Legislative Report 8/9/2012 - A Visit to Modern Turkey

To celebrate the opening of the Turkish Cultural Center in Vermont, a display of Turkish culture was held in the Cedar Creek Room of the statehouse in April.  Samples of Turkish food were provided and examples of Turkish art, music and products were displayed.  In addition, the Turkish Cultural Center in Boston offered to sponsor one or more trips to Turkey subsidized by the Council of Turkic American Associations.  After weighing the costs and obtaining information about the itinerary and agenda, nine members of the legislature, including myself, decided to go. 

The itinerary included several days in Istanbul, a trip to the province of Izmir with a side trip to Ephesus, a day in Ankara, a few days in Cappadocia, and then back to Istanbul for the last two days.  Our schedule ran from 9 AM until at least 9 PM every day.  While we visited many tourist sites, including archaeological ruins, bazaars, museums, mosques and churches, we also visited businesses, high schools, a university, and the Turkish Parliament.  We met with businessmen, educators, a member of Parliament, a diplomat in the foreign office responsible for relations with the U.S. and Canada, and the mayor of a town in Istanbul with a population about the size of Vermont’s.  We presented the mayor with a letter from Burlington’s mayor, Miro Weinberger, establishing a sister-city program with the town of Umraniye.

So, you may be asking, “What was the agenda of the sponsors?  What were their expectations of us?”  The answer to those questions requires a review of the history of the Turkish Republic since it was established in 1923 as well as some analysis of the current political situation in Turkey.  However, the brief answer lies in the wish of Turkey to be recognized as a moderate and modern Islamic republic that has strong ties to the West and wishes to be both a model for emerging Middle Eastern democracies and an intermediary between them and the West.  It also lies in an understanding of the Gulen Movement, which has had a significant influence on Turkish politics for the last decade. 

The movement draws its inspiration from the teachings of the Islamic cleric and philosopher Fethullah Gulen, currently a resident of Pennsylvania since moving to the U.S. in 1999 for medical treatment.  The philosophy of the movement, which includes clerics, politicians, business people and educators, centers on the principles of tolerance, dialog, science and education within an Islamic tradition.  Turkey currently has the second fastest growing economy in the world, a 9.6% growth rate, just behind China, and they want the world to know that Turkey is open for business.  As a testament to its growth, Turkey has repaid its $23B debt to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and contributed another $5B.

To be honest, the Gulen Movement has had its critics in Turkey, and our party of thirteen (which included some non-legislators) expressed some skepticism and our own critique of the movement and of Turkish policy toward the Kurdish minority and the Armenian genocide issue.  Both topics were discussed freely, and our hosts listened to and answered our questions.  They acknowledged the problems and described steps that have been taken both officially and unofficially to deal with these issues in a spirit of dialog and reconciliation, including increased access to Kurdish-language education and media.  The Armenian issue is likely to continue being a sticking point in Turkey’s international relations, however.

I was proud and privileged to represent Vermont, albeit on a semi-official basis, in Turkey.  I have arranged to do a travelogue presentation of my trip on October 3rd at the Charlotte Senior Center.

I am also looking forward to seeing many of you in person as I campaign for re-election.  I have worked hard for you in Montpelier, and I hope you will support me this year.  You can contact me by phone at 425-3960 or email me at myantachka.dfa@gmail.com.