GeriGündem What you need to know about Turkey Mr President
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What you need to know about Turkey Mr President

What you need to know about Turkey Mr President
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ISTANBUL - Turkey is not just misunderstood. The country is also misunderstood incorrectly. Or so goes a word game popular among Turks from all walks of life when the topic turns to how the country is perceived internationally.

If the topic is history, Turks lament the fact few foreigners know of Piri Reis, the Ottoman cartographer who produced a map of South America before the Spanish conquistadors did. If the issue is contemporary rights for women, the fact they were voting here before most of continental Europe is something we are inclined to share with visitors. Or how about the detail of the airplane factory that was exporting to Germany back in the 1930s.

So in light of a presidential visit, the Daily News decided that it would be interesting to ask a number of prominent Turks their opinion of Obama’s visit and what they think the U.S. president might not have known before his arrival Sunday night - but might be helpful now that he is an old Turkish hand.

Five people were chosen from various segments of society: İshak Alaton, Ömer Bolat, Zeynel Abidin Erdem, Salim Uslu and İlter Turan. Their opinions are as follows.

İSHAK ALATON - Board Chairman, Alarko Holding

Mr. President,

You probably don't know that:

1-Women at the time of Atatürk in the Turkish Republic obtained the right to vote in Parliament in 1936, much earlier than in many Western European countries.

2-Security in Turkish society is far better than in all U.S. cities. Aggression on the streets of Istanbul or İzmir or any other Turkish city is a small fraction of the criminal cases in Washington or New York or any other U.S. city.

3-There are over 50,000 migrant Armenian workers from Armenia, mainly in Istanbul, who are working illegally, while the police willingly turn a blind eye. That Fethiye Çetin's recent book ''My Grand Mother'' may have done more for enhancing empathy among Turks and Armenians than any other political act.

4-Iranians can travel to Turkey without a visa, and hundreds of thousands of Iranians take their summer vacation in Turkish resorts.

5-The oldest American institution of higher education outside the United States is in Istanbul, and has seen several thousands of liberal Turks graduate from there in over a century.

6-Mary, Jesus' mother, is buried in Turkey on a hill close to the port of İzmir. Santa Claus, patron of Christmas festivities, was born in southern Turkey.

7-Alexander the Great broke the Gordion's knot in Gordion, which is now Ankara. There was a prophecy that the leader who would break Gordion's knot would conquer Asia. Maybe President Obama should bring a good solid sword.

SALİM USLU - HAK-İŞ (Labor) Confederation General President

In terms of Turkey-U.S. relations it is very important that U.S. President Barack Obama has included Turkey in his first extensive foreign policy tour after he was elected. The reason is that Turkey is a model country carrying out successfully the reconciliation and political dialogue process in undertaking and fulfilling its responsibility within the international scope. Turkey, in its region, on the contrary to the experiences in the Middle East, Balkans and the Caucasus, is a source of peace and stability. Turkey, from energy to security, is the most significant actor in the region. It is a country undertaking its responsibility in the international scope up to Herzegovina and alliance of civilizations. Due to his visit, what should Barack Obama know about Turkey can be listed as follows:

1-Turkey is a country of tolerance: Turkey is a country that has experience of multiculturalism coming from history, connections with a very wide geography and hosted various civilizations on its lands. Turkey is aware that communication between different cultures is possible, necessary, useful and enriching. For this reason conflicts between cultures have not been experienced in Turkey from past to present, different civilizations lived together in peace. Turkey’s contemporary, secular and democratic identity creates a suitable base on which different cultures can live.

2-Turkey is a junction of immigration: Turkey is located at the junction point of Europe and Asia. It is a country that receives immigration from all of its neighbors primarily Iran and Iraq due to its geographic location and tolerant environment and democratic climate. Turkey is a country that has accepted everyone who ran away, due to economic and political reasons, from the authoritarian administrations that existed in their countries. Because Turkey is a tolerant country that has been a cradle for many civilizations through many ages and which can open its arms to all differences.

