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Press Centre (12/2014)

A story of a new life, a new language: Azize from Latakia


Azize says: "I am happy living Mersin. It reminds me of Latakia. There are many things here that make me happy. I like watching movies more" @UNICEF/Turkey 2014/Yurtsever
MERSIN, Turkey, December 2014– Hers was a happy, peaceful, tranquil life — just like any other childs’. She used to lead a “normal” life with her mother, her father and her seven siblings. They had a house in both Latakia and in their village one and a half hours from the city.

Her father is a retired carpenter, her mother a housewife, and she has five sisters and two brothers. Some are married, some got jobs straight after high school while others went to university and earned degrees. Azize is the 7th child and will turn 24 in two months.

She was in her third year at Lattakia’s Tishreen University Department of Physics when the violence in her country intensified. Azize was pursuing her interests in science, technology and nuclear physics at university. She used to dreams about science in her country and for herself — she had her sights set on contributing to Syria through science.
She would host her financially struggling friends in Lattakia and tend to all their problems, all without realizing the day would come when she herself would stay at guesthouses.

A teary farewell to the homeland

As the conflict in Syria grew more heated day by day, worry took over her family and especially her mother. The family would talk seriously about moving to another country, most likely Turkey, as it is the closest neighbour.

Her eyes water with tears as she recounts the day her father announced his decision to move to Turkey: “I haven’t forgotten that day, nor will I ever. It was June 3th, 2012. We were all stressed out. I can’t help but cry each time I remember those moments.”

While her family and her siblings supported this decision, she ardently defended that they should stay in Syria, at least for a little more, so that she could enter her upcoming exams and finish her 3rd year. She distinctly remembers telling her father, angry and crying, “Take a good look at the walls of this house, father. You may never see them again. You will miss them so.” 

While her mother, sister and brother entered Turkey on June 6th, she and her sister stayed in Lattakia. After Azize completed her exams, they too set out on July 14th for Turkey, with their 93-year-old grandfather, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. After a long and tiring trip that started at 7am, they arrived at the Turkish border late afternoon, and despite their grandfather’s illness, they had to proceed on foot for a whole hour.

 “We were taking care of our grandfather. He was completely out of his mind. He would call my father ‘big brother.’ At the border, Turkish officials carried him on their backs, God bless them. That is another moment I won’t ever forget.” But unfortunately her old grandfather passed away on their second day at the tent city. “He was given a wheelchair. They say he stopped moving as he sunbathed. His mother was Turkish. My mother said maybe his home finally called for him,” says Azize.

Both student and volunteer teacher

Since she is a university student, Azize has voluntarily given physics and chemistry courses to the students in secondary school and high school level at the school established in Tent City. Also, she continued to take the Turkish language courses provided especially for Syrian students by Turkish Language Teaching, Application and Research Centre (TÖMER) with the support of UNICEF while she joined the classes in the Department of Physics of Mustafa Kemal University in Antakya as a special student.

In September, she completed her Turkish language education that she started with 40 other friends from the same camp on April 2013 and she received the certificate. “While I was a volunteer teacher at camp, I was at the same time a student in TÖMER. I have good memories in both places. That Turkish course was simply a step that animated us. We have spent six months at TÖMER and at the end of that time we would be happy to have another six months there with my friends. Besides bringing us books, our teacher was very attentive. He taught Turkish language with patience and encouraged us to learn. We will never forget him.” she said.

Saying that she was a bit familiar with Turkish language when she was in Syria, Azize shared that especially the suffixes were difficult to learn in Turkish. She said that she read Nasreddin Hodja Stories and Turkish newspapers at the beginning of the course and shared that her favourite Turkish singer is Mustafa Ceceli with these words: “His songs are very slow, smooth and easy to understand.

After getting her certificate, she was registered at Mersin University, Department of Nursing. Since she started her education in February 2014, long time after her classmates, she is getting the courses of the previous semester besides the current ones so as to catch up with the others. Though it is a tough process for her, she does not complain: “I convey my thanks to the Turkish Government for helping me continue my university education. Maybe this is the biggest opportunity that I have had in my whole life. I also give private courses at my leisure time. I teach my adult Turkish students Arabic. I also continue to give Physics and Chemistry courses to Syrian friends. I was planning to buy myself a laptop with the money that I earn but I first have to support my family.

New goal is to be a nurse…

Azize, the successful student, says that she feels very happy because she will be able to help injured or sick people through her profession. She aims to improve herself in her career in Ankara or İstanbul after graduation. Indicating that she and her friends have to work hard, she explains the reason with this sentence: “Just like Germany that was devastated in the Second World War, we too will help Syria recover from this bad situation and make a start from scratch.

About the people who cast aspersions on the Syrian, she says that one can never make generalisations about a nation as there can be good and bad people in every nation. “When I encounter such people, I draw a black point on a white paper and ask them what they see. Generally, they say that they see a black point. Upon this answer, I remind them about the rest of paper which is purely white but they make a fuss about that black point in this whole picture. This goes for the whole Syrian nation.”

So far, 2,046 students have enrolled in the Turkish language courses initiated with the cooperation of UNICEF, Ministry of National Education, AFAD (Prime Ministry Disaster & Emergency Management Presidency), Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities, Gaziantep University Turkish Language Teaching, Application and Research Centre (TÖMER) aimed for Syrian youth. This project was implemented with the funds of United States of America. 833 of these students have been entitled to receive a certificate, just like Azize.


Story and photos by Ayberk Yurtsever
UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org