Hi Ful, in fact there is very few people who never met you in Mersin; but we wanted to keep you in the written records as Ful Ugurhan and to know you in detail in all respects: you are Dr. Ful for some people, for some you are the environmentalist Ful Sister.
So, let’s start from the beginning, if you like. Where is your story, how did it start?
I was born in Ankara, on 17 May 1965, as the fifth child of a family which has six children. We are five girl and a male siblings. Since I learnt reading at the age of five on my own; I was enrolled to the school at play-age. Due to the fact that my age was not enough, I was not able to be enrolled to a school in the city. For this reason, initially, I was enrolled to a village school and then I was transferred. In an era when television, kindergartens, day care centers were not widespread; because learning how to read at the age of five was a special trait, I was always getting eulogies. This compliments enabled me be a person growing with high self-confidence.
Can you tell a little bit about the family setting you grew up?
My mother exerted so much efforts in order to make her daughters study at schools; because my mother and aunts were not sent to the school by their father - after primary school, though they were wise and aspring to study. When seeing parents who barely deal with a child in these days, I feel gratitude for my mother and father once more, and notice importance of realizing how big an achievement it is to educate six children at university and struggle for them to get a job – with a limited budget.
Since it would not be enough to live with my father’s salary who was a public servant, we were making a business in our home. We were packaging “spices, dried nuts and fruits” in our house. My father was selling them to the shops, out of working hours. We, later on, started to make bibelots from ceramic and due to this, we finished our universities without resorting to any other scholarships; except for the State Grant. Both studying and working did not affect our school success negatively; maybe, due to the working discipline it rendered in us. Years later, when working on children who work and live in streets; I frequently made comparisons with my days as a child-worker. Although working in house is safer and less wearing than working in a workplace or in streets; children’s working in jobs that bring income contains many components that hinder their development. That being the case, my secondary school period coincided with my sisters’ and brother’s university education era; for which I was lucky in terms of my personal development. I had the chance to read the books which they brought home; I had the opportunity to attend symphonic concerts, theatres and cinemas together with them.
I got my basic education in Ankara. I started my high school education in Etlik High School and and completed my high school education in Ankara Kiz High School. Before 1980, there were many student movements in high schools. My mother transferred my enrollment to Ankara Kiz High School, by saying: “You have a sharp tongue, which can put you in trouble”. Moreover, there was no shortage of teachers in this school, there were no classes without teachers. So my reaching my desire to be a doctor became even easier.
So, being a doctor was your aspiration, at all times. Where did you get your Medical Faculty education? Did you have teachers who impressed you much and changed your perspective and personality?
I studied Medical Faculty in Antalya, in Akdeniz University. Antalya, at that time, was a small and even more alluring city than it is now. The view of Toros Mountains like a painting picture that I saw from within the city made me – a lover of these mountains. The nature walks we made with our teacher of Public Health Prof. Dr. Necati Dedeoglu made me love mountains even more. In one of these walks, while descending down a cliff; I felt too afraid and my teacher who saw me when I was soothing myself and my trembling knee said: “Bravo, my girl, courage is to be able to do a thing though you are afraid of it.” In this way, he encouraged me to resist to many hardships and difficulties that I face with in life.
Prof. Dr. Necati Dedeoglu was influential for the careers of his many students, just as mine. With his help; I got the decision that what must be prioritized is preventive health care in the first level; in a country where there is great inequality between east and west, baby nutrition is not enough, more than half of women are anemic and the rates of mother, baby and child death are too high – thus I instead of specialization, I preferred to be a general practitioner. Also in those years, just as now, working as a general practitioner was not something generally preferred. It is the view of the general people that only the people who have not specialized/could not specialize remain as practitioners. To combat with this perception has been one of the most important tasks of my life. For the question: “You are a doctor. For which field?”; being able to answer: “I am a practitioner.” with proud – has always enabled me feel distinguished.
You graduated from the school and started to work. What kind of a setting did you meet? Were you able to find your expectations there?
After school, I went to Van to do my obligatory duty. My first duty place was Van “Mother and Child Care and Family Planning Center” which I later learnt that was demolished, due to the earthquake in 2011. Its place was in the same place of “maternity hospital”, which my friends in Van were mocking about it by calling it “children factory”. In the “Mother and Child Care and Family Planning Center” where four young women doctors served; the patients always called us as “Sir Doctor”. However, after six months, a male doctor was appointed to our institution as the fifth doctor and our patients called him as the “Lady Doctor”. I remember this situation as a victory and as a source of pride.
Although, initially, I felt myself as unlucky for being sent to Van for the compulsory duty; then I had many times that I said “I am content to have come Van.” Together with the uniquely beautiful city of the East “Van”, I had the chance to get to know Hakkari, Bitlis which are among the nearby cities and culture of the Kurds. Although I stayed there for a very short time, only for nine months, I still continue the friendship I established with the people I knew from that time.