3-Turkey is a country attempting to resolve its problems by itself: Turkey is a country trying to solve its economic, social and cultural problems on its own and it has achieved stability. In recent years it has been a country designing by itself the conversion projects that it has been carrying out primarily in urbanization, energy and transportation (ground, air and railways) and vitalizing them, as well as planning what to do, how and when.

4-Turkey has been developing its own social model: Even Turkey does not have a determined strategy. Changes and conversions in the economic structure shall create such a model. As a matter of fact, Turkey’s EU project is a change and conversion project. It is a project to upgrade Turkey into the first league towards democracy and rule of law. EU Project is a project giving the chance to be a contemporary society for Turkey. It has been implementing this project successfully.

5-Turkey is a significant center of attraction with its young population. Turkey is a significant country with its young and dynamic population structure and labor potential. In Turkey the non-institutional civil population is 70.5 million people as of December 2008. The non-institutional working age population is 50.3 million people. Of the total labor market 22.3 percent consist of young people between 15 and 24 years old. Turkey has been involved in work that includes proactive employment measures toward the young population, vocational training reform, incentives, to encourage entrepreneurship, providing new training and labor harmonization services to the young people who have completed their education and widening vocational knowledge, guidance and consultancy services.

Dr. ÖMER BOLAT - Former President, Independent Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (MÜSİAD)

First of all, I would like to welcome the newly elected president of the United States, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama. We, the Turkish people, like to host visitors, with particular attention given to foreign guests. This visit bears significant meanings. Before anything else, Obama is a historic figure as he is the first black president of the United States in its relatively short history of 230 years.

As the first black president, Obama is the descendent of people who were denied basic human rights and treated as slaves up until 40 years ago. It is even more exciting that his father was an African Muslim. After the devastating legacy of George W. Bush, who was probably the worst president in U.S. history, inflicting distress and damage on the Islamic world and causing, with his economic policies, the greatest crisis in 70 years in his own country and the entire world, Obama's election was celebrated with joy and enthusiasm. If other nations of the world were to vote, Mr. Obama would win a sweeping victory.

In light of these facts, Obama's mission is both easy and difficult. It is easy because the legacy he inherited is so awful that the improvements and progress he will achieve in the economy, in foreign policy and in relations with the Islamic world will yield very positive results. But expectations are high for President Obama to correct all these mistakes. If the improvements come slowly and late, the hope and enthusiasm around Obama may quickly deteriorate.

Obama's visit to Turkey is very significant and meaningful. First, Obama's inclusion of Turkey in his first European tour on the occasions of the G20 summit in London and the NATO summit in Strasbourg is an indication that he recognizes the rising potential and importance of Turkey on the international stage.

Obama is the first U.S. president to visit Turkey within the first two and a half months of his presidency. He is also paying his first visit to a Muslim country after beginning his term. Hence, the talks he is holding in Turkey and the messages he is giving have been awaited with great interest throughout the world, particularly in Islamic countries.

President Obama and his team should be aware of one thing: The Turkish people are not biased against any country. Our national character is that we respond to friendship from countries and nations with even more friendship, and respond to hostility with even more.

During the Cold War era, Turkey and the United States were in the same axis, as they are members of NATO, and the U.S. had a relatively positive image in Turkey. However, as NATO and the Western alliance identified Islamic countries and the rise of Islamic values as the new threat after the end of the Cold War, the image of the U.S. in particular, and Western nations in general, was tarnished terribly in Turkey and other Islamic countries.

Both Turkish people and the Islamic world may soften against the U.S. if they get the following messages from President Obama during his visit to Turkey:

1-Obama and the new U.S. administration should declare that they will adopt an approach in the Palestine-Israel conflict that will put an end to the cruel economic and military assaults of Israel on Palestinians. No one expects the U.S. to terminate its relationship with Israel as an ally. But the U.S. can pursue a new and more balanced policy that recognizes and supports an independent Palestinian state.

2-In both its discourse and its practices, the Obama administration must convince the Islamic world that it does not target its nations and values.

