans just yet? I can see that you are still in shock. What goes through your head?

RB: I am not planning to stay in Turkey in the long run. I am planning to apply for political asylum. My struggle for a better world can continue, my urge to help people to change their lives can continue anywhere. But here in Turkey, we are under threats; our phones are tapped, people send us hate messages, threatening us.

FC: What kind of messages, can you give us an example?

RB: They say “300 people could have died instead of just 32” “We are after you, we will not forget you”.. things like this. There were also a few twitter messages that were threatening, and I had to block those people. The paranoia continues.

FC: Do you think that people are doing this on their own? Or is this part of an organized activity?

RB: I believe that all these massacres of Reyhanlı (Rey-han-lu), Diyarbakır (dee-YAHR-bahk-EHR) and Suruç (Suruch) are connected, and they are planned, organized and carried out by government officials, in order to scare and terrorize people; to destroy their unity and solidarity.

I don’t think these happen as independent and individual events; they are connected. They are organized from the top in order to create an atmosphere of chaos, which the authorities can then exploit for their own purposes. I believe that people in power are the ones benefitting from this chaos. The ones in power always gain from this atmosphere. Chaos, struggle, resistence, violence always benefit the ones in power.

FC: Do you believe that some people are trying to silence you?

RB: Not just me, but they are trying to silence all those who think differently, who are outcast, who fight for democracy and freedom and who advocate for human rights. They want to silence those who are controversial or who are opposing [the system]. All of us face such threats.

But we will not be intimidated by it. You perhaps know the saying “I’d rather be furious than miserable.” Yes we are miserable and sad, we are in great pain, but we are also furious. Not in a violent way, nor is this fury a source of physical threat to anyone. Instead it aids and fuels our impulse to move forward with the struggle, to fight for democracy, freedom and human rights.

We want everyone to be able to enjoy life and live in a free atmosphere. But I…I cannot express myself properly. Because I’ve lost my hearing temporarily, and I feel shocked, disoriented and a bit confused by it all…

FC: Lastly I want to ask, for the audience who may not have been following the recent events in the Middle East: You said were taking toys to the children of Kobani. What has been happening there? Why did you want to go to Kobani?

RB: For the last 3 years, Kobani has been under the attack of ISIS, the Islamic terrorist organization. This organization has been beheading people or enslaving them, including raping
women as sex slaves. They are monsters.

But there are oppositional forces like the YPG, or People’s Protection Unit, who are fighting against ISIS. The whole world is watching the opposition fighters with pride

We also wanted to be part of the ongoing rebuilding effort of the Middle East, even if for a few days. Kobani is under threat. After four months of struggle they drove out the ISIS occupation.

That area is Kurdistan land. It belongs to Kurds. But There are also other people like Turkmens, Yazidis, Süryanis, Arabs, Christians there. They also have a right to live there. Altogether they are building the city back up again.

They are all fighting against the dark, against the fundamentalism. The world is supporting this opposition coalition; the US, France, Germany, Italy are supporting their cause. Everyone should unite against terror organizations like Al-Kaida or ISIS. Especially in Turkey.

Our friends who lost their lives were safeguards of secularism and freedom, and the people who attacked us are representatives of the darkness, backwardness, and barbarianism. There is no third way, you either take side with secularism and freedom, or with darkness and backwardness.

What we have gained from the creation of the Republic of Turkey can only be furthered by improving its democracy. Or we can go backwards like Iran, or Afghanistan or Pakistan.

It was the same game that was played in those countries. First they killed the leftists. No body acted. Then they killed people in the opposition. Then they killed the moderate people who thought like themselves. Now they are bombing the mosques, killing one another.

We have to further what the Turkish Republic started: secularism, freedom, democracy. If we can freely walk around at all today, it is because of people who have fought for freedom, such as our friends who just died. These were people who shared the last bits of food that their mothers prepared for the road with their fellow goodwill ambassadors and freedom fighters on the journey. They had different visions for the future.

But to be different is always regarded as a threat in the Middle East. We believe now it is time to change the ominous direction of the region and give youth a chance.

FC: Even though ISIS assumed responsibility for the bombing, you believe that they were not alone?

RB: ISIS assumed responsibility but I believe others who supported ISIS logistically, who provided arms under the cover of medical aid, or those who allowed them to cross the border are equally responsible. Those legitimate powers who are in a relationship with this illegitimate power are going to cause more trouble.

Turkey is playing a dangerous game, and it will lose. Nobody is dumb, we can see through it all, we see the game they are playing. This has to stop and Turkey has to turn its face back towards to the West once again now. It has to deny violence, and support freedom.

