Uğur Süleyman Söylemez is a Mavi Marmara victim who has been comatose for the past two and a half years….
Söylemez was born in Ankara in 1963. A free-lancer by occupation, he took part in the flotilla that attempted to take humanitarian aid to Gaza in 2010. Soon after the attack on Mavi Marmara Söylemez was announced to be among the killed passengers, but it was later found out that he was gravely wounded by at least one bullet shot into his head. One of the flotilla passengers recalled the moment Söylemez was shot:
The incidents were unbelievable… Everything was shocking but I witnessed the most shocking incident on the lower deck. I was helping the wounded. A brother named Süleyman had been shot in the front of his head and fallen onto the floor on his back, fracturing the back of his skull. He was lying on his side; two people were supporting him. The doctors had warned that if he lay on his back, his lungs would be filled with blood, causing him to die immediately. While we were trying to keep him alive, several other passengers were cooling him down with fans they made from cardboard. Blood was continuously coming out of his mouth. I was wiping his mouth and holding his hands on one hand and replacing the bloody towels covering his wounds and trying to speak to him on the other hand. We used dozens of towels trying to stop his bleeding. Thank God he recovered from death. The Israelis carried him and the other wounded activists to the helicopters in brutal manner. Brother Süleyman is now with his family in Ankara but in coma. I will never forget him. Fatima Mohamadi (Lawyer/USA)
After he was flown to Turkey, Söylemez was transferred with two other gravely wounded activists to Ankara Atatürk Research Hospital and received intensive care for eight months. At the end of the eighth month, Söylemez was discharged from hospital to be cared for at home when no progress was registered about his condition during the eight-month long treatment. Söylemez is still comatose as of November 2012 and his condition remains critical.
A merchant by profession, Uğur Süleyman Söylemez is married to Tuğba Söylemez with three children named Ahmet (born 1988), Zeynep Kübra (1991), and Fatma (1997). Söylemez, who assisted people in need through various social charity events, is known as a trustable man who keeps his promise, and who is concerned about humanitarian issues. “He has always had special interest in Palestine,” Mrs. Söylemez says as she describes her husband.
SÖYLEMEZ AS DESCRIBED BY HIS WIFE
Mrs. Söylemez, could you tell us about Mr. Söylemez’s humanitarian efforts, his interest towards the disadvantaged and Palestine?
Uğur was very concerned about people being oppressed anywhere in the world, and loved helping them. He contributed to charities and aid agencies as much as he can. But his most sensitive point was Palestine.
Süleyman had a professional job when he decided to leave it all behind and ventured into high sea for Gaza. How could he make time to manage all these?
He would put himself in place of the aggrieved people and feel the pain they were feeling. He would not heed material gains. Not even his children. “I have to go and help them,” he said and boarded the ship. He has always been like this. He would act before everyone else when someone was in need of help.
I think Süleyman boarded the ship in Antalya. They stayed at Kepez Sports Hall before boarding. There were people with different religion, ethnicity, language, and political view in Kepez. Did you not talk when he was in Kepez, what did he tell you about the atmosphere?
We were making frequent phone calls. He told me everything that transpired there. I think a British person converted to Islam while there. He told me about that and the atmosphere. “Some are reciting the Quran, some are listening to music… Everyone is acting in line with their faith. It is a very unique and different atmosphere. I wish you were here too but I will leave now,” he said.
When did you talk the last?
He called the last when he boarded the ship. “We are leaving, we might not see each other again, give me your blessing,” he said. It was our last talk.
Did you hear any news of your husband after the heinous attack? What can you say about the period after the attack?
We could not hear anything from my husband for about four days. After all the passengers and the wounded activists returned we learnt that a gravely-wounded man remained in Israel and he could not be brought to Turkey because his condition was critical. A photograph of the wounded man was sent on the order of the prime minister. It was my husband in the photograph.
How did you learn about the attack? What happened afterwards?
My son and I were regularly following the journey of the flotilla on IHH webpage. Between 10 and 11 at night we learnt that there were blackouts on the ship. My son told me “Mum, let’s go to the Israeli embassy.” I told him “We had better wait until morning.” When we got up for the morning prayers, we quickly checked out the webpage and learnt that the ship had been attacked and there were martyrs and critically wounded passengers. No sooner had we completed morning prayers than we rushed to the Israeli embassy. There were only two persons in front of the embassy but people started to gather as time passed. First they said five were killed but later reports put the number at 20. My son and I knew Uğur was among the killed, because my husband was a very brave man who disregarded danger. He was a very different person… He was kind of a person who would sacrifice his life and he did it indeed…
You flew to Israel in an ambulance aircraft to get your husband. Did you meet Israeli authorities? What happened there?
We were met by embassy staff and went to the hospital where Uğur was with Turkish doctors who accompanied us. “We will see Mr. Söylemez first and get information about his condition. Then we will let you see him,” the doctors said. I went inside with my son to see my husband. They were saying Uğur’s condition was critical and he could be lost any time, so it was very risky to take him to Turkey. I was very troubled that my husband was in the hands of Israelis. I discussed the situation with my son and we decided to bring my husband to Turkey no matter what. They made us sign some documents for the transfer and told us they would not take any responsibility. In response I said “Did you accept any liability when you shot him that you do not now?”
Supposing that Mr. Söylemez recovered from the coma tomorrow morning, did you ever think, what would be the first thing he did?
We sometimes talk about it and I am sure he would want to go to Palestine again if he came out of coma. He would do it without hesitation.
Mrs. Söylemez, is there anything you would like to add?
The events we went through made us more mature. We were not aware of many things before. You understand the life in Palestine better when you experience it personally. You understand families of martyrs and the wounded there better. The families of the activists killed and wounded on board Mavi Marmara should not be forgotten. All Muslims should support them in their hearts.
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