After Van, I worked in the villages of Mersin for a period. In my youth, to live in village meant to be away from the social life, to be far away from the technology – so working in villages was not something preferred, for me. In one of the villages I lived; when the electricity was cut, it would not be maintained until 3 weeks. Water was limited, lodging was uncomfortable. Although the life conditions were too difficult, I was fond of working as a village doctor. I was working as a doctor, exactly as I wanted. I was gathering the children from the fields and I was getting them vaccinated; I was dropping sugar and salt solution to the mouths of babies with diarrhea. In the primitive laboratories of the Community Clinic, I was making the blood count, stool and urine analysis; and I was directing my treatments according to them. By making such simple analyses, I was diagnosing many of my patients and I was treating them. I was directing only 10 percent of my patients to other health institutions. I defend the idea that still the frequently seen illnesses can be prevented and diagnosed with simple methods; in our today when health services are given with sub-branch specializations, with advanced technology. During my career, to witness the fact that - due to the analyses done irrelevantly and unnecessarily prescribed medications both economic losses had to be incurred and the humans’ health were affected negatively - irritated me very much.
In the meantime, in the health cares I worked, alongside the first level health services routine activities; I was exerting great efforts in order to keep with the scientific developments; even I was trying hard to be part of these studies. For this reason, in one of the village type Community Clinics, which was near the center where I worked – together with other doctors there, we started the screening program of “phenylketonuria” which was not put into application widespread in Turkey, at that time. We brought the test papers with our own resources from Hacettepe University and we were sending the samples we gathered to Ankara by paying the postal cost by us. The Ministry of Health was trying to widen the application to throughout Turkey. But there were some apprehensions towards the fact that this application would not be successful in Community Clinics. Our endeavors played as a model for the Community Clinics that this work could be done easily there. In 2002, within the transformation started to be put into in health, the Community Clinics were closed and they were turned into Family Health Centers. Preventive Health Services were replaced with more treatment services. Moreover, the patients and doctors were divided by the line of computer. Due to this, I remember my old days when I walked on mountains and I deem those days as good memoirs. I say it has been good to be a “Community Clinic” doctor.
You must have many special memoirs from those days. Could you share one of them with us?
One of the moments I felt proud of most is when I struggled for destroying the polio from Turkey and the world, through the “National Vaccination Days”. In a week, all of the 5-6 age children in Turkey should have been vaccinated. In order to do this, a very good organizing was required. I was commissioned by Health Directorate to work in the organization. I walked between the Community Clinics of Mersin, the number of which was one hundred five, at that time. Sometimes, I was setting off my journey very early in night, to arrive the Community Clinics which were too far away. Once, when an elder male doctor colleague asked me: “How can you dare to arrive these kinds of places alone?”; I felt perplexed to answer. I was under the spell of what I was doing in such a way that; I did not notice the potential risks before. Even if I would be aware of the risks, I would do it again because my doctor teacher once taught me: “Courage is to be able to do it, though you are afraid of it.” During this campaign; many artist friends of mine around me designed authentic posters, music - in order to support the efforts of the health workers. Hence, the campaign in Mersin became a sample. How happy I am to be part of the endeavors, to eradicate the polio microbe from our country.
After polio campaign finished, I was asked to stay in Health Directorate. I worked in the administrative staff, for a while. When realizing that working in an administrative post did not really suit me well; I wanted to leave from this post, with my own desire. But during this time, I had the opportunity to know about the bureaucracy. I think that this is an attainment. What you see through other side of the window sometimes gives light to the further studies.
My next work place was a polyclinic established by Chamber of Artisans in the center of Old Mersin. It was an institution opened for the public interest, which was semi-private. It was a place with opportunities more advanced than a Community Clinic; which was small and well-kept. Since I was able to spare enough time for my patients here, I was content with the service I was providing.
There are some children even families, the destinies of whom you have changed. With a very rude and unlovely generalization, those who are called as “street children”, the children and their families who try to earn their lives in streets at early ages and who live in streets... Did your relationships with these groups start in this period?
I used to meet children in misery when I was passing through the street to go my work everyday. There were thousands of children in the streets who were collecting the garbage, with half of their bodies in the rubbish bin; or who were running in front of the cars to stop them and get them convinced to clean their glasses; or who were shining the shoes with their hands smeared into dark black due to the paint. Some of them were always walking intoxicated due to inhaling adhesive substances. We were facing with a great trouble affecting the health of the children. While I was thinking: “Who are these children? Are they not getting ill?”; my friends in the Health Directorate offered me cooperation regarding this topic. Thus, while I started to settle my job by focusing on the street children; I started to step into a new life, which would require changes in my future life-style. From now on, I had hundreds of children, for whom I was responsible and I was delaying my day-offs in the September month to other dates; because September month was coinciding with the opening time of the schools.