The Solution Process for peace with Kurds should continue. There should be more effort made to win the hearts and minds of Kurds, who, just went through a very challenging election process, successfully.

HDP, the Peoples Democratic Party is not only for Kurds, but also for Turks, Greeks, Circasians, Alevites, Sunnis, and so on; it embraces peoples of various backgrounds in Turkey. They are a party that supports everyones freedom, within which everyone feels free to express themselves. This is what I believe. We must cary this freedom movement forward. We must live in coexistence and in peace. All lives matter. Let no one die. Let everyone express themselves freely and live freely as they wish. And that what will change the society for the better.

FC: We tired you quite a bit today…

Not at all.

FC: We wish you good luck. And thank you very much for being here today, and being alive.

Daily Local News – April 18, 2014

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Local property tax issues are cutting into the revenues at the Monroe County Public Library; A local nonprofit wants to build two hydroponic greenhouses in Bloomington on land formerly owned by RCA; The Soften our Hearts tour is coming to Bloomington on April 27 to present a show of compassion and support for those experiencing the plight in Syria; Recently a large collection of memorabilia and audiovisual materials from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame was donated to Indiana University by Mary Perry Smith; The Indiana Department of Transportation contractor Crider and Crider Inc. plans to begin work along the shoulders of State Road 37 this Monday, April 21st, according to a press release from the department.

FEATURE
The Environmental Protection Agency is working on a set of greenhouse gas emission regulations that would affect coal use nationwide. In Indiana, coal
accounts for over eighty percent of the energy used across the state. What these new standards mean for Indiana is still in question, but some statewide trade associations are expecting it to be bad for business. On the other hand, the standards could help wean Indiana off its excessive coal use. Correspondent Casey Kuhn spoke to Jodie Perras of the Sierra Club and Scott Bowers of the ISA, a group that represents electricity distributors, for today’s WFHB feature exclusive.

VOLUNTEER CONNECTION
Local organizations scout the listening area for service help on Volunteer Connection, linking YOU to current volunteer opportunities in our community.

CREDITS
Anchors: Helen Harrell, Chris Martin
Today’s headlines were written by Chelsea Hardy and Jalisa Ransom,
Along with Joe Crawford for CATSweek, a partnership with Community Access Television Services.
Our feature was produced by Casey Kuhn.
Volunteer Connection is produced by Wanda Krieger, in partnership with the city of Bloomington Volunteer Network.
Our theme music is provided by the Impossible Shapes.
Our editor and engineer is Drew Daudelin,
Executive producer is Alycin Bektesh.

Interchange – Recommended Listening: The Best of Interchange 2013

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Recommended Listening: “The Best of Interchange 2013″
Hosts and producers of Interchange chose their favorite shows out forty-Eight original programs produced by Interchange staff and volunteers last year.
Programs highlighted tonight:

W. Kamau Bell: Jokester Without Borders
The Airbrushed Woman: Feminism and Women’s Magazines
Kand McQueen: Boys, Girls, and Beyond
Christoph Irmscher: Against Complacency: Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”
Rahaf Safi and Shadi Alkattan: Understanding Syria
Fred Cate: Government Surveillance, Then and Now
Magnus Johnson and Jim Connor: Elder Heart
Ron Whitehead and Frank Messina: Carried by Poetry
Pat Kellar: The Making of Hoagy Carmichael

An ambassador’s view of the Syrian conflict.

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On Thursday November 7th Former Ambassador to Syria Rajendra Abhyankar provided an overview of the situation and helped audience members understand the complexities of the war, chemical weapons, and UN Resolutions. Indiana University student and Syrian native Rahaf Safi will share viewpoints and anecdotes from her family back home and discuss humanitarian concerns. This event was recorded on location at the Monroe County Public Library by Community Access television services for Standing Room Only, on WFHB.

Indiana’s representatives weigh in on military action in Syria

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Senator Dan Coats, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, released a statement this week announcing his disagreement with the authorization of a U.S. military strike against Syria. He wrote,  “I do not believe a targeted, limited military strike on Syria is in the direct national security interests of the United States. Therefore, I do not support a resolution authorizing the president to take military action in Syria. There is no doubt that the Assad regime used long-banned chemical weapons to murder its own people. This horrific act demands a worldwide response of condemnation. However, the president has not justified his request to engage the United States militarily in Syria.” Coats was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN and elaborated on his stance there. Senator Joe Donnelly’s office confirmed that he has not taken a stance on the issue yet. Representative Todd Young said in a statement that,  “After listening to the speech, I have not been persuaded to support military action in Syria” and went on to say that he is waiting for more detailed information.

