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Brooklyndan merhaba!
(Hello from Brooklyn!)

Shirin Shabdin, Jim Wasenius, and Bridgette Ricketts

     The purpose of this paper is to discuss the Turkish community located in the New York area. The Turkish community that we located is in Brooklyn, around 60th Street and 8th Avenue is a very small and unknown group. We will examine the Turkish LOTE (languages other than English) with regard to other LOTE's in the community, religious institutions, the public school district, Turkish-speaking businesses, Turkish publications, recreational groups, government services, and medical services, and how these factors determine the solidarity of the community. Our information sources include personal interviews, publications, pictures and phone calls. Our other focus will address our observations of the Turkish community in light of the September 11th terrorist attacks, which will be discussed after our description of the community.

     In our research, the 1990 census reported 5,544 Turkish people residing in New York City. From this information we knew that the community would be small and possibly hard to locate. Initially, we were told that there was a mosque on the lower east side, where we thought we might find a Turkish community. After going there, we found that the area was a Pakistani-Muslim community. When we asked a friendly Muslim couple where we might locate a Turkish community, they directed us to an area of Brooklyn where there is a mosque, compromised of mainly Turkish members*. Our immediate observation was that the Turkish community revolves around their Islamic religion. While there are Turks that are non-Muslim, this group is less than 10% of the population. By finding a mosque, we were able to locate a community. A community, by our definition, is a group of people big enough to exist together in a specific area, by cultural customs, religion, and/or common origin.

     Bridgette and Jim entered the community without having any affiliation with the Turkish culture or Islamic religion. Shirin is half Turkish, but is a non-active member in this community, and a non-member of the Islamic religion. Stepping off the M train at the 8th Avenue stop, we immediately noticed a Chinese driving school. As we walked in the direction of the mosque, we passed by many other Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, and businesses. We soon realized that the primary LOTE in this neighborhood was Chinese. By observation, the Chinese community is significantly larger than any other coexisting community in the neighborhood. When we asked a nearby police officer, Officer Sanchez told us that there is also a small Pakistani and Algerian population surrounding this area of Brooklyn. Chinese is the primary language of this neighborhood, as is evidenced by public announcements and other signs translated in the Mandarin language.

     Our first stop was the "Fatih Mosque," located on 8th Avenue, between 60th and 61st Street, because the religion of the community of Turkish community is most significant in understanding their culture. This seemed to be a community center in conjunction with its religious affiliation. In the mosque, we found a clothing, book, and religious article store. In the clothing store, they sold appropriate Muslim clothing for women, typically long skirts, long sleeved shirts, and headscarves. In the bookstore, there were copies of the Koran (the book of Islam), and Turkish literature. Among the religious articles sold were Muslim flags, postcards of Mosques around the world, and plaques inscribed with daily prayers.

     The Turkish people of the neighborhood come to the mosque to pray on a daily basis. While the Islamic religion calls its followers to namoz, or prayer, five times a day, we found this not to be a very strict mosque. We were there during the afternoon prayer, and observed only a handful of Turkish men coming in to pray. Prayer is optional and can be done in the home. There was a prayer timetable that we picked up at the mosque. Isa, a member of the mosque told us that many of the members gather on the weekends, instead of during the week. Isa, like many of the people we interviewed, was hesitant about giving his full name, and having us take his picture. Isa has only been in America for one year. He spoke to us in broken English with a heavy Turkish accent. He told us about the children of the mosque, and how they are taught their religion. The male/female distinction is heavily enforced in the Islamic religion, and for this reason boys and girls attend religious schooling on different days. Girls attend religious school at the mosque on Saturdays, and boys on Sundays. When the children are there, they are taught to read and understand the Koran. This is taught is Turkish, to improve and preserve the language.

