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Unit 5:  The Turkish Lobby Dilemma in the United States as a Case Study

Unit 1:  Who are lobbyists & what motivates them?
Unit 2:  Turkey's image abroad
Unit 3:  History of Turkish communities worldwide & reasons for a weak Turkish lobby.

Unit 4:  National & ethnic interests: Anti-Turkey lobbies, misrepresentation of facts & defamation
Unit 5:  The Turkish lobby dilemma in the United States as a case study.
Unit 6:  Problems encountered by Turkish lobbies in the EU, Germany, France & worldwide.
Unit 7:  Current Turkish lobby issues & the role of public diplomacy.
Unit 8   What can be learned from powerful lobbies such as the Jewish/Pro-Israel lobby?
Unit 9   New approaches to educating & informing Turkish lobbying groups.
Unit 10  Media relations, advertising & professional communications skills.
Unit 11  Initiatives for individuals & public speaking.
Unit 12  Initiatives for communities, campaigns, & NGO'S.
Unit 13: Fund-raising, public relations, & what can be done domestically.
Unit 14: Turkish lobbies undergo a period of transition: The need to strengthen old & new leadership.
Unit 15: Long-term strategies & lobbying in the post-September 11 era.

I. OUTLINE FOR UNIT 5: The Turkish lobby dilemma in the United States as a case study.

    1. Why countries and ethnic groups lobby Washington.

        a. Disadvantages of the Turkish lobby.
        b. Funding campaigns and laws that regulate contributions and spending.

    2. Tensions within the U.S. political system. 

        a. The importance of coalition building for ensuring long-term policies that enhance stability and security.

II. EXERCISE, ACTIVITIES & PROJECTS ( See History of Orient www.silkroutes.net )

2006 USA-TURKEY Economic & Business Affairs / ATC Conference Topics


Hispanic lobby: Issues of concern to the & Hispanic Congressional Caucus & advocacy groups

African-American lobby: Issues of concern to the & Black Congressional Caucus & advocacy groups

Albanian lobby: Issues of concern to the Albanian lobby & advocacy groups

Arab/Muslim lobby: Issues of concern to the Arab/Muslim lobby & advocacy groups    See Unit 2  History

Pro-Israel/Jewish lobby: Issues of concern to the Pro-Israel/Jewish lobby & advocacy groups

Armenian lobby: Issues of concern to the Armenian lobby & advocacy groups

Turkish Lobby: Issues, Links & News on  Turkish Lobbying Issues CLICK HERE
US-Turkey Relations
(Türkiye-ABD İlişkileriWeb-Reyting.Net
FTAA Cultural & Lobbying Activities  ATAA.org
ATAA Cultural & Lobbying Activities  FTAA.org
ATC American Turkish Council  AmericanTurkishCouncil.org
(Four-day conference held in Washington March 26-29 2006, under the auspices of the American-Turkish Council, the Turkish-U.S. Business Council of the Foreign Economic Relations Council (DEIK) and the American Friends of Turkey)

Campaign of Turkish-American Oz Bengur  www.OzBengur.com

US Politics:  USA links

Ethics & Lobbying Reform:  Lobby reform  &  Unit 1  &  Unit 15  


Amerika Türklerinin Türk-Amerikan iliskilerindeki yeri nedir?
Amerika Türkleri, Türkiye ile ABD arasindaki iliskilere nasil bakmaktadir?
Amerika Türkleri, Türkiye-ABD iliskilerinde nasil bir gelecek öngörmektedir?
ABD'de Türk lobisi var midir? Varsa, ne tür faaliyetlerde bulunmaktadir?
Amerika Türkleri,  toplum olarak ABD'de nasil bir gelecek beklemektedir?...

What types of lobbying and advocacy groups, campaign finance activities, exist in Turkey & are they similar to those in the U.S.?
How do foreign governments, multinational corporations, or NGO's, lobby in Turkey (formal or unseen lobbying tactics) & what type of lobbying regulations & laws exist in Turkey to keep track of their activities?
Compared to the U.S. what role do PR firms & international lobbying groups play in Turkey?


There is a need to monitor U.S. domestic and foreign policy for the interests of both Turkey and the U.S. Because of the political importance of the U.S., its leadership role in international organizations, and the strength of its economy and military, most countries of the world have hired professional lobbying firms to work on their behalf in Washington, D.C. Their aim is to have influence on the U.S. political system in favor of the nation that is lobbying, given that American foreign policy decisions affect virtually every country. Some of these countries seek to influence U.S. public opinion, and employ PR companies for publicity, and take opportunity of the know-how and expertise of specialists who can employ shrewd lobbying tactics. Ethnic communities, whose members may not all have integrated into American society, retain strong ties to their country of origin and play an important role in lobbying. In many cases, these ethnic communities coordinate activities with the lobbyists hired by foreign countries.

