Monday, 28 February 2011

Omar Mukhtar’s son sends greetings to the people of Turkey

28 February 2011, Monday / CUMALİ ÖNAL , BENGHAZI

Omar Mukhtar

In every city we visit in Libya, it is common to see slogans against Muammar al-Gaddafi written on the walls and, beneath them, the words “Grandchildren of Omar Mukhtar,” leader of the Libyan resistance movement against the Italians in the early 20th century.

As we travel through what’s left behind of the resistance in the streets of Benghazi, we wonder whether there are any surviving members of Omar Mukhtar’s family. Our taxi driver gives us a big surprise when he stops in front of a house.

Even before we can make sense of our whereabouts, a tall young man greets us and welcomes us in. We are taken to the son of Omar Mukhtar, who, in his old age, carries the majesty and pride of his father, in a big hall that is reminiscent of a convent.

All of a sudden, we feel we are in a scene of the famous film featuring well-known US actor Anthony Quinn as Omar Mukhtar.

Upon hearing that we are journalists from Turkey, 90-year-old Muhammad Omar Mukhtar sends his greetings to the Turkish people.

The Libyan flags from the pre-Gaddafi era, as well as photos of Omar Mukhtar, hang on the walls of the hall. Mukhtar (the son) says that he lends his support to the Feb. 18 revolution, the name given to the resistance in Libya, and adds, “A better future awaits our country.” We learn that his father had two daughters as well. Mukhtar cannot stand up without help and he chooses not to answer our question about what he thinks about Gaddafi. By doing so, he apparently follows in the footsteps of his father, a common hero for all the tribes of Libya, and plays a unifying role.

Although many tribes have formally declared that they are against Gaddafi, some tribes have not taken a clear stance. Some, including Gaddafi’s own tribe, Gadafa, side with Gaddafi.

He shows us a small box containing a dagger and a number of medals and badges, presented to him by Saudi and Yemeni leaders.

As the big question about the post-Gaddafi future of the country still lingers, people think Libya needs a new Omar Mukhtar.

As we were leaving from our meeting with Mukhtar, we found that the people of Benghazi are happy with the news that a major city, Misurata, has been seized by the resistance.

Around midnight, we visit Ali Davutoğlu, Turkey’s consul general in Benghazi, and he says that more than 8,000 Turks work in his area of responsibility and most of them have been evacuated. As noted by Davutoğlu, out of 25,000 Turks in Libya, more than 14,000 have been sent back to Turkey via airplanes or ships.