In my endeavors with the children who work or live in the streets, I was guided with the principle that “Health is not only non-existence of ailments and the disabilities; it is the complete social well-being of the individual.” in its broadest definition. Because this was more plausible. The possibility of children’s having accidents in streets, especially being hit by cars in streets or their risks of getting caught hepatitis-gastroenteritis etc. illnesses; their not being able to attend school; and their not being able to play games and not being subject to the most basic child rights were lower and I concentrated my efforts on this issue.
I started to meet the families of the children whom I met in the streets. It was hard to communicate with them because their mothers did not know Turkish. Almost all of the children were from multi-child families from Eastern and South-eastern Anatolia, who had to migrate due to economic and social reasons. Their fathers were working in unqualified jobs. In order for the eke-out living of the family, the family needed even the small incomes from the street. I faced with an interesting fact, during our conversations we made regarding the necessity of children’s being sent to school. Though the families wanted, they had difficulty to enroll their children to schools in Mersin, which does not enough number of schools and which is unprepared for such migration. Although the School Principles and authorities in the Directorate of National Education deny it, the registration-fees collected as contribution to the school make the eke-out of “the families which want to enroll their multiple children” – even harder. Thereupon, when the schools were opened; due to the costs of books, notebooks, school uniform etc.; obviously the place of the children were streets.
In order to combat these problems, I would get on a minibus every noon time; I would get each child enrolled to the school nearest to his/her neighborhood. When I went there, the School Principle could not ask for registration-fee. Sometimes, when I was waiting for the minibus on the route to the ghettos; I was meeting doctors who were heading from the hospital to their Private Clinics in their luxury cars. Then I compared “which one is more correct?” But now, when evaluated retrospectively, I am sure; I did the correct thing.
Some Children were not registered in the registry [of the population records], so I had to make them registered; which was a problem. When the families could not solve this problem themselves, I would come to the Community Clinic with some 6 or 7 children at a time, in order to get “age estimation”; then from there, we would go to Civil Registry. It was too tiring to deal with such bureaucratic affairs in crowded, unventilated and dreary public offices. Maybe this was the most important thing. Because the children were getting recorded in the registry and their rights as a citizen were starting.
While travelling back and forth between my workplace; the houses of children in various districts and public offices – I spent most of my time in streets. During these pursuit efforts; a begger woman, whom I met in the earlier years - started to take my attention. The baby in her lap was different from the one I saw in the previous years. One day, I sat down next to her on the pavement. I introduced myself to her. I was lucky; because - in the meantime – her step daughter Hediye, whom I met previously, came next to us. Through the reference of Hediye, we had an easy communication and I asked the question which I always wanted to ask: “Are these children yours? Do you borrow them with you, in order to exploit while begging?” She said angrily: “How come? Who will take care of this child, when I come to work?” At that time, the baby in her lap named Cumali was at the age of only “28 days”. I told her, if she did not want to bear any more babies, she could come to my workplace when her baby reached “40 days” of age and if she wanted I could fix an intrauterine device, free of charge. I did not expect that she would come; but she came just on the day, she should. She did not bear any more children after Cumali. I was following the growing of Cumali, when we met on street, occasionally. In one of our conversations, I learnt that she had no problem; due to this reason she did not come to the health-controls. It had been fourteen years since we met last year, which is the last time we met at Hospital Street. She had a girl child at the age of three who had outstanding beauty, together with her. It was her granddaughter. A girl at the childhood ages followed her. This beautiful girl was, in fact, the mother of the child. I was faced with another dram of our country: children brides, child mothers.
What if we make a retrospective outlook to these years again?
In the polyclinic belonging to Chamber of the Artisans where I worked; on one hand I provided my patients the routine health service and on the other hand, though, I experienced some difficulties of serving street children – I carried out my duties very well, through huge tolerance and contributions of the people in charge of my institution and my patients. Later on, due to my institution’s decision of quitting their providing health service; the polyclinic I worked was closed and in order to spend all my time for the children who worked and lived in streets, I transferred to Health Ministry’s institution named “Social Services and Child Protection Agency”, which was called as this at that time.
I was being very prolific, in the beginning the time of my starting to work in Social Services; since I could allocate all of my time to this issue. Due to the fact that the building organized for the street children was transitory, there was not a special room dedicated for health service, as well. I made room for myself under the stairs. I requested the people from my previous workplace that “the health materials which are not used” be bestowed to my health cabin, which I formed arranged under the stairs. Thus, I had a mini clinic, a clinic under the stairs (!). From now on, also, the families of the children and they themselves were able to more easily visit me. Then, with a project which is in the most improper way, which was done by the State for the street children center; I had a clinic room in the new building.