What is the TURKISH LOBBY? The general definition of the Turkish lobby consists of two lobbying groups. The first group is made up of  lobbyists that are hired by the Turkish government in Washington, D.C. The other group refers to the Turkish-American community in the U.S., which is estimated to be somewhere between 300,000-400,000. It is estimated that only 50,000 to 80,000 Turkish-Americans vote in the U.S. elections. The community is represented by many Turkish-American organizations which have been established in different states of the U.S. (some associations are based on different interests, such as cultural, business, medical, scientific, or educational). In 1979, when the Assembly of  Turkish American Associations (ATAA) was established in Washington, D.C., many of these organizations became members of the ATAA, enabling it to serve as an umbrella organization. The ATAA has represented the Turkish community in the capital, in federal and state governments, and interacted with the media and the pubic. Because a large percentage of Turkish-Americans live in the northeastern U.S., especially near New York State, the Federation of Turkish American Associations (FTAA), based in New York City, has been active in coordinating grassroots activities. The Turkish-American community can be divided into two groups: those who have come from the Turkish Republic, and those who have come to America from areas outside Turkey, such as Cyprus, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The approximate number of this community is 500,000-600,000 (only a small percentage are U.S. citizens, but are often referred to as Turkish-Americans).

There are many reasons why Turkey and the Turkish community have not had a powerful or effective lobby in the U.S. Some explanations are quite simple, such as the small number of Turkish-Americans compared to other ethnic lobbies, the failure to understand the impact of PR activities, a lack of resources, and simply not having a common cause (as other ethnic lobbies do) which drives them to develop methods of influencing the U.S. system to benefit their ethnic interests. But other reasons are more complex, and have to do with competing foreign interests which have led anti-Turkish lobbies to go so far as to mislead U.S. lawmakers (this is because most legislatures are not foreign policy experts and lack specific information on particular issues).

It was not until the mid-1970's, that the Turkish-American community realized that because they were outnumbered by members of anti-Turkish lobbies, both the American people, and Turkey were being subject to pressure and policies that were not always in their common interests (there are about 2 million Greek-Americans/Greek Cypriots, 1 million Armenian-Americans, and a growing Kurdish lobby).

In comparison to anti-Turkish lobbies, the Turkish lobby has one important advantage: Turkey's strategic location.

It is often said that a member of Congress's top priority is getting re-elected to office (and that elected officials complain that they spend as much time fundraising as they do governing). There is also a well-known saying that money is the mother's milk of politics. Money talks, and money wins elections. Because the extremely small Turkish-American community in the U.S. has limited resources and remains outside the political system, it has not been able to play a role in the financing of campaigns. Money is needed for active campaigning in highly competitive contests for: costly communications media, television, advertising, printing, public opinion polling, staff, organizing volunteers, fund raising, hiring political specialists and legislative consultants, and direct-mail appeals designed to raise more money.

In the U.S. fund-raising is an activity whose purpose is to encourage voluntary contributions of money to political candidates, public-interest groups, educational institutions, health-care organizations, political or religious groups, social-welfare groups, arts and humanities organizations, and other entities. Many organizations acquire their funds from private sources, but mostly from business corporations, foundations, and endowments. Because in the U.S. the government plays a smaller role in supporting services, fund-raising is of significant importance than in many other countries. Charitable donations (by individuals or other entities) may be deducted from federal income tax, subject to restrictions. There is a strong tradition of donating in the U.S. with its roots in tithing. Many donors make small contributions on a regular basis. Television and public radio stations regularly broadcast fund-raising campaigns. For nationwide campaigns, professional fund-raising staff are employed, who periodically use mail and direct-contact campaigns. Fund-raising which takes place at the local level is usually organized by nonprofessionals. These activities also encourage community involvement.

Individuals in the U.S. can give $2,000 to each federal candidate per election and $5,000 to each Political Action Committee (PAC) or state or local party per election (federal candidates are candidates for president, vice president, or Congress). Federal party organizations can receive $25,000 per year from an individual. Money is not the only way to contribute to federal campaigns. "In-kind" contributions to campaigns can consist of services, materials, discounts, or even a space for the candidate to speak. Funds known as "hard money" go directly to support the election of a candidate. "Soft money" is also used to fund campaigns, but it is not subject to most campaign laws and is more controversial. The rules regulating the disclosure of soft money are lenient. It is often used in issue-oriented advertisements which support a candidate without directly saying "Vote for this candidate."

For information about campaign finance regulations: Click here to see contribution limits
For information about U.S. presidential elections:
Click here for "U.S. Elections and How the Electoral College works."

As a result of new campaign reform legislation, there are many aspects of legislation that need to be noted by anyone wishing to study in detail U.S. campaigns, such as; Issue advertising: Non-profits, unions, corporations are prohibited from paying for broadcast advertisements if the ads refer to a specific candidate and run within 60 days before a general election, or 30 days before a primary. Such ads can be paid for only with regulated hard money through political action committees (PAC's).

Special interest skeptics are worried about the power foreign lobbies have to pressure the American government for legislation favorable to their client nations. They often cite a warning from George Washington to "beware of foreign entanglements." They also stress that although Thomas Jefferson and the First Amendment upheld the right of any person or group to "petition the government for a redress of grievances," many lobbying activities today exceed the boundaries of Jefferson's original intentions (which grew out of the British government's refusal to listen to the grievances of the American colonists, and brought on the American Revolution).

To some observers, a worrying trend in the U.S. is the defiant attitude some ethnic groups have taken (one recent example was in Florida when tension escalated in the Hispanic community after a judge ruled that Elian Gonzalez must be returned to his father in Cuba, resulting in an armed raid to take the boy by force). There are other signs of societal tension due to smoldering discontent which have sparked unexpected and spontaneous incidents (such as after the beating of a black man by police). The Watts riots in Los Angles in 1965, and other recent violent outbursts in communities (some between racial, religious, and ethnic groups) are evidence of unrest among dissatisfied groups who claim to have a sense of being neglected or discriminated against. Adequate responses to violent outbursts have always been a problem for authorities in any country.

