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24, 2011 ***As Prepared For Delivery***
Vice President Shimshek, thank you for welcoming me to this beautiful university. I am deeply grateful to be invited to speak with you today. Before I begin, I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the people of Turkey who have been devastated by yesterday's horrible earthquake. I have talked with the U.S. Consul General here in Istanbul, and I have asked for further information on how best our country can help the Turkish people in this time of need. Just as the United States stood shoulder to shoulder with Turkey in the aftermath of the 1999 earthquake, so I am confident that the United States will stand with Turkey to provide the necessary aid and relief to victims of this awful tragedy, just as other nations, like Israel, have offered to provide assistance as well. I know this disaster comes only one week after 26 soldiers lost their lives fighting the PKK. I join you in mourning the loss of these brave soldiers, and we will continue to support your efforts to counter terrorism wherever it is found. I come to you from the state of Maine, a place known for its lobsters, Navy shipbuilding, and its proud history of electing pragmatic, independent thinkers to Washington. Some of the former Senators from Maine include George Mitchell, who recently served as President Obama‘s Envoy to the Middle East, and William Cohen, a Republican who served in a democratic administration as President Clinton‘s Secretary of Defense. I arrived yesterday from the World Economic Forum in Jordan. Maine does not suffer from the extreme levels of unemployment found in the Middle East, but the global economic downturn has affected my home state, as it has affected Turkey as well. When I decided to search overseas for new trading partners to create jobs for Maine businesses overseas, I thought of Turkey because your economy is growing at a rate that makes much of the world envious. As a person who cares deeply about the U.S.-Turkey relationship, I believe we must be wary of assuming that the security ties of the past will assure the closeness of our friendship in the future. An entire generation of Americans -- and Turks -- has not grown up with the permanent frost of the Cold War. And so I wanted to come here to learn more about your country and to see how – together -- we can engage this quickly changing world to the benefit of both of our countries. Expanding bilateral trade is one of the most effective ways to strengthen the ties between our countries. Opening trade was the basis for the beginning of U.S.-Turkey relations when the AmericanOttoman Treaty was signed in 1830. Although the American economy is now the largest in the world and Turkey‘s is the 16th largest and growing, we are not major trading partners. We should do more business together. While the great distance between Turkey and the United States creates a barrier for the trade of some goods and services, this distance can be shortened through the forces of technology, creativity, and political will. It might surprise you to know that during the last two years more than 14,000 head of American cattle have been shipped from a cargo port in my State of Maine, to Turkey to strengthen Page 1 of 5
your dairy industry. I worked hard to help secure the necessary licenses to increase livestock shipments to Turkey. Turkey‘s economic success is well-known, but your growing achievements in education, infrastructure, and humanitarian assistance are no less impressive. Nationwide, Turkey‘s blooming university systems will graduate more than 700,000 students this year. As I toured this magnificent city yesterday, I was awed by the history and by the palpable energy that is making the most modern city in this striking country ever more modern, while respecting your storied past and hallowed traditions. Turkey is also engaged on the world stage in a way that it has not been since before the First World War: 18 new Turkish embassies are now located across the African continent alone. As Turkey celebrates its 88th anniversary next week, the progress of the last decade can be summed up by the words of Ataturk 10 years after he founded the Turkish Republic: ―We have accomplished great things in a short period of time.‖ In the same address, President Ataturk called on his countrymen to accomplish even greater things to achieve his vision of a country that is among the most prosperous and civilized in the world. As the centennial of the Republic approaches and the drafting of a new constitution is being considered in this country, it is apt to remember that his famous phrase, ―How happy is the one who says ‗I am Turk,‘‖ was not only a boast, but also a challenge. When I am asked about the trajectory of Turkey‘s future, there are two simplistic questions that often come up in the West, and in Washington, in particular: ―is Turkey turning toward the East or West?‖ And, ―is Turkey becoming more secular or more Islamic?‖ Unfortunately the either/or approach of these inadequate questions fails to appreciate the rich diversity of Turkey‘s people and culture, and the strength it provides to your great country. Elif Shafak said it best when she said that ―if modernity is a project fraught with uncertainty, we can perhaps say this much: it is alive and well in Turkey.‖ This is Turkey‘s time. It is at a crossroads. So in my mind the key to Turkey‘s stronger role in regional and global affairs rests in whether Turkey is becoming more moderate, more democratic, and more protective of human dignity at home, and abroad. I know Turkey has hesitated to label itself a model for the region, but it is obvious that your recent successes qualify you and your country as sources of inspiration for young, impressionable audiences in neighboring countries during the Arab Spring. Since it became the first majority Muslim country to hold free multiparty elections in 1950, Turkey has proven that a Muslim-majority country can elect a secular representative democracy. Turkey is also suited to promote democratic values because Turkey is complex and not easily defined or assigned a stereotype. As a result, people watch it more closely than other countries. I can attest that this principle applies equally to American politics as it does for countries like Turkey. Washington has become more partisan in recent years than in the past, and my reputation as a centrist means I am criticized from both ends of the political spectrum. But my colleagues frequently reach out to me precisely because I am willing to pursue pragmatic, bipartisan solutions to our nation‘s problems. Turkey, too, has the opportunity to be at the center. The ideas and narratives that emanate from Turkey‘s leadership will increasingly carry beyond Turkey‘s borders in this age of digital technology and a 24/7 news cycle. The ideas and narratives that Page 2 of 5
