The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way (Psalm 37:23).
It’s not often that accidentally dropping your hat at a public event leads to a trip to Athens, Greece. But that’s exactly what happened to award-winning author David Kitz.Kitz was attending Ottawa Member of Parliament, Andrew Leslie’s 2017 New Year’s levee, when he dropped his hat near the coat check.
“Suddenly, I felt a light tap on my back as a gentleman handed me my hat,” Kitz recounts.
“You dropped this,” the gentleman offered.
“A discussion followed and I discovered that this man, Omer Livvarcin, had a few months earlier fled Turkey following the coup attempt.”
Livvarcin explained, “I was a high-ranking officer in the Turkish navy, but following the coup everyone in the military was under suspicion. My wife’s private school in Ankara was shut down and all the teachers were dismissed. Life was becoming very difficult for us. Many of our friends were arrested. We were sure we would be next. That’s why we fled to Canada.”
After that chance meeting, Kitz and Livvarcin kept in touch. “I was troubled by the news coming out of Turkey,” Kitz explained.
In early June of this year that interest in Turkish refugees led to a call from former MP and cabinet minister, David Kilgour. Two months earlier Kilgour had been on a fact-finding mission to Athens with US members of Congress. Kilgour described the human rights abuses of the Turkish Erdogan regime as “absolutely deplorable.”
Kilgour was asked to make a return trip to Athens to advocate for the Turkish refugees stranded there, but prior commitments made that trip impossible. That’s when he called on David Kitz to go in his place.
“The four-day trip was a real eye-opener,” Kitz states.
He explains, “The Turkish refugees fell into three broad categories: journalists, teachers and intellectuals.”
“The first interview was with a senior level journalist with Zaman, the biggest daily newspaper in Turkey. In 2013, Zamon reported that truckloads of armaments were crossing from Turkey into Syria in support of ISIS fighters. The Erdogan government’s response was swift. The newspaper’s assets were seized and the journalists were arrested.
“The next day we met with a university professor and engineer, Yunus Karaca. Karaca patented an award-winning system for separating glass, metal and plastics for municipal recycling. Yet despite numerous accolades including from NASA, his career has been stifled. His passport was cancelled by the Turkish authorities, and fearing arrest, he fled with his young daughter to Greece.”
But the most gripping interviews were with teachers, some of whom were imprisoned for a year or more with as many as 28 men crammed into a cell.
The leader of a teachers’ union told Kitz that the 30,000 members of his union lost their jobs, and then they were systematically arrested and imprisoned for being members of a terrorist group.
Families have been wrenched apart. They live in dread of police arriving at their door. Many are in hiding. To escape they make a dangerous night-time crossing by river into Greece.
Kitz states, “Their stories affected me deeply. I returned to Ottawa with a determination to raise awareness here and across Canada.”
As for Omer Livvarcin, he is a poster child for what an asylum-seeking refugee can bring to this country. After escaping with his family and little else, he now is a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. He heads up two projects doing research on artificial intelligence (AI).
“Canada opened its doors to me. Now I want to give back. By using AI in military procurement I believe we can design a process that can save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”
His second research project involves using AI to benefit the charitable and non-profit sector.
“Again,” Livvarcin states, “for me this is about gratitude—about giving back.”
You never can tell where unexpected events—like a failed coup or a dropped hat—might take you.