The point to be made is that even in a society as democratic as the U.S., uncontrollable and unpredictable group formations can quickly get the attention of the government. Spontaneous and violent political demands by groups have taken place also in France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Eastern Europe, Asia, and in Arab nations (some are due to separatist and ideological movements but the deliberate use of violence is now being associated with terrorism). In Latin America, for example, armed interest groups became active after economic discontent had increased. In general, such groups may not be well-organized, but often link individuals through class, ethnicity, kinship, religion, or region. Alienation or frustration have led groups, many of which feel they have nothing to lose, to attempt to overthrow political systems, or assassinate leaders. The exclusion or non-representation of groups in the the political system is seen as a root cause of some of these problems. When open and regular channels of interest representation are adequate, most political scientists agree that disorder is less likely. It is believed that groups that have access to effective nonviolent means of communication are less likely to resort to violent behavior to convey their demands. In multicultural societies with old and emerging ethnic groups, there is the risk that the hostilities felt in far-away lands across the globe can bring unrest to these communities that have ties with these areas.

The Turkish lobby should be more focused on drawing attention to U.S.-Turkish interests, coalition building and finding common cause with other lobbies. The Hispanic, Asian, and Arab-Muslim American lobbies will be more powerful in the future, so long-term strategies should be planned. Cooperation already exists with the Jewish/pro-Israel lobby. The African-American community is also becoming more concerned with developments in the Middle East and Africa. One of the issues of concern to Turkey (which could be a motivating factor for coalition building) is how to fight terrorism while not turning the Muslim world against America and the West. A new congressional caucus, or coalition launched by the Muslim-Arab lobby, could be devoted to ensuring that Islam does not take the place of Communism as a new enemy. An other issue of concern is preventing Iraq from sliding into civil war and preventing the radicalization of extremist groups. A lobbying coalition could bring to attention the fact that Western security depends on Iraq maintaining its territorial integrity and becoming a stable nation.

On the subject of Iraq, due to the weakening of ties between numerous allies and the
mishandling of U.S.-Turkish relations, Turkey has not been able to closely cooperate, advise, and consult with the State Department and the Pentagon. In addition to the tensions resulting from a lack of cooperation, U.S.-Turkish relations have been strained due to the deteriorating security situation in Iraq and the region, the death of innocent civilians, and attacks on Turks and foreigners. Statements made by Turkish officials regarding U.S. operations in Felluja-Iraq (which were likened to a genocide), and to Israeli operations against Palestinians (which were described as state terrorism) have heightened tensions. In March 2003, relations had already been damaged as the U.S. prepared for war and a Turkish parliamentary vote rejected the deployment of U.S. troops in order to open a northern front from Turkish soil on Iraq. Relations and trust were further shaken after a July 2003 raid in northern Iraq when U.S. forces detained Turkish soldiers  (the incident was one of the most damaging to the Turkish-U.S. alliance because of the treatment of Turkish soldiers while under detention).

There are many issues of vital importance that a well-informed Turkish lobby could contribute to resolving. Most of these issues are related to the role Turkey can play in the region. Turkey should be better able to communicate concerns to U.S. policymakers, especially regarding the potential destabilization of the Middle East, growing anti-Americanism, Kurdish separatist terrorism, and the need to revive the peace process for the creation of a Palestinian state. Turkey can contribute more to helping Americans do an honest assessment of the problems the U.S. is facing in post-war Iraqi nation-building in order to create a realistic stabilization and reconstruction plan, and to prevent Iraq from falling under extremist ideology, or facing civil war.

Future of U.S. Foreign Policy?
Until the end of WWII, the U.S. generally followed an isolationist policy, fearing foreign entanglements and avoiding involvement in affairs overseas. Since the end of WWII the U.S. has grown increasingly involved in international affairs, although U.S. support for international organizations has varied.  The future of U.S. foreign policy, and the role of global U.S. leadership, is being debated around the world.

Examples of various issues of concern to the Turkish lobby in the U.S. :
--A draft bill praising the Turkish government's efforts for a solution in Cyprus and backing pledged efforts by the U.S. administration and the EU to end international isolation of Turkish Cypriots was blocked at the very initial stage of legislation in the U.S. Congress due to efforts by the Greek-Greek Cypriot lobby. As reported in October 2004, the draft had been presented by the head of the congressional Turkey caucus, Congressman Robert Wexler (Democrat-Florida).

--Kurdish lobbying groups seeking self-autonomy in an enlarged region of Northern Iraq.

--Annual Armenian letter writing campaigns and other lobbying activities calling for April 24 to be a nationwide Armenian genocide remembrance day. (Armenian-Americans have used various methods to pressure America to make the Turkish government accept responsibility for the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman government during World War 1. Armenian-Americans are presently building an Armenian genocide museum in Washington, D.C. Turkey rejects a genocide took place under the Ottomans,  rejects responsibility for reparations, and has documented evidence that 1.5 million Armenians did not live in the region in 1915. Turkey also maintains that politicians and legislators should not, and cannot, take the place of historians. Armenian-Americans also seek to have bills passed in each state of America, and are lobbying state legislatures).

