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Turkish immigrants eager to flex their new liberties

May 07, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - Persecuted and discriminated against in his native Russia, Nariman Badirov says he would not have been allowed to enroll in college.

Now a Hagerstown resident, the 21-year-old who is Turkish, attends Hagerstown Community College and is active on the school's soccer and track teams. Badirov is a refugee from Russia, and his family is one of nearly 50 Turkish families living in the Hagerstown area.

Mustafa Sefik, president of the Association of Intercultural Dialogue, said his organization helps refugees like Badirov, who often enter the United States unable to speak English.

"We didn't know our ABCs ... nothing," said Muzaffar Suleymanov, an 18-year-old Turkish student at HCC who came to Hagerstown in 2005 from Russia.

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Sefik said the association assists the immigrants with job searches, opening bank accounts and other immediate needs, and also stresses the importance of education. An event Sunday at Hagerstown Community College offered a group of about 50 Turkish immigrants information about higher education at HCC and other area colleges.

Gretchen Liebl, the adviser of the college's international studies club, which helped organize the event with Sefik's group, said the orientation was also a way to welcome the Turkish community to the area and help them feel comfortable at HCC and Washington County.

The event included tours of the campus and several guest speakers, followed by a reception.

HCC has about four Turkish students, and five more are expected to enroll in the fall, Sefik said.

Sefik said when he first came to Hagerstown in 2004, there were only four Turkish-American families living here, and now there are 48. The Association of International Dialogue began operating in 2006, and the nonpolitical nonprofit has an office at 16 W. Franklin St. in Hagerstown.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II was scheduled to be at Sunday's event, but had to cancel due to illness, according to a speaker.

Suleymanov and Badirov said they were told Sunday that education is important, and that they can achieve a lot with a college degree. In Russia, they were discriminated against because of their Turkish ancestry, and would have been restricted from doing many things.

In the United States, they said, the possibilities for them are limitless.

"Nobody (in the United States) cares where you are from," Suleymanov said.

Suleymanov said he would like to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., after he completes courses at HCC, and he wants to go into law enforcement. Badirov said he would like to study physical education.

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