During this time, with my friends from Mersin University Public Health Department; we made an investigation titled “The condition of children who work and live in streets in Mersin”. This study we did in 2002, was the most comprehensive of all, until that time, in this field. With a mobile health vehicle allocated us by Akdeniz Municipality; we detected many health problems among many children; whom we met in rubbish bins, in the wreckages, in the parks, in the industrial sites, in the vegetable market; and we treated the treatments of those who came to the center. In order to determine the socio-demographical properties of these children, we gained valuable knowledge as a result of the evaluation of the questions we asked. Thus, we scientifically answered the question; which I asked from the very early beginning: “Who are these children?”. This study of ours was published in scientific journals and was submitted to the congresses.
Together with their children; their family, especially their mothers - were in difficult situation. They, each, had at least five or six children. Giving births in many numbers was forcing their bodies physically and spiritually; as well as their economy. Contrary to what was supposed, giving many births was not their own preference; they just do not know how to use effective birth control methods. The women who wanted to get their cords fastened – face with many difficulties in the State Hospital. There were glass ceilings in health, just as in education and these people were always hitting on them. I found a method to facilitate the things in this issue. By interviewing the Chief Physicians of the Private Hospitals in Mersin; I made it possible for “a woman in a month once, who wanted to get her cords fastened” to have this service, for free. When the small operation was finished, I was taking the family back to their house in my own car. Mothers of tens of children got rid of unwanted births, by this method. What drew my attention most was that every time, the same event was repeating. The baby who looked forward to the coming of her mother all day in order to suck on milking, was given his mother’s breast to milk her; as the mother was lying on the bed tired. Just as the other child who was at the age of two tried to walk on her mother’s legs. These moments were developing a special link between the mothers and me.
Due to the concrete and sincere relationships, the two fathers applied the method we called “vasectomy”. The families were aware of the fact that each new-born child was deteriorating the life conditions of the previously-born children – due to limited resources. To make a contribution for having this awareness and in order to overcome the hurdles in this regards – was an insight which came from my being a doctor; to notice the necessity to work hard from the beginning.
My alone, intense and inherent working style, apart from continuing my job together with children and their families on a volunteer basis – was not much appreciated by the administrators who value doctor profession on the criteria of examining the patients and prescribing. And my career which was going on with many promotions until that time turned out to be a process, by which I was subjected to investigations, on which I had to defend myself and consequently I got many warnings and reprimands. In the meantime, while I was expecting to work more easily; I encountered with unbelievable hindrances. In the end, since I was not able to explain the diaper in the drawer of my table and the medications in the medicine chest that I gathered from my colleagues – to the inspector who came for a routine inspection; my place of work was changed and I was driven far away from the children and their families. This place change was also a great money loss for me due to my salary. Despite this, what hurt me most was the inspector’s focusing the inspection on the medicine chest, all the medication in which was donation and his emphasizing the probability of my misuse of this medication. Through the witnesses of my colleagues in the institution, I completed the process without being subject to a smear. But I really felt sorry when I learnt the medication that I made be brought to be heal a few poor people was demolished by burning. The first sentence of the inspector’s report was as follows: “When I entered the room of the doctor, everywhere was in a mess. In the medicine chest, there were thousands of tablets of medicine.” Then, after this sentence, there were many sentences that might help me think like this: “I wish to have carried out this as not my own official duty but as a volunteer; thus I’d not encounter hardships.” Maybe, it was just luck to get rid of this process that way.
After having completed twenty-four years in the official service, in order to be able to work more freely on what I think to be the truths; I became retired in the very early years that I was entitled for the retirement. Now, I work as a workplace doctor, in order to save the life of the workers and to prevent the occupational accidents. I am in the same place where I started my career. In other words, I carry out my profession with the principle that “rather than struggling to treat, trying to prevent the diseases is more plausible for maintaining the health.”
No matter how the institution you worked for made you mauled and sad, initially the children living in the neighborhoods around Mersin, then their families and in the end all Mersin heard about you; understood you and loved you. They respected your efforts and struggles. The volunteer institutions and NGOs awarded you. Can you mention about that?
How happy I am for the fact that I was gratified in the civil life in the same scale, as with those maulings I faced in the official institutions I worked at. I was seen worthy for the rewards many times, by NGOs in Mersin. For the first time, in 2002, I was awarded by Akdeniz Rotary Club and as the second time, in 2005 – I got the career services rewards from Mersin Rotary Club. In 2014, the reward of “The successful woman of the year” given by Icel Soroptimist Club; and in 2015, the reward of “Women making a difference” given by a jury which was formed with small students of Mersin ODTU College – were the proofs of the fact that my efforts were appreciated and these rewards encouraged me for further on. But my greatest reward was the success of my children, for whom my struggles were not, in vain. Some of them became university graduates, some of them found a job enough for their eke-out living. I am still in contact with these children who are my greatest source of pride.
