My country is burning.
When the flames started to engulf the most precious parts of Turkey, I could only stand in front of the TV. I watched the smoke trump over what was once a home to thousands of trees and animals. It’s ironic how beautiful the flames look; the scorching red and yellow over the emerald sea. And then I heard the shrill cries of people and that scenery turned into a graveyard. Desperate for help, people did not even wait for firefighters to arrive. They ran into the flames themselves, not thinking for a split second about the danger. They had one goal in mind: rescue anything and everything.
These scenes fail to draw a realistic picture of the tragedy that Turkey and now other countries in the region have been going through. But how can you describe such a catastrophe? People lost their homes, herds and most importantly, loved ones. The government was unable and unwilling to save its citizens and natural resources. And meanwhile, the international community silently watched without any emotional and financial support. BBC News titled their IGTV video “Deadly wildfires threaten Turkey’s resorts.” Was the only disaster that tourists ended their vacations early?
Everyone deals with it differently. Some, including myself, start sharing as many infographics as possible. Does it make a difference? I don’t know. I receive a few texts of best wishes from friends across the world. Only a few. It is not the ignorance that breaks my heart, it is the negligence and the lack of empathy. Some delete their social media accounts, crushed by their desperation and the gravity of the news. Some continue their lives as if nothing happened, posting pictures from trips and parties.
My country is burning.
Every day we wake up to the news of another woman killed by an ex-lover, a husband or a stranger. The murderers stroll along the streets without any trace of guilt in their hardened souls. People blame the victims because they were together with the “wrong” type of men while the police let another entitled murderer free. How couldn’t they see it coming? It is the women’s job to be careful in a country like Turkey where the simplest piece of legislation that protects women against violence is deemed too progressive. Women’s right to live in itself is deemed too progressive. Their right to laugh or dress as they please can be a topic of discussion for days when the Istanbul Convention is abolished in less than an hour. My sister, who is only 16, comes to me and says, “I don’t want to live here anymore.”
I am burning. My eyes, my throat, my chest…
Perhaps we can replant the trees. It will take days, years, decades to renew the nature there, but with care and effort, flowers can re-flourish; animals can find shelter once again. But can we bring back the victims of femicide? Can we give back their lives that were cut so short because of a sick-minded man and a government that gave him permission? We can’t. Can we then explain to our young people that things will not always go so badly? Can I guarantee to my sister that she won’t be the next victim of those flames? I can’t.
As this gloom casts a shadow over everything I do, everything I say, everything I write these days, I can think of only one plea: Read, empathize and care. You can be from anywhere across the world, but this does not and should not justify the lack of attention. It is not just Turkey that is suffering from all these literal and figurative fires. Billions of people around the world are trying to make their voices heard as they struggle with hunger, eviction, floods, war and oppression. The list goes on but how many of these tragedies make it to big headlines is a mystery. How many of these have we actually heard of? How many of these have we attempted to change?
When I first came to Yale, I expected my fellow students to be more aware of problems around the world. In my op-ed “Why Choose Ignorance,” I emphasized the importance of getting informed about the culture, geography and politics of other countries. But I now realize it’s not a lack of awareness; it’s a lack of empathy. One could argue that if we cared so deeply about everything we read on the news, we would be paralyzed by our grief, or perhaps even desensitized. But it is a risk worth taking. Because if one more person cares, then one more person will attempt to find a solution.
Empathy is harder to fix than a lack of awareness precisely because it cannot be taught. We can talk about its importance all day, but in the end, it should be an eager and active decision by the individual, by you. You should try to put yourself in my position when you read “my country is burning.” You should imagine your town in flames, women killed while their murderers are at loose. Do you understand the pain now? Do you care? Do you burn?
SUDE YENILMEZ is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Her column, ‘Piecing Together,’ runs every other Thursday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.