For further reading:
Click here for a history of lobbying in the United States
Click for Congressional glossary
Click for U.S. Senate glossary
Click for terms used in Congress

--Amerika Birleşik Devletleri'nde Lobi Faaliyetleri, Nisa Bayramoğlu. Dış Politika Enstitüsü. Ankara. 1985.
--Amerikada Siyasal Yapı - Lobiler ve Dış Politika, Tayyar Arı, Alfa Basım, Istanbul, 1997.
--Lobicilik, Müjde Ker Dincer, Alfa Basım, Istanbul, 1999.

Green light turns to yellow in AKP's relations with the US

Thursday, April 6, 2006  www.turkishdailynews.com
Last week saw the annual American-Turkish Council conference in Washington. Turkish and American business representatives, journalists, politicians and military officers come together every year in an official forum. What transpired can best be defined as a bit of business and a bit of international pulse-taking.


   Last week in Washington was the annual American-Turkish Council (ATC) conference. Turkish and American business representatives, journalists, politicians and military officers come together every year in an official forum. What transpired can best be defined as a bit of business and a bit of international pulse-taking.

  It is possible to judge from the organization itself, as well as from statements from the participants, in which direction Turkish-American relations are headed, and at what stage they seem to be. If relations are good, there is always high attendance by the top ranks of American officials; if things are not going well, though, participation drops and criticism rises. Based on the accounts of participants this year, people whose word I trust, and also based on the observations of the Milliyet's Washington representative, Yasemin Congar, the portrait painted of the current Turkish-American state of relations is fairly pessimistic.  

   In addition, when I add some of the statements made by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace, who was in both Ankara and Istanbul for unusual high-level talks recently, as well as consider the speech by U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson at Tuesday's TUBC (Turkish-U.S. Business Council) meeting, what I see is something even more disturbing. And I wanted to share this with you.... 

   Everything was all right in this area during the period when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) first came to power, in the period preceding the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The first blow to Turkish-American relations came with the March 1st, 2003 incident in the Turkish Parliament, when the AKP-majority Parliament voted to reject a bill that would have allowed the United States greater access to Iraq through Turkey. At least, though, this was a parliamentary decision and therefore could be perceived as the result of a democratic process. It was a development that could be explained and that could be met with understanding. Criticism forthcoming from the United States at this point was directed more at the Turkish military's General Staff, and at Turkey's general stance. In time, the damage caused by this blow could be repaired.
   And so, the Bush administration didn't hold the AKP responsible for this development. But the situation is different today. The perception of the AKP from the U.S. side has begun to change. The AKP has become a party watched with suspicion, one which has been allocated space on a list of suspects. At this point, there is not yet a crisis per se in Turkish-American relations. What there is, though, is something that could be characterized as stomach pains. The green light, which did not waver just three years ago, has turned yellow.
   The people guiding foreign policy in the Bush administration are saying, "There is a feeling that we are not seeing the same thing as Turkey these days, that there is no deep-rooted sense of trust, and that our shared goals have not been determined."
   The visit by the Hamas delegation to Ankara was the last drop, in many ways. Despite the fact that a couple of months have passed since it occurred, the wounds are still fresh. But the Hamas visit is not the only problem. There are a variety of AKP policies that breed suspicion in Washington these days. Statements from the prime minister and some AKP members about Turkish-U.S. relations are managing to strengthen the growing impression that the party has turned its sights to the East, rather than the European Union.  
   Superpowers like the United States don't like it when their allies take very different stances from them. Typically, countries in the position of being a superpower have the attitude of, "You are our friend, so you must have the same perspective we do." They are annoyed when different voices emerge. Turkey is not a satellite belonging to the United States. It is completely natural that it will have its own policies and that, when necessary, it will implement these policies. But what has to be paid attention to here is the fact that we need to calculate what sort of bill we may face at the end of the road after we have implemented these different policies. As long as the calculations are correct, there will be no big problems. This is the art of foreign relations.
   Let me repeat, there is no crisis in Turkish-American relations, just tension. These tensions can be conquered if there is action taken and sensitivity shown, if the situation is taken seriously before things reach a more serious level. It would not be in the best interests of the AKP, which is charged with guiding the country and is currently leading Turkey through a very sensitive economic, political and social period, to enter into a crisis with America.  

My terrorist is good, yours is bad: There are double standards that continue in the face of fighting terrorism. The Americans have pointed to the Hamas visit and said: "These people have opened the way to the deaths of innocent people by training suicide bombers, and you, a country that has suffered so much from PKK terror, extend an official invitation to them to come to Ankara and accept the position of interlocutor on their behalf? What kind of mentality is this?"  In response to this, the Turkish side points to Washington's acceptance of Kurdish Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir, and says "How is it that you officially welcomed a person who supports the PKK?" To which the Americans say: "But Baydemir is an elected politician. And it is under this title that we accepted him." And Ankara's reply is of course that Hamas, too, like Baydemir, was elected. Even the Democratic Society Party (DTP) has come forward and given this example, asking Erdogan why he, a prime minister who met with Hamas, is not meeting with them.

It is a vicious cycle. Everyone has a different definition of what a terrorist is. It even seems to get to the point that people say, "If you look at with friendly eyes at the person I call a terrorist, I will treat the people you see as terrorists as friends." Sticks are hidden under the robes in this stance. And so you see, no one is being honest. Everyone is acting according to their own interests. And double standards appear to reign strong.