Did not such hard life experiences force you to write their own stories and share these stories in this way?
I witnessed incredible events in my efforts with street children. The life of each child was of value worthy to be written a separate story about him/her. Once, during a bus travel I made from Mersin to Istanbul; I told to the person next to my chair an event I experienced with the children, during our conversation. Later on, I saw the form of this event in a book as a story. Well… my travel mate was a writer of stories.
I wrote some essays upon the effects of the insistence of my acquaintances; in order to write what I lived, what I occasionally experience and in order to read the story of an event, free from myself, and to read it that way. Sometimes; due to the intense and deep emotions I felt, while I was writing; there were times when I could not help crying. In fact, when the burdens of Hasan, Berivan, Serdar, Oktay, Hulya, Cudi, Yunus, Mehmet Sah among hundreds of others – which they can barely handle; were turning into text through my pen; it was me who could not carry such heavy load.
Hasan was just three years old. His mother gave birth to Nihal, who was the 7th sibling of the family. At that time his father had a traffic accident and was trying to heal his wounds’ inflammations. They were eke-out living with the money his elder sisters Pervin and Gulcan and his elder brother Suleyman earned by cleaning the glasses of the cars which they stopped at the traffic lights. Although three of them were at school age; not only they were not enrolled the schools; but also their registries were not recorded in the Civil Registry. Just at this time, at a night, Hasan became ill, all at once. He was fluttering in a position that his eyes were directed to the upwards, in a fainted manner. Although his mother thought that he was possessed by a demon, the doctors said that there was an apse in his brain. Upon this, they made an operation on him, and they healed him. They paid some section of the costs of the hospital through the help of their acquaintances and friends and the rest of the cost remained as the debt. However, the illness reiterated, after some time. He should be operated again. All of his family was in a flurry. How would they pay the new costs, while the costs remaining were existing?
They remembered a small trick. Pertev who is his aunt’s son, at the same age, who had a Green Card. Hasan would be Pertev. They taught him many times to anwer as “Pertev”, when his name was asked.
Hasan was taken into operation with fever, with such awful pain in his head. When he opened his eyes, the doctor asked to a child the simplest question he could ask to evaluate his consciousness: “What is your name?”
He answered “Pertev”. Even the effect of the narcosis was not completely gone. Hasan did not embarrass his mother.
Little Hasan healed with the paralysis on his left side. He would attend the school next year.
In my efforts with street children; my perspective to the issue both as a sensitive person and from the point of view of an educated doctor – kept me away from the mistake of being too emotional in a scale not to be completely technical or feeling-exploitation. My texts that I wrote from this point of view were published in local and national journals.
However, I can say that my most stable writing trials were “The tales of 1001 mornings”, which I wrote on my social media account, in 84 days. The stimulation that drove me to write - was what a tyrant owner did to close relatives of the people who died in the Mine accident in Soma, in 2014; namely his kicking them. Each morning, I was writing, just as the bakery makes fresh bread loaves. These were small tales that I wrote directed with the current issues, with my feelings and imagination. In a short time, I had many fans. Every morning, my readers got into competition in order to be the first to read and appreciate, which is something nice. This situation made me so happy and I assumed a responsibility. Some mornings, while I was continuing to write the tales; by sending messages “Hey, hey.. we look forward to getting your tale.”; thus, they make heart beat faster. I used to have silent followers sometimes. When I met them in the streets or workplaces; they were giving clues that they read the tales. This situation was both stimulating me and making me proud.
In the morning of the fifty-second day,
In its mouth, the dove came with a piece that it plucked from a branch. This was a sign of the end of the great flood and God’s reconciliation with his humans. It was so valuable. Many philosophers, medical experts, minstrels, kings had commented on its body, branches, fruit and oil and they decreed on the preservation of it.
It was so related with being existent that;
“You should heed the living so much that
For example, you should plant olives, even though you are seventy
And not for the sake of upcoming generations
Because you do not believe in death; though you are afraid of it
Since living outweighs” said the great poet for it.
