August 15, 2015

Couple offering wedding feast to Syrian refugees surprised by feedback

A Turkish couple who have made their way onto major newspapers around the world for spending their wedding day feeding 4,000 Syrian refugees in the southern province of Kilis on the Syrian border have said they never thought they would receive so much positive feedback for their action.

Fethullah and Esra Üzümcüoğlu, who tied the knot in Kilis last week, decided to use the money raised for their wedding to offer a wedding feast to 4,000 Syrians who fled the unrest in their country and took shelter in Kilis. The couple, in their wedding attire, personally took part in the delivery of meals to the Syrians that was made via Kimse Yok Mu, a Turkish charity which provides help to millions of people around the world.

The couple borrowed a truck from Kimse Yok Mu for the delivery of the meals.

"Aside from those in Turkey and from Syrians, we received messages of congratulations from various corners of the world. We never thought we would get so much interest," Fethullah Üzümcüoğlu said.

The news about the couple's wedding feast for Syrian refugees and photos from their wedding day quickly spread in national and international media outlets, drawing a lot of praise.

"I think we did what being a Muslim requires. We will continue with this useful act with which we made a bountiful start to our marriage," he said.

Esra Üzümcüoğlu said she has been very pleased with the positive reactions they received, adding that she hopes their action will set an example for other couples.

Fethullah Üzümcüoğlu also said he will encourage his relatives and friends to share their wedding parties with Syrian refugees.

"In this way, they will have made a good start to their married life. ... It is our duty to extend a helping hand to our sisters and brothers who fled their country four years ago and took shelter in our country. They are in need of even a simple bowl of soup," he said.

According to unofficial figures, there are 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and the UN said last month that almost 8 million people have been displaced within Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.

And a statement made by the Interior Ministry on Thursday showed that there are 1,905,980 registered Syrian refugees across Turkey's 82 provinces, with 262,134 of these people living in temporary shelters in 10 provinces.

The Turkish government was initially praised for its open-door policy towards Syrian refugees and its humanitarian work in its camps. However, complications have arisen since only 30 percent of the refugees live in the 22 state-run camps, and the government does not supply the rest who live outside the camps with shelter or food.

The idea to feed 4,000 Syrians on the day of their wedding came from the groom's father, Ali Üzümcüoğlu. Esra Üzümcüoğlu said she was initially very surprised about her father-in-law's idea. "I was very much surprised when I first heard about it. Now, I thank God for having done it," she said.

Esra Üzümcüoğlu, who is a volunteer of Kimse Yok Mu, also said she is very proud to be part of a charity like Kimse Yok Mu, which helps millions of people in need around the world.

Kimse Yok Mu, which is affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement and inspired by Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, is active in 113 countries. Along with many other Gülen-affiliated organizations, Kimse Yok Mu has also been under intense government pressure since a corruption scandal implicating senior members of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) went public in December 2013.

Despite strong denials from the movement, the government accuses it of masterminding the corruption probe in a bid to topple the government.

Since the AK Party's battle against the Gülen movement was launched, Kimse Yok Mu has faced many restrictions imposed by the government on its ability to campaign for donations.

Several pro-government media outlets are also carrying out a smear campaign, with publications accusing the charity of engaging in illegal fundraising despite a lack of evidence to that effect.

Ali Üzümcüoğlu said he was very pleased to have Kimse Yok Mu deliver meals to Syrian refugees on the day of his son's wedding.

"We hope this event sets an example for other people. Kimse Yok Mu added joy to our joy. May God be pleased with this organization and its employees for their charitable actions," he said.

Kimse Yok Mu President İsmail Cingöz, in remarks to Sunday's Zaman, said he was very moved by the idea of the Kilis couple to offer their wedding feast to the Syrian refugees in Kilis.

"On the foundation of their happy married life, this couple placed the happiness of 4,000 people who had to leave their country due to war and have forgotten how to be happy to a certain extent. I also want to offer my special thanks to the person behind this idea, this selfless action, the groom's father, who is also a Kimse Yok Mu volunteer. Happiness is the only thing that proliferates when shared. Let's share our happiness and let it proliferate, so we can feel others' happiness, too." Cingöz said.

Some Syrian refugees who joined the wedding feast of the Üzümcüoğlu couple told Sunday's Zaman that they were very happy over the self-sacrifice made by this couple.

One Syrian woman, Emine Elvaki, said it was an example of maturity for the young couple to think of Syrian refugees on their wedding day and she was very happy to share the couple's joy and always praying for them to have a long and happy life.

Another Syrian who attended the couple's wedding feast, Amir Hiyani, said the couple put a smile on the Syrian refugees' faces through their gesture. "Kimse Yok Mu offer us meals here every day. This couple sponsored the delivery of meals to us on their wedding day. We pray for both of them and for Kimse Yok Mu," he said.

Published on Today's Zaman, 15 August 2015, Saturday