April 3, 2006 www.zaman.com/?bl=columnists&alt=&trh=20060406&hn=31716

What the 'D' Word Evokes

The organizers of the American-Turkish Council (ATC) conference, which has brought Turkish and American elite together in Washington for 25 years, have chosen this year’s main theme as “New Dynamics in U.S.-Turkey Relations.”

Words such as dynamic or dynamism, from the same root, are encouraging. However, the relatively low level participation in the conference and in the official/unofficial contacts made on this occasion, did not reflect much of the desired new dynamics and dynamism.

Perhaps two people who deserved the word “dynamic” most during the conference were Turkish State Minister Kursad Tuzmen and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza. Because there weren’t any other high level government representatives, they had to go and fro and deliver speeches here and there.

The interest in the ATC conference is certainly not the only indicator of Turkish-American relations. But it is also a fact that this platform has been used for years as a means of showing the strength of relations. Actually, there is a much better word for describing both this year’s ATC conference and the current state of Turkish-American relations. That word was used by US Ambassador to Ankara, Ross Wilson, at the opening of the conference in regard to Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul’s cancellation of his visit to Washington for health reasons: ‘Disappointed’

The word “disappointed” in English is sometimes used to express dismay when somebody whom you have higher hopes for fails to live up your expectations. It is also used to convey one’s hearthfelt sadness and regret because something positive did not happen. American diplomats I talked to insistently emphasized that the first meaning, definitely, did not allude to Gul. Nonetheless, the word “disappointed” has kept echoing across my mind throughout last week. Maybe, because its’ both meanings effectively describe the respective feelings of US and Turkish governments in recent years...

Though Turkish and US officials, -Turkey’s Ambassador to Washington Nabi Sensoy and Ambassador Wilson at the top of the list- as required by their professionalism, have been trying to divert the public’s attention to the common positive agenda as much as possible, I couldn’t stop my eyes seeing the things satan exhorted me to see. There is a wide potential for cooperation. Definitely. However, the problem is how to put it into practice. With the differences of views, style or priorities on vital issues, the harmony and cooperation in so many other areas lose much of its value.

In some multiple choice tests, four wrongs annul one correct answer. Likewise, in the international test arena, you sometimes make such a mistake that it annuls four of your correct answers. For instance, the Turkish government’s inviting Hamas to Ankara was such a mistake for Washington. In a similar manner, the US government’s mistake of not taking a visible action against PKK terrorist organization in Northern Iraq annuls many correct answers in its test with Turkey. As a matter of fact, this was the issue that caused most of the diplomatic encounters among top-level American and Turkish civilian and military representatives at the ATC panels.

Iraq is the main “focal point” of the US, as expressed by Ambassador Wilson. Washington sees Turkey has recently been acting much more constructively in Iraq. However, there is an uncertainty over what kind of attitude Turkey would ultimately adopt on Iraq unless certain developments to ease Ankara’s deeply-rooted concerns about the Kurds take place. And this uncertainty pushes Americans into a mistrust on Turkey. Likewise, the uncertainty in Iraq, for which they hold US government responsible, perturbs Ankara and reinforces their anger towards Americans.

America’s second biggest priority in our region after Iraq is Iran. Despite a consensus on the uneasiness over the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, there are serious disagreements over imposing an embargo or launching a military strike, if necessary. When Turkey has been trying to undertake independent initiatives and contribute to peace through engagement with Iran, just as they did with Hamas, Ambassador Wilson could say, “there is no need for your mediation.” On the other hand, Turkey, which has now become one of the world’s 20 largest economies wants to jump from the status of a player to that of a coach. It does not like to be subjected to fait accomplish by US initiatives aimed at taking complete control over the former Ottoman territories, including the Black Sea. And although what it confronts is a global power, Turkey dares challenging it.

In my opinion, this is the latest and most important “dynamic” in Turkish-American relations. The empire aspirations of both countries clash. And every step without taking this dynamic into account will continue to pave the way for “disappointments” on both sides...


By Yasemin Dobra - Manço

Istanbul - Turkish Daily News
April 21 and April 22, 2004

Since Sept. 11, the war on terror and the war in Iraq there has been a greater need for Turkish-Americans to closely monitor U.S. foreign policy for the mutual interests of Turkey and the United States. However, due to the lack of institutions devoted to Turkish-American relations, such as think-tanks and academic centers, many critical issues and viewpoints are not brought to attention or debated. Due to the small size of the community of Turkish- Americans and their limited financial resources, they are unable to encourage the U.S. government to formulate fair and balanced policies that are in the interests of both nations. Although members of the Turkish-American community have made great achievements in their professions, their relations with the media and with U.S. officials are limited. Nor do Turkish-Americans have a voice in the Republican or Democratic parties.

There are two Turkish-American organizations that merit special attention for their work to inform and educate the American people about issues of concern to Turkey and Turkish-Americans. The Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), located in Washington D.C., and the Federation of Turkish American Associations (FTAA), located in New York City, have had the difficult job of protecting and defending mutual interests and of countering biased, defamatory or distorted information against Turkey and Turkish-Americans.

The difficulties and problems experienced by the Turkish-American community can be attributed to many factors. One reason is the history of a weak and passive Turkish-American lobby. The main reason for this is that many members of the community were born overseas, and were not able to develop the skills necessary to be involved in complex domestic issues and in the U.S. political system. Very little research on this ethnic community has been done, and it is odd that only a few scholars have researched reasons behind the untrue accusations and negative images that have been created by the self-serving interests of anti-Turkish lobbies. The community and lobby have thus suffered because they have not effectively reacted to issues that target their interests. Turkish-Americans are still trying to devise ways of rapidly responding to issues as they emerge, as well as strategies that lead to informed involvement in the political process.

