WHO IS MEHMET OZDUZEN?
÷zdŁzen, our father, was born in Adıyaman in 1927 during very
difficult times for the young Turkish Republic. At the time Adıyaman
was a small, backward southeastern Turkish hamlet that was
administratively tied to the province of Malatya. Mehmetís father (our
grandfather) was a merchant, his mother a housewife. The fact that he was
the first born as well as the first male-born child of his family would
play a great role in his future education and life. He was a very
successful pupil in grade school, now using the new Turkish alphabet that
was adapted in 1928.
finished school at the top of his class earning him free middle-school
education in one of the large cities of the country like Ankara. But his
father wanted young Mehmet to follow his footsteps and become a merchant.
He therefore didnít want Mehmet to get further education. As it was,
Mehmet had already more education than his father! Since his father
didnít want Mehmet to get further education, the student who was second
in his class took up his spot. But our father wanted to get an education
so unbeknownst to his father he took the exam for Malatya Teacherís
school and registered after passing the test. His father agreed to send
his son to school grudgingly. One of the anecdotes of our father, about
the school days was the means by which he visited home during holidays.
Since public transportation was nil at the time, he and his friends used
to transverse nearly half of the distance on foot. This meant walking
nearly 100 km.
of his recollections from his teaching school days has to do with the
visit of the Turkish Minister of Education. During
this visit the minister incorrectly (intentionally) solves a math problem
on the blackboard of our fatherís class. Our father catches the mistake,
which prompts the minister to invite him to the blackboard to solve the
problem correctly. Mehmet, with wobbly knees obliges the minister. The
minister is so impressed with this that he sends an invitation to have him
continue his education at governmentís expense. This invitation is also
rejected by his father.
finishing teacherís school, our father is appointed as a grade school
teacher in the Kahta hamlet of Malatya. Since very few in the region could
read or write, or even speak Turkish, Mehmet learned Kurdish to better
communicate with his pupils as well as their parents. This resulted in
having him establish very warm relations with the communities he was in.
After about seven years, he was appointed as a teacher to Cumhuriyet grade
school in central Adıyaman. Even after coming to Adıyaman, our
father maintained his friendship with the people of the villages he had
been in. We, his children, remember many visitors from far away villages.
seven years later, when he was about 32, Mehmet became the principal of
AtatŁrk grade school in Adıyaman where he worked until he took an
early retirement in 1971. (Adıyaman became a province center in
1954.) Even after he retired, people who saw him on the streets called him
ďhocamĒ (my teacher). In fact, until he died in 1999, this was the
term most often used when addressing him.
got married to our mother, Ayşehan, in 1947. Finding him a suitable
wife became the next priority for our father after he gained a profession,
a way of making a living. During those days boys and girls didnít mingle
socially, leaving the search for a mate to the father of the male side.
(The woman usually didnít have anything to say if her father accepted
the offer.) So it wasnít unusual for our grandfather to start the
process for our father as well.
the luck may have it, one day a report comes to my grandfather that there
is a very nice looking woman dancing at a nearby wedding ceremony. Our
grandfather quickly puts our father into a shador (a black wrap that women
wear when going out) to have him watch her from a rooftop. Our father
likes what he sees, informs his father, who in turn visits the womanís
family to propose, on his sonís behalf, to her father. They get married
marriage that lasted 52 years (until his death in 1999) produced six
children, three girls and three boys. The second child, the first girl of
the couple died in the village when she was 9 months old. The first male,
Ahmet Sabri, who was born in 1949 died in a traffic accident in 1985. We
werenít around to gauge his sorrow when our father lost his first
daughter, but we were around when we lost our brother. Overnight our
father lost a lot of his energy and zest. Seeing his sonís crushed body
was a hug blow to him on top of the blow of losing a loving son. One of
our fatherís legacies was his tireless effort on behalf his children as
well as others, to make life more comfortable for them. This was manifest
when he took his dead sonís two children under his wings becoming a
father to them as well as a grandfather.
all that he could for significant people in his life was a way of life for
him. Even after he retired, he would take many trips to Ankara on behalf
oh his family and friends trying to follow their affairs in the corridors
of government. During these trips he met many politicians. It was probably
these trips that moved him to become politically active soon after he
retired. Actually even before he retired he was involved in social
activities and charities. He was a member of the board of Adıyaman
Red Crescent (Turkish equivalent of Red Cross), for a period allowing him
to travel extensively throughout Turkey.
his true political life began after he retired in 1971. He was a member of
several center-right political parties. Although he was very religious, he
got dismayed by the extreme views of religious parties. This may have been
the reason why he was much less active politically towards the end of his
life. On several occasions he was at high enough position in various
parties to be considered as a candidate for the Turkish parliament,
however he refused to become a candidate because of family concerns. He
did, however continue helping people anyway he could, finding them jobs,
placing them in schools, or getting them into a hospitals. This legacy of
being a good- Samaritan still remains.
his life his biggest objective was the education of his family. He would
do anything in order to fulfill this dream. Of all his accomplishments,
probably the education of his children stands out as his biggest
achievement. Three of his five children got a higher education, a
tremendous accomplishment given the conditions in Adıyaman.
the latter years of his life our father devoted his energies to two causes
he loved. One was building a middle school with private money. He was on
the board of the foundation set to build such a school. This was one of
his favorite topics of conversation but unfortunately he passed away
without seeing this dream realized.
other passion was soccer, especially Adıyamanís soccer team on
whose board he served. In early 90s the Adıyaman team slowly
progressed from the amateur league to the Turkish 3rd League,
then to the 2nd. He was delighted with this success of the
team. The Adıyaman team was recently relegated back to the 3rd
division, a fact that, had our father been alive, would have been a
father and mother came to visit us in America (their two children Nezahat
and Nezihi) in 1997 for three months. Although
he was nearly 70, he displayed remarkable energy and social courage during
this visit. He would walk several miles to the stores where he would shop
and ďchatĒ with the help. This, despite the fact that he knew almost
no English. With his cheerful disposition and always smiling face, he
brought joy to his circle. To him language barrier didnít matter. In his
long dealings with human beings he had come to understand that human
connection overcomes any language-related barrier.
the happiest time he had in America was when he worked at the Turkish
exhibit during the Festival of Nations. Wearing şalvar (baggy pants)
for the first time in his life, he cheerfully stamped the ďfakeĒ visas
of school children. When he was reminded that only a handful of children
actually knew where Turkey was (or what it was for that matter) he replied
that even if he reached one kid that would be enough for him. A teacher
all his life, he had understood the worth of individuals; one gets to them
one at a time.
deeply miss our father not only because of his untimely death, also
because he was such an outstanding examples for us to follow. He was an
educator, an environmentalist, a person of impeccable honesty, and a lover
of people. He loved to travel, he loved to tell stories, but above all he
loved to learn new things. His greatest joy in his life was the latest
grandchild (he had six before the last one), a girl that was born in 1995.
Although our father died unexpectedly, in a traffic accident on December
26, 1999, we think that he still lives in his granddaughter. Our father, a
spiritual man, a lover of children, would have wanted nothing better.
Who is Nezihi Ozduzen???
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