In 7 Gifts

Story of Peace- Empathy

Hello Ally,

Welcome to your first gift of the week – the gift of empathy. 
Today we share with you a Story of Peace.

On March 15 2019, news was broadcasted across the world sharing the chilling recount of the mass shootings at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, taking 51 lives and leaving many people in New Zealand, Australia and around the world in fear and anguish. One year after the shootings, Serdar Durdyev agreed to share his survival story with journalist Kavita Bedford for All Together Now’s Stories of Peace project. Mentioned below are the snippets from his story shared for the very first time. (6 mins read)

Serdar Durdyev was one of the patrons at the Al Noor Mosque during the shootings and one of the fortunate few that kept his life and walked away unharmed. It began with a morning that felt like any other. After waking from a bad dream, Serdar Durdyev went about his morning routine as anyone would. What unfolded through the rest of it, would become the most traumatic experience of his life, things that nightmares in reality are made of. He would become the victim of a vicious hate crime and terrorist attack.

Photo by : Wikipedia (left) & The Guardian (right)

What we know now is that the Christchurch attacks were a result of islamophobia, racism and white supremacy. The man who stole the lives of many Muslim people made every attempt for the public to view the horrors he was inflicting with the intention of making his actions about his cause. There was no thought for the victims as human beings, as parents, children, partners and friends – just numbers. Last year, in defiance of this man’s plan, our priority at All Together Now was to bring you the stories of each Muslim victim, to say their names, to honour their lives or to tell their stories of hardships and recovery. As Jacinda Ardern so eloquently put,

“He sought many things from his act of terror but one was notoriety, that is why you will never hear me mention his name.”

We too will not share his name, but instead will offer you a story of peace and a glimpse into a survivor’s experience, his life and his thoughts and opinions about the attacks.

One year after the shootings, Serdar Durdyev agreed to share his survival story with journalist Kavita Bedford for All Together Now’s Stories of Peace project. For this, he would recount the chilling incident that changed his life forever. Mentioned below is his full story shared for the very first time. 

Kavita describes Serdar Durydev –  a civil engineer by trade – as someone whose speech is filled with physics analogies and rationalist sensibilities. He starts his story by recalling his dream on the morning of the attack, describing the sensation of being locked up in a box, suffocating with the weight of another body on top of him. Hours later he manages to survive the Al Noor mosque attack by hiding and crouching on the rim of a temporary partition that separated him from the gunshots, saving his life. He describes the agony of holding on for as long as he could behind the partition, wedged between that and the wall, waiting in fear for the shooting to stop. The similarity to the feeling in his dream and the experiences that followed, still feel to him more than just a coincidence and defies his generally logical behaviour. 

Photo by : BBC NEWS

Serdar recalls watching a man who was hiding close to him, who decided to make a run for it, only to be shot down, before he could escape. When the shooting stopped and Serdar finally heard the police, he walked out of the mosque still barefoot after taking his shoes off for prayer. The police were able to confirm that Serdar was there only days later when his pair of Adidas sneakers were found outside the mosque. He was notified at the same time as the public, as to why the shooter decided to target the Muslim community. 

To live through the hours – waiting for your life to be spared – is something one can imagine only from a distance. Each survivor to deal with the trauma that follows, so differently. The feeling of knowing that your community was targeted with such hatred because of their religious beliefs – a fearful reality for minorities. What is so empowering in Durydev’s story, is his brave and conscious choice to continue striving to live a “normal life”  inspite of his experience.

“I still go to the (Al Noor) mosque. Because you cannot be in fear and you never know what is going to catch you. Even now, with the coronavirus fear spreading through the news, you don’t know. You can’t escape the bullet on which your name is written. It may be in Al Noor Mosque, or it may be somewhere else. This is why I go to the same mosque.” 
Serdar Durydev – Survivor of Christchurch Attacks

Photo by : unsplash.com

He says that one year later he has worked through things, and he is not angry. Serdar offers his insight with a focus on resilience and love. His thoughts on the attacks and the motive behind them are confrontational and humbling.

“I don’t like this word, islamophobia. What is the root cause of this problem? I believe it starts with racism. And this kind of person is not just Islamophobic, he is phobic to many people. It is fear and racism. It’s not about Islam. It’s about learning to accept others, without limiting yourself to the appearance of others.”
Serdar Durydev – Victim of Racism & Islamophobia.

Serdar chooses to view the attacks and his trauma from a perspective that many would not have the strength to do. In doing so he takes away as much power as he can from the man who murdered his community to focus instead on the people that were and are around him.

“Newton said, every action has a reaction. This man’s action has had consequences and will not disappear. But I am trying to be responsible for my own reactions and to live a life without anger or despair. That would eat me up, and give more power to what happened.”
Serdar Durydev – Father, Husband, Physics Professor. 

With a few moments of quiet reflection his words will stay with you to give you the strength to empathise with not just Serdar but muslim communities around the globe. With his permission, we share with you Serdar Durydev’s Story of Peace for the very first time.

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