Today the Turkish-American lobby can still be described as an emerging lobby. Although progress has been made through friends of Turkey in the U.S. Congress and through the Jewish community and lobby. But the Turkish lobby is still not very influential. Nor are Turkish-Americans well represented in mainstream American society, educational institutions or in the media. A great deal of work needs to be done to create a large informed national Turkish-American community and to get other ethnic and special interest groups to promote the objectives and goals of the Turkish lobby. Lobbyists hired by the Turkish government must also work harder and more effectively to combat those who seek to undermine and weaken the Turkish lobby.

Over the years the Turkish community has been finding common ground with other groups and showing interest in issues of concern to other lobbies, especially regarding trade and business development. This may help in building coalitions, but the emerging differences of opinion within the U.S. over the war in Iraq and over how to handle the war on terror, has split various nationwide lobbies and groups into factions.

Early and recent immigrants

TDN conducted an interview with Dr. Ata Erim, who for decades has been one of the most active, dedicated and long-serving leaders of the Turkish-American community. After completing his studies in Turkey, Dr. Erim came to the United States in 1958 in order to further his medical education. He has been elected president of the FTAA numerous times since his involvement in the Turkish- American community, and has just been newly elected president of the FTAA.

TDN discussed with Dr. Erim the composition of the organizations that make up the Turkish-American community, the Turkish-Turkic heritage in the U.S., and the size of the community. The FTAA president explained that there are two main groups that comprise the Turkish-American community: those who have come from the Turkish Republic, and those from other regions outside Turkey, such as Cyprus, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Erim further explained, "Within the FTAA, they operate just as any of our other members and participate in all our events. Together we make up a community of approximately 500,000-600,000. Only a small percentage have dual nationality, or are U.S. citizens, but we refer to them all as Turkish-Americans. If more and more could vote, we would have greater political influence, a stronger lobby, and contribute more to developing U.S.-Turkish relations. Hopefully one day our influence will increase as more of them become citizens and there are less bureaucratic obstacles." He added that all the organizations work together and want to preserve their cultural heritage and enrich America.

Until recently there have been two major groups of Turkish-Americans. The first group consists of the early immigrants who came in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The second group is made up of the recent immigrants who came after 1950. The difference between the two immigrant groups can be observed in levels of education and religious practices (with early immigrants being less educated, more ethnically conscious, and more religious). In general, the more recent arrivals were better assimilated and were not as concerned with ethnic preservation as were early immigrants. After these two waves, there is now a growing group of U.S. born Turkish-Americans, students, businessmen and women who remain in the U.S. for extended periods. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of Turkic peoples coming from the Caucasus and Central Asia has also increased.

The 1950's & 1960's: The big immigration wave

Dr. Erim offered an account of his impressions when he first came to America and saw no efficiently organized association of Turkish-Americans. It was in 1968 that he decided to form a Turkish-American Physicians Association in New York with two doctor friends. He was president of the organization for seven years.

The newly founded doctor's association began to be involved with the FTAA, which had been founded in New York in 1956 by four Turkish-American associations. One of those associations was the Turkish Cultural Association that was founded in the 1930's by immigrants who came to America at the beginning of the 1900's. Many of these early immigrants from the Ottoman Empire were from areas near Elazig and Harput. Dr. Erim remembers in particular Mehmet Aga from Elazig, who was then active within his very close knit community of Turks. "They kept their customs and traditions alive. However, they led a very isolated life, and very few members were involved with the American community. They even had a cook from Turkey, and some of them never married." Another founding member of the FTAA was the Turkish Red Crescent, which sought to assist earthquake victims, and was particularly active in the 1940's after the devastating Erzincan earthquake that killed over 40,000 people. The other two founding organizations were the Turkish Aid Society, founded in the 1930's by Turkish Cypriots, and a Turkish-American friendship society that included American friends of Turkey.

As Dr. Erim explained, these organizations were not very active because they functioned very locally. In contrast, today the FTAA has evolved into an organization that can operate on a state, regional or national level. After the physician's association formed by Dr. Erim joined the FTAA, "We thought the newcomers and those who had come previously should be more united and organized. We also recommended the formation of another organization by engineers and architects. After 1968, for about two years, we helped to form such groups. Nine Turkish-American associations soon became members of the FTAA. For example, in Long Island the Anadolu Club was formed. Then the Crimean Turks Association in the 1970's," he explained.

Impact of the 1970's: Awakening & a new consciousness

Prior to the 1970's, the Turkish-American community in general was uninterested in political matters, and political activities had been organized on just a few occasions. When asked which events were significant, Dr. Erim recalls that it was in 1973 that the first large event was organized to protest against the massacre of Turks in Cyprus. The massacres, and the Turkish intervention that followed, galvanized Turkish-Americans into organized action and also to gather assistance (Turkey intervened in Cyprus in 1974 after the July 15 coup against the Greek Cypriot president when Greek Cypriots sought to unite with Greece). Consequently, it was after the mid- 1970's that the FTAA began to play an important role in the Turkish-American community.