     The necessity for the religious instructions being taught in Turkish relates to the linguistic situation of the primary schools. At the mosque, we met Adil and his energetic 6-year-old son, Omer. We asked Adil how his son learned to speak Turkish. Adil told us that most children raised in this community are taught to speak Turkish from birth. They go into regular public school in kindergarten, and then begin to learn English. This area of Brooklyn is part of District 20 according to the NYC Education website (http://www.nycenet.edu/csd20/Page_2x.html). This district has many bilingual programs, but none of the schools in the surrounding area have a Turkish program. Each school does, however, have an ESL (English as a Second Language) program that, in Omer's school, accommodates many Turkish students (http://www.nycenet.edu/csd20/instructional/bilingual.htm). Adil told us that to the best of his knowledge, his son's school only offers a Chinese and Urdu program, for the Chinese and surrounding Pakistani communities. Even though some of the Turkish children of the community enter kindergarten with only a Turkish background, because they are so young, English is learned very easily. This is part of the reason that religious instruction is taught in Turkish, to maintain the language and grammar of their native language. Omer then taught us: Merhaba (Hello). We thought this might be useful when we ventured into other parts of the community.

     We only found three other Turkish related businesses in the immediate area. The first was a Middle Eastern supermarket that was run mainly by Turkish/English speaking people, and held a variety of Middle Eastern foods, as well as everyday fruits, vegetables, and meats. This seemed to be the place where the community members did most of their grocery shopping, as their language could be used to communicate with the salespeople.

     The next store we visited was a rug shop. They sold small prayer rugs used by Muslims during prayer time at home. This store, however, was run by an Indian woman named Feba. Feba was very kind about letting us take pictures of her store. She told us that many Muslims in both the Turkish and surrounding Pakistani community purchase prayer rugs, as well as other household carpeting, from her store. She speaks Urdu, but has learned enough Turkish to be able to speak to her customers. The final store we visited was a Turkish run general store. The owners were an elderly couple who were very resistant to speaking to us. We walked around the store and took a picture of the specialty foods sold here and observed that they were very suspicious of our intent. We bought a Turkish newspaper from them and quickly left.

     The Turkish newspaper, called the Hürriyet, means freedom. This newspaper is published daily in New York City, and is distributed throughout the U.S., Canada, and Turkey. This publication is a typical "New York Times" equivalent, featuring international, national, and local news. This was the only Turkish publication that we found. We asked another member of the community, Serap, if there are many sources of Turkish media either in Brooklyn, or otherwise accessible to the community. There are no radio stations available that speak or broadcast anything Turkish, but there is an expensive satellite dish that can be bought which broadcasts television stations directly from Turkey. This is the only means of communication that the Turkish people are privy to.

     The only other type of newsletter we found was back at the mosque. The mosque seems to be as much a cultural community center as a religious center. Among the Turkish and American flags, along with other patriotic symbols, there were two fliers posted on the outside doors, columns, and windows, and inside foyer of the mosque. The first flyer was a notice from Hilmi Akdag, President-Chief Imam of the United American Muslim Association of New York, condemning the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. The next flyer was an English translation of the notice. We will discuss the contents of this letter later when we describe the effects that the terrorist attacks had on this community. The other notice that we picked up was a letter from Martin J. Golden, council member of the city of New York. This notice addressed the needs of the rescue workers helping in the World Trade Center tragedy. This notice seemed to be addressed to the entire neighborhood and was written in only English.

     This sort of governmental interaction with the neighborhood is typical of the relationship between the government and the Turkish community. There was a political office on the same block as the mosque. In its window, it displayed a campaign sign translated in Mandarin. There were no Turkish campaign ads. When we asked Isa of Turkish representation in the local government, he informed us that there was none. Officer Sanchez of the 66th precinct had been stationed at the mosque from early that morning because of the fear of negative effects of the terrorist attacks. When we asked him if there were any officers or interpreters in his precinct that are able to communicate with the Turkish speakers in the community, he didn't know of any. He said, "If somebody is in need of assistance, they would need to know enough English to get by, or bring somebody who could translate for them." We then asked Isa if this applies to the medical services offered in this Brooklyn neighborhood as well. He said that while there are 120 Turkish doctors in New York State, there are few in the Brooklyn area. He said that many of the community members (especially the elderly) travel into Manhattan to visit native Turkish speaking doctors, because it makes them more comfortable.

