by Seyma Ozsoy with Nenke Jongkind
What brought you here when you were doing well in your country?
Like every refugee, we have a story, a past. My husband was a very well-known person in Türkiye. He was an influential journalist. His columns and his speeches on television were very effective. He was a well-known professor in the scientific world. These features are sometimes good, but sometimes they make you a target. In the early 2000s, Türkiye’s fortunes were on the rise. Everything was going very well.
What happened then? What changed?
The party in power became very strong after the 2011 elections. The regime took the judiciary under party control and the government became intolerant of critical thoughts. Türkiye’s well-known intellectuals, journalists, and academics began to be arrested collectively. Leading figures of Kurdish politics and deputies were also imprisoned. The government ignored the criticisms from democratic countries. My husband was detained in 2015 for criticizing the government on television. Supporters of the regime began to threaten death.
At the end of 2015, we first went to the United States. A few months later we came to Canada. If we hadn’t left the country, my husband and I would have been in jail. The government arrested and dismissed many journalists. They confiscated their passports and forbade them to leave the country. People drowned in the sea and river while trying to flee the country. They also began to arrest those who provided food aid to those who lost their jobs. We have just learned that in the aftermath of the recent earthquake, in which more than 50,000 people lost their lives, aid was not delivered to the earthquake victims who were known to be anti-government.
What upset you the most when you left the country?
Coming here, of course, does not mean that everything is going well. You are leaving behind a great past. Because of the fear of the regime in Türkiye, my parents, brother, relatives, friends, and neighbors, with whom we lived side by side for years, cut off all communication with me. They did not answer our phone calls or e-mails. In the end, you don’t have yesterday, and your tomorrow becomes uncertain.
What challenges did you face here and how did you overcome them?
The most important problem waiting for you when you go to a foreign country is the language barrier. Members of our family are all open-minded. We did not encounter any problems with cultural differences. We prioritized improving our language and did not miss any opportunity in this regard. This is how we met Robert and Nenke who have now become family friends. A coffee we had together at the Community Café laid the foundation for a lasting friendship. Thanks to them, we found a new social network. They introduced us to Joanne, the organizer of the University in the Community (UitC), the adult education program initiated by the WEA, the publisher of this newspaper. We participated in UitC for five years without interruption and made very valuable friends. Later, the Humanities for Humanity program we attended further expanded our social circle. In the closing session, they gave me the privilege to speak on stage. I am grateful to all of them.
You are an artist and a very good cook. Have you been able to pursue your talents?
I was very active in traditional handicrafts in my country. We produced works in the field of traditional arts such as tile art, silver wire breaking (the art of embroidering silver fabric and tulle), and wood painting. These were displayed and sold at important events. I was a sewing professional. After a visit to the Textile Museum of Canada (https://textilemuseum.ca) with UitC, I became a volunteer there. The works we produce at the museum are also exhibited and sold.
Community centres work very actively in this country. Thanks to them, we became aware of many events. I have an Early Childcare Assistant certificate from Mothercraft Society College. I attended Newcomer Kitchen programs and events to get to know world cuisine and improve myself in this field. I participated in cake decorating programs. I received certificates in all of them. My friends tease me because there is not enough space to hang all the certificates on the walls of my house!
Thank you to everyone who has embraced us.
Seyma Ozsoy immigrated to Canada in 2016. Nenke Jongkind, who interviewed Seyma for this article, immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands as a young girl in 1953. Her first home was at 537 Broadview Ave. Toronto. Both Seyma and Nenke are members of the University in the Community.
If you, or someone you know, would like to register for a future University in the Community course, we’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org . UitC receives support from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science. The program is free of charge.