I write this letter to you on the eve of your arrival in Turkey with a little advice. I write it as a native Syracusean and your fellow alumnus, as a fan of Scranton and Amtrak, an Obama/Biden supporter and most of all, someone appreciative of your candor and frankness during your years in the Senate. I have been living in Turkey for six years now and I find being a Turkish-American perhaps one of the easiest "hyphenated-Americans" to be.
As you know, Turkey is as diverse ethnically and culturally as the United States. A country of immigrants from far stretches of the Ottoman Empire, Turks come from all walks of life, in all shapes and sizes; have varying skin colors, religious beliefs, languages and dialects. However, for the first time in perhaps the entire history of the Republic of Turkey, Turks are united. Turkey was and continues to be a country as united following July 15 as the U.S. was following 9/11. Underestimating this unity is perhaps the worst mistake anyone can make.
In the weeks following the coup there have been many instances of miscommunication between the U.S. and Turkey. As someone who has tried to bridge the divide between the two nations, I find this incredibly frustrating. I will skip the miscommunication between officials and governments of both countries, I am sure you have been briefed on those instances. I would like to focus on the miscommunication between the people of Turkey and the U.S. government.
The coup-attempt in Turkey is the biggest thing that has ever happened in Turkey and one of the biggest things that has happened in the entire Middle East in the last century. A military coup put down by the people? Huddled masses, putting their lives on the line, yearning to breathe free? How very American. Nearly every Turkish citizen, whether they took to the streets on that fateful Friday night or not, whether they voted for the current government or not, was not about to have their votes and voice overturned by armed thugs dictating who would run their country for them. Bombing the parliament of Turkey, an attack on the very democratic institution which houses members of parliament from ALL political parties, was perhaps the most symbolic action those behind the putsch took.
You arrive in Turkey to a people frustrated by what they see to be lack of support by the U.S. for their noble actions and sacrifices during the coup. As one of Turkey's closest allies, Turks expected the U.S. would immediately show unwavering support for the elected government of Turkey, and maybe it did in private, but the public message was received too little too late. A message of congratulations to the people who saved their government by President Obama would have gone a long way in the aftermath of the coup.
Now nearly six-weeks later, your visit may do much to mend the cracks that have appeared in this relationship, but you need to speak to the people directly. These are a people descendant of an empire that gave military assistance to President Lincoln during the Civil War in an effort to put down the injustices of the Confederacy. This relationship was not built overnight but has seen some serious damage since the coup.
My advice would be to visit the families of those killed during the people's resistance against the coup. I had the opportunity to give my condolences to the families of several people who gave their lives standing up for their democracy and it made real their loss. Talk to the children left behind whose brave mothers and fathers made the ultimate sacrifice. Visit them as you would the servicemen and women who give their lives every day for the freedom of the U.S. Also, talk to those you feel are most in opposition to the Ankara. Ask them who they think is behind the coup. Ask them for evidence that they may have and listen to their stories. I feel you will be surprised by their answers.
The past is behind us, what can we do to help grow this relationship? Support Turkey now as it supported the U.S. in fighting evil empires and terrorists that threatened American democracy. The ball is in your court, Turkey-U.S. relations will be shaped for the foreseeable future by the actions you take during this trip. Godspeed.
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