     Finding doctors and other specialty services is something that is received by word of mouth. There are no organized Turkish nationality groups that are active in the community. The closest to this is the relationship between the people of the mosque and the families that live close to each other in the community. There are scattered Turkish restaurants and businesses throughout Manhattan and Queens, but no official community groups.

     The next part of our experience with the Turkish community directs attention at the reactions of the community in the context of last month's terrorist attacks on the United States. There was a dichotomy of feelings and actions among the people of the community; the community wanted to be inviting and yet were fearfully resistant at the same time.

     When we arrived at the mosque, the Turkish and American flags were everywhere! The American flag hung alongside the Turkish flag all along the block, in the entranceway of the mosque, and inside as well. On the windows and outside doors hung many of the Muslim Association notices. This nationalistic and patriotic show of support was perhaps more disturbing than comforting to see. With an officer outside for extra protection from anti-Middle Eastern and Islamic groups, the excessive number of flags appeared to be a complement to this: a protection and defense proving Turkish and Islamic support to America. Officer Sanchez confirmed for us that his assignment at the mosque had a direct correlation to the attacks of September 11th.

     In spite of the fear and protection that plagued the mosque's atmosphere, the doors to the mosque were wide open and had welcome signs inviting all visitors inside. An elderly man, who didn't speak very much English, invited us in and quickly offered us tea. That's when we met our friend Isa, who spoke to us with restrained comfort. Isa was very helpful with providing us the information that we needed about the Turkish community and let us take pictures of anything we wanted to (in the mosque), but he was very resistant to giving us his last name or letting us take his picture. It was a sad observation for us to see that such an otherwise friendly community is fearful of its own religious home.

     Few people walked in the mosque while we were there. A few men entered for prayer at different times, and all three seemed to know both Isa and the elderly gentleman who had offered us tea. Isa explained to us that because the Turkish community is so small and most members of the mosque are Turkish, everyone knows each other very well.

     When we left the mosque and continued on, the flags waved continuously down the street. When we entered the small Turkish general store, the elderly couple seemed apprehensive about our being there, and we couldn't help but sympathize for them. It is our belief that it is only in fear of the anti-Islamic attacks that those who were resistant in helping us reacted as they did, and we were impressed and pleasantly surprised to see that most of the people we encountered were very warm, and gave us the most information and help that they could.

     In conclusion, we found the Turkish community in Brooklyn to be a very small, close-knit group of people bound together mainly by religion and language, despite their small population. They are a LOTE community coexisting with others, such as the Chinese community. The Turkish community, however, is significantly smaller than the well-represented Chinese community, and experiences great inconveniences with regard to daily life. The Turkish community faces things like language barriers and a lack of representation in government and schools that prevent the community from being publicly known by outsiders. This lack of representation may lead to outsiders' ignorance of the existence and culture of the Turkish community. This could be a reason for the fear of targeted attacks that the community has been facing since the September 11th disastrous events. Perhaps it is the adversity that they live in that brings the Turkish community closer together. We hope that the neighborhood efforts to protect the Turkish-Islamic community will bring prosperous relationships between the coexisting communities and the government and educational systems surrounding them.

*In speaking with the Muslim woman, Shirin mentioned that she was Turkish. The woman was quick to say, "That would make you Muslim." Shirin replied that while her mother was raised in Turkey as a non-practicing Islamic Turk, Shirin was raised Catholic. The woman replied, "So you are a Muslim, just not practicing." We realized from this experience that the relationship between the Turkish culture and the Islamic religion is virtually indiscernible for those who belong to it.

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