Thus, the tyrant ruler who felt that his end was imminent made a decree defying all what was happening. He thought to unpluck the most valuable of the thousands of years; and he wanted to let his roots deep into the soil. But what he did not consider was a matter of existence. Cliffhanger
In the morning of the seventy-second day
She was the symbol of beauty of woman laughter. She cheered up some generations with her laughters. Since the laughter is something transmissible, when she laughs loudly; those who see her start to laugh and happiness was radiated all over. But the parliament member of the city famous with mesir paste and dead miners – was not content with women’s laughing in this manner. With his conversation while eating mesir paste, and with a dirty mouth – he decreed that “women should not laugh”. The cheer source who finished her tales with a laughter by saying “have a good sleep my dear lamb”, was somewhat able to see today’s situation since then. To those who rejected to go to the polls which is the last resort; there was nothing more than saying “have a good sleep my lamb”. Cliff-hanger
In fact, these tales that I wanted to continue for 1001 mornings ended with the declaration of the tyrant ruler’s power forever, in his eighty-fourth day of his rule. My farewell to my readers was as follows:
All Around The World In Eighty-Four Days
The morning tales which I wrote by getting inspired by the 1001 Night Tales started with the result of the kick that was done for the people who was investigating the cause of the deaths of the miner workers who were extracting the coal from seven layers depth; and the terror I felt for slap which was hit on their faces. Later on, it became an important instrument for taking the attention of people, for the slaughter of our country with unique beauty, with the pretext of economy, just for the sake of interest. All through my life, it developed with the addition of events, moments and persons that I had a memory with. The eighty-fourth day came, with the help of my facebook friends. You should appreciate the difficulty of writing, every morning before my sleepiness had not completely gone and while I was trying to contain what I wanted to say in a tiny paragraph. Despite this, the morning tales were the texts written and shared at that very moment, which were prepared like a bakery’s baking hot bread – sometimes with efforts of half of an hour, with trying not to make spelling mistakes. The feedback coming from you was so stimulating that this situation led me force my imagination and investigate, in order to increase my knowledge. It made me excited and it developed me.
Today, I wrote the last of morning tales. Because, this morning, I did not even feel the hope seed which grows in the most pessimist part of my text. I was encompassed with the anxiety, for the bad direction of my country and I realized that I could not go on like this.
That being the case, from now on, in a country with advanced literature, art and music; I will continue my life with Gezi spirit - by preserving the nature which we are in debt, and for better life conditions.
I thank you a lot for your contributions to me.
We witnessed your writing experience. What kind of a relation do you have with books as a reader?
Reading literary works is one of my favorite hobbies. Sometimes, I get lost while reading. I read the first volume of Yasar Kemal’s Ince Memed novel, in my childhood years. I was impressed by Bride Seyran who was one of the heroes in the novel so much that: I almost saw her face on a bibelot that I made to sell, in order to study. And I called this bibelot in her name and decided not to sell it. I still keep it.
I choose those special works which feed my imagination. My reading all of the volumes of 1001 Nights Tales was the most important factor which developed my imagination power.
Likewise, one of the writers who affected me most is Orhan Pamuk. I look forward to his novels or other publications. My most precious collection is first printings of the writer’s books. Also, when he came to Mersin in 1994, the books which he signed with a green pen are my treasure. When I started to read the books again after years later they were signed; my amazement and admiration for Kara Kitap [The Black Book], the hero of which wrote his farewell letter with a green pen - increased once more. I love such perplexing situation. I have always felt myself very lucky for the fact that Orhan Pamuk is a writer who writes in my mother language.
Now, let’s talk about another very important interest field of you. To love nature and environment and rather than protecting it individually, it means to combat actively for it. But before your struggles, could you tell us now the emotional bonds between you and the nature?
One of my most favorite activities is nature walk. The nature walks which I started first with the encouragement of my teacher Necati, in my student years in the Medical Faculty – became an indispensable part of my life later on. Since then, I climbed to the summits of almost all high mountains in Turkey, which do not require technical information to climb such as Mount Ararat, Suphan Mountain, Kackarlar, Hasan Mountain, Aladaglar. I visited the archaeological sites with unique beauty, in Turkey. I have single purpose and dream, in terms of mountain climbing that I have not fulfilled yet: namely to be able to climb the Cudi Mountain. To climb the summit of Cudi Mountains means, also, the peace environment for our country. There, I want to have my photograph taken as a peak memoir with the paper, on which “Peace at home, peace in the world.” is written, just as I did so, at the peak of Mount Ararat.
Machu Picchu, the Inca Temple which I arrived by walking for four days in And Mountains of Peru, where I went this year’s April month – was one of the most fabulous experiences in my life.
Mersin knows you with your struggling aspect. With your efforts for the children, environment, women and the profession organizations. Where shall we start?
My efforts in Mersin Medical Chamber, the presidency of which I carried out for two terms – were my greatest struggle field. In the process which started with my ordinary membership in Mersin Medical Chamber; the process was followed with my Board Membership, Membership of the Honorary Board, General Secretary and eventually Board of Directors; I have always felt the pride of advocating our occupational rights, the universal ethical values of the doctor profession and the patient rights. During my presidency in the chamber, I took Dr. Fusun Sayek (Dear Fusun) as model, who died in 2006 and who fulfilled the duty of the presidency of Turkish Medical Association for ten years.