3-Given that the U.S. is alleged to have encouraged and incited past coups in Turkey, Obama should declare that the U.S. will now prefer and support a libertarian, democratic and pluralist administration and respect the will of the Turkish people at the ballot box. This will prevent new coup attempts in Turkey. In this regard, as the best example of Islamic values expressed in a pluralist democratic administration, Turkey can play a positive and important role between West and the Islamic world and be a guarantee of peace in the whole Eurasian region.

4-The Turkish people expect President Obama to say that he will oppose the resolution in the U.S. Congress about the so-called Armenian issue and that the issue is best left for historians to discuss.

5-The Turkish people expect Obama to demonstrate that he has the leadership, strong capacity, applicable solutions and instruments to take the U.S. and the world out of the economic crisis, the worst seen in 70 years.

6-The Turkish people expect President Obama to openly reject the quest for a New World Order with a single superpower or a bipolar world order, and that he will work for his term to be a peaceful, blissful, libertarian, equalitarian one based on mutual respect and welfare for everyone.

Only then will Turkey, and Islamic countries and peoples of oppressed countries, believe that Obama's election as the new U.S. president is a real revolution. Otherwise, it will be understood that the Obama revolution is empty substance-wise, although it was exciting at the beginning. I believe that Obama is aware of this fact, and of expectations on him and the challenges that await him.

Prof.Dr. İLTER TURAN - Professor of Political Science, Bilgi University

Obama may not appreciate the following:

1-The strong sense of injustice that Turks feel over Israel’s stand on the Palestine issue.

2-Turkey has been at peace with Iran for some 400 years and wants that to continue.

9-The historical baggage that Turkish foreign policy carries such as the issue of minorities and how Western powers dismembered the Ottoman Empire through mobilizing client groups by promising them autonomy, independence, etc. in return for their cooperation in paralyzing the Ottoman State.

4-The Turkish side of Armenian claims of genocide and rival accounts of the "massacre."

5-How strongly the Turks feel about Cyprus or how the Turkish position has been influenced by Greek Cypriot policies of extermination against the Turks before and during the earlier years of independence

6-Turkey has failed to develop competency in dealing with situations outside of governments, for example with contingencies that involve other political actors in addition to formal agencies of government, lobbies being the prime example.

7-The sensitivity toward secularism in Turkish political elites.

Dr. ZEYNEL ABİDİN ERDEM - President, Erdem Holdings

Things Obama doesn’t know about Turkey:

1-The history of Turkish-American relations is longer than 60 to 70 years. It began in the 19th century and continues to this day.

2-The first Ottoman-English dictionary, Redhouse, was printed in 1861.

3-The American Hospital began operating in Istanbul in 1920.

4-In 1863, Robert College, the first American college established outside the country, was opened. After that, Uskudar American, Tarsus and İzmir colleges were all established.

5-Istanbul was the capital of three separate historical empires: the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

6-Istanbul is a mosaic of beliefs: Muslims, Jews, Christians, Assyrians, Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, mosques, churches, synagogues, mausoleums, graves, sacred springs, saints’ tombs, elders, saints, lodges, Alevi community centers, Koran courses... Sacrifices are cut, spells cast out and charms written; the cross is thrown into the Bosphorus. While church bells are rung, the call to prayer is sounded. At the same moment, in the holy places, the Torah, the Bible and the Holy Koran are read. The Bible is read in the churches in Greek, Latin, Armenian, Arabic and Turkish.

7-In Turkey, there is a city in which the representatives of seven separate languages and religions live in peace - the city of Mardin.

8-The Ottoman Empire ruled on three continents for 622 years. Turkey is a secular and democratic state that the grandchildren of the Ottomans would feel proud of.

9-At the time of the Gulf War, Turkey opened its embrace to 500,000 Iraqi Kurdish citizens who took refuge here and were provided with food, shelter and health services for one year.


Editor's Note: The preceding story was updated on April 8, 2009 to reflect the following correction which was published in the print version of  Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review: A story on April 7, 2008 incorrectly identified the tomb as that of Saint Mary Magalene, historically said to be a close friend of the prophet and a disciple. Mary, usually referred to by Christians as the "Virgin Mary" or the "Mother of God," was the mother of the prophet Jesus Christ and is buried near the Aegean city of Izmir. The Daily News regrets the error.


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