Allegations by the politically motivated Armenian lobby, regarding Turks and the Ottoman Empire, also led to the beginning of a new consciousness and an awakening of Turkish-Americans. The killing of Turkish diplomats by Armenian terrorists, which began in the mid-1970's, also horrified Turkish-Americans.

Within the community a desire arose to provide the American public, as well as policymakers, with alternative viewpoints and sources of information. Turkish-Americans also became more concerned with U.S. public opinion and public relations campaigns. As a result a need for organized action increased in order to defend and protect Turkish-Americans and to counter the anti- Turkish lobbies.

Dr. Erim offered further details adding "In the early 1970's, we sought to get in touch with other Turkish-American communities and encouraged them to form associations. They included women's groups, Crimean Turks, Azerbaijanis, Turks from the Balkans, and communities in Connecticut, Boston and elsewhere in New England."

Also by the mid-1970's, while Sitki Coskun was Consul General, the Turkish Center located across the United Nations was purchased. For the first time an impressive multi-story building could be used as a headquarters from where activities could be planned, as well as held.

The 1980's: Faced with terror

Throughout the 1980's an even greater effort was made to unite, protect, and defend the Turkish-American community. Interest also focused on creating an organized way of assisting and guiding Turkish-Americans who lived in the United States.

By the early 1980's, Armenian genocide allegations were accompanied by Armenian terrorism in the U.S. and throughout the world. "Until then we were not aware of the so called 'Armenian genocide' issue because in Turkey we had not been taught about such allegations," Dr. Erim said referring to the alleged genocide of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire. At the time Turkish diplomats were being killed one after another. "The Consul General Teyfik Unaydin was the one who encouraged us to do something to organize the Turkish- American community amidst the terror threats," he notes.

"In 1981, we organized a march to condemn Armenian terrorism. The turnout was very low, at the most 200 people. Many people were afraid to come and feared being killed by Armenian terrorists. As the killing of Turkish diplomats around the world continued after 1982, we decided to organize another march to protest and condemn international terrorism," he recounts.

At the time Americans were fortunate not to have experienced major acts of international terrorism within the shores of the homeland. The Turkish- American interest to draw attention to the dangers of terrorism may have singled Turkish-Americans out, rather than to have helped their assimilation into mainstream society. Today however, Americans, Turks, and Turkish- Americans are faced with an entirely new situation.

While discussing plans for the next march Dr. Erim explained, "We started to contact members of the Jewish community and they advised us that instead of condemning Armenians, Turks should introduce themselves to the American public as a Turkish-American community and have a day in honor of this, just as Italian-Americans, Jewish Americans, or Irish Americans." The Jewish community to which Dr. Erim refers, pays great attention to U.S. foreign policy and is also known as the pro-Israel lobby. Though there are many subgroups of American Jews, this lobby is one of the most powerful, resourceful, efficient, and highly organized lobbies in the U.S., with many of its well-educated members holding important positions in leading organizations.

Participation and interest in events kept growing he says and "After the third year of organizing we called that day the 'Turkish-American Day Parade.' By gathering Turkish-Americans together we enabled them to be proud of their Turkish origins in America, and to take be conscious of a sense of their roots. More and more Turkish-Americans increasingly became aware of the issues that were of concern to the community."

Because it is believed that diversity enhances America and its cultural mosaic, since the 1960's ethnic communities in general have become more active in keeping their culture alive (today there is less pressure for newcomers to assimilate into mainstream U.S. culture than there was at the time of the early immigrants -- unlike in France for example, where assimilation is encouraged rather than multiculturalism.) Due to new technologies, these communities are also more closely in touch with their country of origin, which can be beneficial for building bridges.

On the subject of the development of the Turkish-American lobby, Dr. Erim stated, "Over the years some of our members became involved in lobbying and began forming committees, because the FTAA cannot be involved in political activities."

The 1990's: Embracing ethnic identity

The 10th anniversary celebration of the first march was held in 1991. "The turnout was the most impressive ever, with 20,000 participants. This was a great accomplishment when you consider that we had started out with just 150- 200 people at the first march, and only a few congressmen and political figures who supported the Turkish-American community, like Jim Moody, Stephen Solarz, and Joe DioGuardi. As each year passed, we learned how to better organize ourselves and to learn from our experiences. We began displaying floats, contacting other ethnic communities, and promoting a variety of cultural events," Dr. Erim said with satisfaction.

He continued to describe how one year they brought together leaders of different religions: a priest from the Orthodox Church, a rabbi and an imam. Models of a synagogue, church and mosque were also displayed during the parade. He remarked that once the community began to coordinate their activities with other organizations from across the U.S., the number of organizations who became members of the FTAA increased. At present there are 40 organizations that are members, and according to Dr. Erim approximately four out of five Turkish-Americans are represented by the FTAA.

"With time we also learned how important it was to have an educated Turkish- American community. We also learned how to develop contacts with other lobbies, the most important and influential being the Jewish lobby. We came in contact mostly with members of the Sephardic community, and with individuals whose ancestors were from Turkey. Although very few of them spoke Turkish, they were very much in love with Turkey. On numerous occasions when accusations were directed at Turks, they stood up in support of Turks and Turkey. We also had reactions from members of other Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, Bnai Brith, the American Jewish Committee, and the World Jewish Congress. As a matter of fact, when I established the World Turkish Congress, I modeled it after the World Jewish Congress," he explained.