In the fifty-year-old history of our Chamber; for “my being the first woman president”, my efforts towards the women rights were influential. I can say that I stepped towards this field as the administrator in 2004 for the Women Status Unit of Mersin Governorship, which was founded in order to strengthen the role of women in the society and this was my first conscious initiative. The women perspective that I developed as a simple citizen with modern, and secularist values until that time – transformed and improved with the effects of feminist women I met through the activities of this unit.
During my service in the duty which lasted for two years in this unit, which aimed at making endeavors locally in Mersin with the foundations working on women rights, with the cooperation of official institutions; and we had many innovative accomplishments. Among them the most precious was the action we did together with Harbiye Ates and Zuhal Karamehmet who work diligently in Mersin on women rights. For this action, in order to take the attention of the inequality of the roles that the society casts to the women and the men at home; we prepared a drama text for the youth. The text we sent to the high schools a week prior - was being staged by the schools’ theatre clubs as a mini theatre play. The students were watching this mini play performed by their peers with great interest and enjoyment, and were discussing it after the performance. During this process, we had many conferences, conversations, meetings regarding women’s human rights and violence towards the women, which was our focused issue. We celebrated the 8th March with our women farmers.
I experienced an interesting event related to being a woman in Turkey, in one of the conferences I was invited as a speaker. The conference was organized towards the women residents living in a neighborhood, in a community center, in Toroslar District. Our discussion topic was the violence towards the women. Since I was the institution doctor of the Social Services Provincial Directorate at that time; I was also working in the women’s shelter, at some times. I had prepared a special presentation as a doctor in the related field, for the listeners, regarding the definition of the violence towards women, its types, how women can protect themselves from the violence they were subjected to, and according to their the violence types. In 2005, at which date the conference was done, the women murders was not as apparent as it is now; but we were continuously witnessing the intensity level of the violence. During my speech in the conference, while I was putting forth my suggestions for the question “How shall we act against the violence at a level of torture?”; “You should keep away from the kitchen where there are many cutter instruments. And if a life peril arises, and if it is necessary to escape from home, a previously prepared bag must be ready.” – my words were audaciously cut by a male academician who was a psychologist in the panel.
To be made silent by a man with a blushing face with fury, who screamed “Are you aware of what you are saying? You need a psychologist!”, and also the fact that the audience women’s supporting the “male psychologist” with their minds revealed a very significant situation regarding women’s conditions; which was too sad to see. From now on, I was a woman speaker who was subjected to the violence of a man whose voice was louder than mine on the pulpit and in this event between us, my women congeneric fellows were not in solidarity with me. After the panel was over, the male speaker who spoke loudly came nearer and with a very kind tone of voice said that: “In fact, he thought that I was partly right, but I should not teach women this in such a community.” He was trying to imply that: Let them hear swears, Let them even be killed but they should not escape from their home. During the period of the time approximately for 10 years later, in each event, at which women are killed brutally; I remember this panel.
With the contributions of my efforts during this period, initially the masculine language I used - changed. For example, from now on, instead of saying “[Turkish: adam başı] per man” I say “[Turkish: kişi başı ] per person” and instead of “ [Turkish: bilim adamı ] scientist” “[Turkish: bilim insanı] science person”. I started to buy what women producers produced and sold while I was shopping. I also became aware of the fact that women barely were able to become administrators in the public areas. Due to this, the awareness I attained at that time has immense effect on my becoming the president of the Medical Chamber.
Let’s talk about the environment and lastly and naturally about Akkuyu…
It gives us grief to witness deterioration of areas where we camped, while we were walking during our nature walks. The rivulets dry; the forests burn; the trees in the forest are cut widely with various reasons; quarry and mines are opened without good planning. These happen so much so that we cannot see our walking-tracks of the last year, in the next year. Maybe, we are the last lucky generation who lives the beauties and blessings of nature. For this reason, I assume to exert efforts for the natural assets which are diminishing very fast, as a prioritized duty. Bardini and Kayaci Valleys which are two valleys I like in Mersin – are among my first samples of environmental struggle. When the villagers heard that Governorship would grant a license for a quarry in Bardini Valley and when support from us was asked; I got ready to take action. Since I knew that the Governor would attend the concert to be given in Kanlidivane; I planned to make awareness by touring around the pothole with the banner I prepared, before the concert started. With the support of my friends, we achieved this. When we came near to the place where the protocol was, they had to take their feet backwards, in order to make us room. This action which lasted for three minutes had widespread media coverage. The quarry in Bardini Valley was not opened, with the awareness of the villagers.
However, Kayaci Valley did not have the same luck as the other valley, despite the many efforts. I asked almost every possible authority, in order to make it officially registered as a natural site to be protected. I collected the signatures of the presidents of NGOs in the city, which were related to the environment and nature sports. By annexing the photos of the area and by taking the inventory of the endemic plants which the university academicians detected; to the collected signatures – I delivered them, by hand, to High Council for the Monuments, in Adana. They did not even respond me. After tens of years past, and when the Kayaci Valley lost its assets; we heard that the efforts to make it a protection-site was being considered, by the Museum Directorate. At that time, I felt a pain within my heart. Because I was thinking that it was too late.