Daily Local News – September 13, 2013

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Senator Dan Coats, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, released a statement this week announcing his disagreement with the authorization of a U.S. military strike against Syria; The Bloomington Plan Commission rejected a plan Monday to relocate the Taste of India restaurant; This week the Bloomington City Council heard from residents who are unhappy with plans to demolish six historic houses on West 8th Street to make way for a fraternity house; The playground at Bloomington’s Winslow Woods Park, on South Highland Avenue, will be closed until September 19th and is slated to reopen the next day.

VOLUNTEER CONNECTION
Local organizations scout the listening area for service help on Volunteer Connection, linking YOU to current volunteer opportunities in our community.

CREDITS
Anchors: Alycin Bektesh, Roscoe
Today’s headlines were written by Lauren Glapa,
Along with Joe Crawford for CATSweek, a partnership with Community Access Television Services.
Volunteer Connection is produced in partnership with the city of Bloomington Volunteer Network.
Our Engineer is Harrison Wagner,
Our Editor is Drew Daudelin,
Executive producer is Alycin Bektesh.

Interchange – Rahaf Safi and Shadi Alkattan: Understanding Syria

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This week on Interchange, host Joe Crawford speaks with Rahaf Safi and Shadi Alkattan, both Syrian Americans who are also college students living in Bloomington. Safi and Alkattan discuss their past experiences visiting family and friends in Syria as well as what they have seen and heard about the government under President Bashar al-Assad. They also talk about the effects of the civil war on the ground in Syria and why some are calling for an international intervention in the conflict.

Daily Local News- September 9, 2013

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Enrollment for the fall semester at Indiana University Bloomington is up, compared to last year’s numbers; Once again, the Bloomington campus of IU has announced a theme for this academic year’s cultural activities; Bloomington peace groups will hold a vigil on 9/11 to oppose the possible attack on Syria. Correspondent Chris Martin has more; The Indiana University Office of Sustainability has established an innovative partnership between Indiana University Bloomington and the Local Growers Guild.

FEATURE
Indiana Assess A-F
Indiana’s former superintendent for public instruction, Tony Bennett, was criticized earlier this summer after it was revealed he apparently played favorites when assigning grades to the state’s K-12 schools. Emails from Bennett showed he was upset that a charter school in Indianapolis, the Christel House Academy, was going to receive a C when he thought it should get an A. Christel House was founded by a major political donor, and Bennett helped change the grading formula so the school would receive a better grade. The revelations caused Bennett to lose his most recent job, as Florida Education Commissioner. Now, a 58-page report requested by the state legislature indicates that, although Bennett did change the rules, he then applied the new rules to other schools besides Christel House. For more on what that means, correspondent Joe Crawford talked today with the president of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, who is a critic of the state’s system for grading schools. We bring you that interview for today’s WFHB feature exclusive.

ACTIVATE
Alanna Lutrell and Jon Holland discuss the need for creative expression for all persons and describe how their Bloomington Arts for All tries to provide that expression for disadvantaged youth, and talk about how they would like to expand to help people recovering from mental illness and addiction.

CREDITS
Anchors: MAria McKinley, Doug Storm
Today’s headlines were written by David Murphy Yvonne Cheng, and Chris Martin
Our engineers are Chris Martin and Lauren Glapa
Our feature was produced by Joe Crawford
Our Editor is Drew Daudelin
Jennifer Whitaker produced Activate!
Our theme music is provided by the Impossible Shapes
Executive producer is Alycin Bektesh

Senator Coats Travels To Gather Hoosier Opinions On Syria

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Indiana Senator Dan Coats wants to know what Hoosiers think about any U.S. military intervention in Syria in the near future.

This week he is traveling across the state, talking to citizens about their reactions to the Syrian crisis and soliciting opinions about possible American involvement in that civil war.

Senator Coats has been outspokenly critical that President Barack Obama unequivocally “drew a red line in the sand” with Syria’s possible use of Sarin gas on Syrian citizens, but he does appreciate the president seeking support and approval from‘ congress before deciding on any impending military action.

So far he is finding that Hoosier reactions to U.S. military involvement in Syria for humanitarian or other reasons are mixed. According to Senator Coats’ spokesperson Tara DiJulio:

“We’ve been getting a lot of concern about it. There is a disconnect on what is the objective there. Can we afford it, does it impact our national security and what are the ramifications if we do or do not intervene in Syria?” Dijulio says.
This week’s tour of Indiana by Senator Coats is not meant to be the end of his continual monitoring of Hoosier opinion on either Syria or the ongoing Middle East crisis.

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