A young University of Montana student has found himself volunteering countless hours of his time helping the parents of Diren Dede understand – in the most literal sense of the word – the trial of the man accused of murdering their son.
Emrah Karaman, 25, is originally from Hakkari, Turkey. He moved to Los Angeles in 2011, and moved to Missoula in April 2013 to pursue a master’s degree in business administration from UM.
Karaman has no direct ties to the Dede family and never met Diren Dede, the 17-year-old son of Turkish immigrants to Germany and an exchange student at Big Sky High School when he was shot by Markus Kaarma on April 27.
For the past two weeks, though, Karaman has been sitting in the front row alongside Dede’s mother Gulcin and father Celal as Kaarma stands trial for deliberate homicide.
Kaarma has pleaded not guilty, citing Montana’s “castle doctrine” law that allows homeowners to use deadly force if they feel threatened. Diren Dede was trespassing inside Kaarma's garage when he was shot.
“I just heard in the local news that there has been somebody shot, but there was no information about who he was,” Karaman recalled. “I think some friends got a hold of me from the university, who told me that person was from Turkey originally, just to give me kind of a head's up, you know, about what was going on. And after that some people around the community from Helena and Idaho, some people from the Turkish community, they all offered their help and I just met them basically, and I think they passed my number to the family there. And a person got a hold of me and asked me if I could assist them and, basically, I’ve been with them all along.”
Karaman whispers to Gulcin and Celal during court proceedings and accompanies them during lunch breaks. Dede’s parents live in Germany and are accompanied by German lawyers, but they have a difficult time understanding English.
“The father understands basic English, but the mother doesn’t understand at all,” Karaman explained. “So I’m having to translate in the court what is going on.”
Karaman has found that he has had to learn about the American criminal justice system on the fly.
“Another problem is that the system is kind of different here, it works differently,” he said. “We don’t have a jury in Europe or in Turkey. So I have to, from the beginning, the prosecutors will explain to me how it works and I translate it to them and during the court, I have to whisper most of the time, just basically tell them what’s being said, and during the recess I’m trying to explain the best I can.”
Estimating that he is 95 percent fluent, Karaman says he tries to translate everything he can.
“There are maybe times I can’t understand a word so I have to consult with either their lawyers or with the prosecutors to see what’s going on,” he said. “At first it was kind of confusing. But I think they have a good understanding at this point.”
Karaman said he isn’t getting paid to work as a translator.
“I’m just doing it on my own,” he said. “To me it is a duty, you know, because the way we were brought up, our personal values, our culture, we just like to help. That’s what I have been doing all along. If I was in their shoes, I believe they would do the same for me. If somebody needs my help, with good intentions asks for my help, I would help anybody. They could be from Missoula, could be from Germany, could be from Turkey.”
The Turkish culture differs from American culture in many ways, Karaman observed.
“Family is very different,” he said. “As I said, we were all always, even when we were far away from our families, we constantly communicate and help each other with problems. Our ties are kind of stronger I would say. We don’t move out of our houses on our own when we are 16 or 18. I guess you could call that independence. We are just as independent, but still connected to the family more.”
Still, Karaman said he loves the U.S. lifestyle and plans to live here permanently.
“It’s kind of a funny story,” he said. “I’ve traveled literally half of the world – Asia, South America, U.S., Europe – and Missoula is the first place that when I got here I liked it a lot. It feels like home when I’m here. But I’m finishing school soon. I’m going to move out of Missoula but I’m going to live in the U.S. I’m not planning on going back.”
The death of Dede hasn’t swayed Karaman from his high opinion of the U.S., but he says it has saddened him.
“I don’t want to say anything to badmouth American culture,” he said. “I love American culture. I have been a fan of it since the day I moved to this country. I love it. I wouldn’t say there is anything specifically bad about it. But it’s sad that this incident happened. The point we are trying to make is not because this person is from Germany or Turkey, but this could happen to anybody. This could have happened to a local kid from Missoula and we would have been just as sad, yes.”
According to Karaman, Dede’s parents have absorbed a lot since they’ve been here for the trial.
“Since they arrived in Missoula they are just fascinated,” he said. “From the people, from the locals. Even when they walk the streets, people are approaching them and giving their condolences. They are amazed. In a way, they are feeling the way their son felt when he first got here. He was just telling them all about it, how nice the people are here and how the community is and how great everything is and they are just living the same thing right now.”