When it comes to Akkuyu, what I and my occupation association does against Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant is an effort of preventive medicine, rather than a struggle for the nature.
Mersin Medical Chamber is an organization which exerted efforts from the beginning, in order to take the attention for the health problems that Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant would pose; the place license of which was given in 1976. In 1999, I became an active part of the struggle process, which initially I was following passively from the media; while I was a Member of the Board of Mersin Medical Chamber.
In the demonstration I participated against the nuclear plant, representing my Chamber; I was taken into custody for the first time in my life; because of my saying “Please don’t do this.” to the police who were rigidly intervening the protestors; among whom were professors, doctors, engineers, teachers, students; namely all people being there to defend the right of life. My being taken into custody for the second time was, also, in June of 2013, in the opening ceremony of the Mediterranean Games, while I was sitting on my numbered chair silently. The reason for my being taken in custody was my asking the officers “Why should I leave here?”, when they wanted me to get out of the stadium, lest I make a demonstration against the nuclear power plant. My being driven out of the stadium by being dragged was in fact a violation of human rights of person who had fought for the human rights for years. It is what a pity that all doors that would investigate this violation were closed, from the beginning.
The belief of the police that “Maybe, I might make a demonstration” was stemming from their knowing my civil disobedience demonstrations that continued for three months, in January of 2013. This demonstration that I started in front of the information center which was opened by the firm in Camlibel District for the introduction of the Nuclear Power Plant; by participating the duty action of the activists that they started against the Nuclear Plant in Mersin and which I later turned into a walking protest in front of the center – became a matter of watching, with curiosity. It was my first days after the retirement. I would prepare myself every morning, as if I went to the work; I would walk on the pavement in front of the information office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; by walking from one side of the pavement to the other end. One day while I was counting my steps in order to spend time; I noticed something. The pavement was exactly thirty seven steps. What was interesting was this year was the 37th year of the granting the license for the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant. So I named my walking demonstration “37 STEPS”.
My greatest dream was to able to walk this 37-step-pavement demonstration together with thousands of people; just as in the Gezi Park struggle which was to start after approximately 5 months in all around the country, since that day. Some days, we walked on the pavement with two or three persons; and with the civil police, who had to spend their work hours in streets, for three months. Since all my movements were recorded with the police cameras; I could not help myself saying “Even Turkan Soray does not have camera recordings as those of mine.” When one of the civil police asked me “Don’t you have a day-off?”, I understood the fact that the social action that I was doing was perceived as a paid job rather than my social responsibility or my debt to the upcoming generations. Approximately during three months, if they asked me, I tried to tell “those who bypass my way” the redundancy and dangers of the nuclear power plants. During my walks, when I saw the children whom I knew as a small child in the streets and when I saw them as adults – all my tiredness was gone.
In the meantime, in the February of 2014, with the support of the doctors who were the members of Mersin Medical Chamber and those people who were against the nuclear energy in Mersin; the walking of the distance from Mersin city center to Akkuyu which is 137 km. in three days – is the most significant proof of our fulfilling our historical responsibility, as doctors.
Alongside the demonstrations in the streets; I participated numerous conferences, panels, radio and television programs; in order to explain the health problems which nuclear power plants pose in their normal working conditions and in the case of accident. Even I never rejected the request of any teachers who asked “Could you come to our school and tell our students the drawbacks of the nuclear power plants?” I took part in the scientific investigations that were carried out related to the topic, I was the planner.
Today, together with my belief that those who struggle will win, I respond that to those saying: “You try in vain, they will do it somehow.” … “They have not been able to make the power plant for forty years, they will never be able to do it, due to our resistence.”
Is there anything else that you want to add, as we are finalizing our conversation?
My life idol is Prof. Dr. Turkan Saylan. Due to her unique works she accomplished; she demonstrated that the doctor profession is more than treating and she showed how important preventive medicine is. She made me aware of the fact that the doctor profession is not only done in clinics but also on horseback wandering the villages. What she did regarding the education of the girls and women – enlightened my way. One day, when we bumped each other in street, a friend of mine introduced me to her daughter as “Let me introduce you Turkan Saylan of Mersin”; I remember that my eyes filled with tears. Although I did not deserve this much, I was very happy to understand that I have reflected the glitter of Turkan Saylan to the people around me. A few years prior to her death, I had the opportunity to meet her in the congress organized by Turkish Medical Association, Women Physicians and Women Health Branch. It is a great source of happiness for me, with my many women doctor colleagues in Turkey; to proceed on the road, which was opened by such an esteemed person.