In 1988, together with an Ashkenazi Jewish group, the FTAA organized a symposium at Yeshiva University on "500 Years of Turkish-Jewish Relations." The speakers all had a very favorable image of Turkey says Dr. Erim and "after this we began organizing more conferences."

By 1992, the FTAA transformed the one-day event that was focused on the Turkish Day Parade, into a week of celebrating Turkish-American heritage. "Turkish Week" sought to encourage the participation of teachers and professors, as well as the Turkish-American youth in order to prepare them for the future and educate them about the truth behind the so-called Armenian genocide, says the FTAA president. As the years passed, "Turkish Week" evolved into a month-long "Festival of Turkish Culture." He elaborated, "Many of the organizers of the events, and the participants, seek and find sponsors from Turkey and we help them coordinate the planned activities with members of the community." The Turkish-American community now also includes a growing number of student associations.

2000 and beyond

Other events that have stimulated organized activity by members of the Turkish-American community include the devastating terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Once again, the Turkish-American community, which had already suffered great pain due to the terrorism targeting Turks in the '70's and 80's, was mobilized against terrorism. Both Turkey and Turkish-Americans showed their solidarity with America and the victims from around the world. The Turkish- American community not only organized protests against terror, but also displayed strong support for the U.S. fight against terrorism. After the series of bombings in Istanbul in November 2003, the Turkish-American community once again came together to condemn terrorism. Grief was especially shared with the Jewish community in Turkey and with Jews from around the world because two of the attacks targeted the Jewish community. Other issues which have united Turkish-Americans include U.S. economic and foreign policies, Turkey's planned European Union entry, Turkish reforms, NATO restructuring, negotiations over Cyprus, cooperation in the energy sector, and bilateral trade and investment.

As the need for greater cooperation between the two allies grows, and as U.S. elections are nearing, Turkish-Americans and other lobbies should become mobilized to work together for international peace and prosperity while protecting American interests. The worldwide challenges to U.S. foreign policy might therefore serve in some way as catalysts for solidarity.

However, because certain U.S. policies have caused a rift among allies, and even within NATO, a study should be undertaken to evaluate the impact of the war in Iraq on the Turkish-American lobby, as well as on the lobbies of other U.S. allies, such as France, Spain, Britain, Greece and Italy. A better understanding of developments would help prevent the estrangement of ethnic groups and disunity within America due to different views at a time of war.

Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952, was a key U.S. ally during the 1991 Gulf War, and has participated in missions in Korea, Somalia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Turkey has supported the U.S. in its fight against terrorism, and is awaiting U.S. action to fight terrorists that target Turkey. But despite a history of shared interests, Turkey's geo-strategic importance, and experiences in fighting terrorism, the Turkish-American community does not appear to be united with a strong enough voice that can draw attention to the many pressing issues that have arisen since Sept. 11. Domestic uncertainties in Turkey have also made it very difficult for the Turkish lobby to formulate long-term strategies and maintain consistent positions. At a time when national security is a mutual priority, a weak lobby is neither in the interests of Turkey nor America. A more active lobby would be instrumental in strengthening cooperation between the two allies during this critical period when a lack of security is igniting a highly volatile region.

Upcoming festival celebrates Turkish-American heritage

Just as in previous years, leaders and members of the Federation of Turkish American Associations (FTAA) are preparing a month-long Festival of Turkish Culture that will bring Turks from around the nation to the New York area. The series of events, beginning on April 23, will include concerts, cultural programs, exhibitions, conferences, food fairs, crafts displays, and the performance of a Turkish military band. The 23rd anniversary celebration of the Turkish Day Parade will be the highlight of the activities planned for May. Traditionally, many Turks set that day aside to celebrate their Turkish- American heritage, and exchange news and greetings when they gather across the United Nations at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. Although the major concentrations of Turkish-Americans are along the eastern coast, with concentrations around New York State, the month-long events also attract Turkish-Americans from smaller communities throughout the U.S.

The events also aim to cultivate cultural exchanges with Americans, introduce a greater number of Americans to Turkish culture, and indulge in Turkish delicacies while enjoying Turkish music, dance and art (for more information on upcoming events see www.ftaa.org).

Members of the Washington-based Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) will also be traveling to New York from across America. Among the numerous Turkish-American organizations operating in the U.S., these two organizations merit special attention for raising the political conscience of Turkish-Americans and for educating policymakers and the general public. The ATAA, founded in 1979, is an umbrella organization of 57 Turkish American associations from the US, Canada and Turkey. Located in the nation's capital, the organization follows legislative issues and calls on Turkish-Americans to act at state and national levels against campaigns targeting Turkey and the heritage of Turkish Americans (to learn more about issues concerning the Turkish American community visit the comprehensive Web site at www.ataa.org).

Both the FTAA and ATAA work as sister-associations, seeking to link all Turkish-American communities while also striving to create an informed Turkish-American community that can help foster US-Turkish relations and take an active part in promoting a truthful picture of Turkey in the U.S. The ATAA also seeks to educate Americans in government, the media, and the public at large about Turkey. Due to its representative role in the capital, the ATAA holds an annual convention in Washington, enabling greater visibility for the Turkish-American community. Under the leadership of ATAA president Ercument Kilic, ATAA launched a new program to strengthen local organizations by awarding grants for project proposals that aim to serve the interests of the community. In cooperation with TUSIAD businessmen's organization, the ATAA also oversees a U.S. Congress Internship Program for Turkish-American students.

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