Saga of an unknown Turkish victim

Published September 12, 2002

LONDON: Seven months after the suicide attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, the right arm of a Turkish man, Zuhtu Ibis, was found at the site.

Zuhtu was one of hundreds of Muslims who fell victim to the attacks on September 11 last year. Despite finding no body, the authorities in New York were able to establish the owner of the arm by means of fingerprint analysis, thereby dashing the Ibis family’s last shred of hope that their eldest son might still be alive.

Memorial ceremonies to Zuhtu had, of course, already taken place, both in the American state of New Jersey and in Sariyaparak, the poor village in central Turkey from which Zuhtu came. But despite this, Zuhtu’s father Ali had been unable to come to terms with American assurances that his son had probably died in the attacks.

Ali spent many weeks searching New York hospitals in the hope that, even if his son proved not to be alive, they would at least find his body.

Kamil Ibis, Zuhtu’s uncle, says that his brother “has wept unceasingly since his son died”, while Zuhtu’s mother Aisha is equally grief-stricken. Hardly a day goes by without them voicing regret at Zuhtu’s untimely death. The family is also horrified that Zuhtu’s wife, Laila Uyar, who married him in Turkey three years ago, should be widowed at such a young age. Their little son Mert is not even two years old, and will now never know his father.

Sariyaparak is a poor village, well off the beaten track and surrounded by attractive rolling fields. You can only reach the village by travelling along the single muddy track that leads to it. But on the way, you can hear the call to midday prayer from quite a distance as it rings out from the minaret and pierces the silence of the fields. The mosque is just few minutes from the house where Zuhtu grew up with his sister Hajir and his younger brother Mehmet. His uncle Kamil says that Zuhtu always performed Friday’s prayers, observed the Ramazan fast and took part in the religious celebrations that were held in the mosque.

Zuhtu completed his early education at the local school, walking there every day along the muddy road, past the humble, mud-built houses where ducks and hens wander freely. But Zuhtu’s parents soon chose to leave Sariyaparak in search of a better life for their family in the United States. They left their children in Kamil’s care until they could afford to send for them, and before long Zuhtu had gained a place at an American University and a diploma in business studies.

On September 11, 25-year-old Zuhtu was working for a company called E-Speed whose offices were tragically located on the 103rd floor of the Twin Towers. He had no chance of escaping.

Zuhtu’s uncle “cannot understand how Osama bin Laden can be a defender of Islam, as he claims, while killing innocent men who attest that There is No God but God and Mohammad is the Messenger of God”.

And Kamil goes on to say: “America’s policy is not right, but that does not mean that terrorism is right. These things that are going on have nothing to do with Islam. Yesterday Zuhtu was the victim. Today it could be me and tomorrow it could be you”.

After the family’s sacrifices to give their children a better future, no one can doubt the tragic and pointless waste of this young life. One of the Zuhtu’s teachers Shevket Manaz says, “everyone was proud of what Zuhtu had achieved. But what happened to him is truly dreadful”.

The Mayor of Sariyaparak, Fuat Karakurt, says “We are not interested in politics. We saw the aeroplane hitting the building on television. It was a dreadful sight, and they said it was Osama bin Ladin who did it. But we had no idea who he was”.

September 11 was a tragic and appalling day for the people of New York and Washington, but it was also a day when many Muslims wept for the loss of loved ones, including the family of Zuhtu Ibis. His uncle Kamil says: “Zuhtu was a young Muslim man who never hurt anyone. We have never done any harm to Osama and had never heard of him until he killed Zuhtu”.

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