define individual behavior, identity, and allegiances no longer respect national boundaries. Given the competing voices in the region, your country has the opportunity to set an example of an inclusive democracy that respects the rights of minorities, empowers women, and allows a free press. Turkey should seize this opportunity. Ataturk said that the Turkish ―nation has never lived without freedom, cannot and never will.‖ A culture of democracy includes elections and civilian control of the military, but it also includes adherence to the rule of law, the robust protection of minority rights, and the maintenance of institutions capable of checking the power of government. These institutions include a meaningful political opposition, a fully independent judiciary, and a free press. Unfortunately, the strength of some of these institutions in Turkey may have diminished in recent years. Turkey has one of the highest rates of imprisonment of journalists in the world. More than sixty journalists currently sit in Turkish jails; some have been there without charge for more than two years. 4,000 lawsuits have been filed against journalists, and Turkey ranks 138th on the Reporters Without Frontiers‘ 2010 press freedom index. Online, access to the internet website YouTube.com has been irregular in a country that has the fourth largest number of Facebook users in the world. These circumstances do not match Turkey‘s proud tradition of an open society that is tolerant of dissenting views. A mature democracy has nothing to fear from a free press, and I encourage Turkey to strengthen protections for the freedom of expression of its journalists and internet users. I join President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Ambassador Ricciardone in urging Turkey to uphold freedom of religion by reopening the Halki Seminary. Turkey has historically been a leader in women‘s political empowerment as well—Turkey gave suffrage to women in 1934, and women hold 14 percent of the seats in Turkey‘s parliament, which is only three percentage points less than the percentage of women serving in the United States Congress. You have had a female Prime Minister, and you should be proud of that. Nevertheless, I was shocked to learn that the number of women murdered in Turkey increased 1400 percent between 2002 and 2009. Surely, every step should be taken to reverse this trend much more quickly than it emerged. Increasing opportunities for women to work outside the home for those who want to will also empower Turkish women and continuing Turkey‘s economic success story. As your country considers rewriting the constitution, expect your political leaders to safeguard the freedom of the press, the protection of minorities, and the rights of women. If they do, it means leaders from all political parties have taken courageous action to protect the long-term progress of the country, even at the expense of their own political power. During his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, your Prime Minister‘s call to action to address the humanitarian crisis in Somalia reflected Turkey‘s global leadership as a protector of human rights and dignity -- a role that goes hand in hand with its strong democratic culture. In Libya, your country helped evacuate many civilians, including Americans. By cutting off personal ties with the Assad regime and supporting calls for Syrian forces to suspend their crackdown on civilians, your government has stood by these principles, extending its hand to the Syrian people by assisting thousands of refugees and providing medical aid to the wounded. If democracy and respect for human dignity are two of the hallmarks of Turkish foreign policy, it is no surprise that Turkey has historically been friends with the only other consistent democracy in Page 3 of 5
the Middle East: the State of Israel. As one of your great poets wrote six centuries ago: ―Water out of the same fountain cannot be both bitter and sweet.‖ Turkey and Israel both share the foundations of democracy, open societies, innovation, and economic freedom. These values hold extraordinary potential for these two countries to increase peace and trade together in mutual interest. These democratic values also resonate deeply within the soul of the American people, and it is for this reason that there are so many of us in Congress, myself included, who consider Israel an unshakeable ally. So it has been surprising and heartbreaking to watch the friendship between Turkey and Israel deteriorate. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am most concerned because the maintenance of peace in this region depends to a considerable extent upon Turkey‘s stabilizing role. The harsh public rhetoric by one close American ally towards another close American ally has raised questions in Congress. Your Prime Minister and my President speak frequently, but the dialogue must be broader than that. We share a vested interest to see that Turkey succeeds in a dangerous neighborhood that is often unstable. I recognize that Turkey‘s engagement with the leaders of Hamas, Sudan, and Iran is aimed to resolve some of these issues and reduce instability. As a regional leader in political, economic, cultural, and military aspects, Turkey's Muslim identity assists in its relations with other Muslim-majority countries. But Turks should ask themselves if the genocide in Darfur abated because of President Bashir‘s visit to Istanbul. Is the Middle East Peace Process further along now than it was before Prime Minster Erdogan met with extremist elements of Hamas? Unfortunately Turkey is no stranger to terrorist attacks on civilian cities, and my heart goes out to the many Turkish victims of terrorism, including those who were killed last week on the Southeast border, and the families of those affected by last month‘s bombing in Ankara. As your government pursues the PKK, rest assured that my country will continue to provide significant assistance to support those efforts. Even as the U.S. military reduces its presence in Iraq, our commitment to assist your country in its efforts to counter terrorism remains unbreakable. Like al Qaeda and the PKK, Hamas is designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States and the EU. Hamas and other Palestinian militants based in Gaza continue to launch rocket attacks indiscriminately into Israeli civilian centers. Turkey and the United States pursue al Qaeda and the PKK together, and America supports Israel‘s right to protect its citizens from Hamas, an organization sworn to Israel‘s destruction. I want to speak for a moment about Iran. Iran continues to export terrorism, pursue nuclear weapons in violation of international standards, and repress its own people. Iran‘s farcical presidential election of 2009 ―re-elected‖ the current regime, crushed the Iranian political opposition, and added another scar to Iran‘s abysmal human rights record. My country strongly opposes the emergence of a nuclear Iran, and it certainly is not in Turkey‘s best interest either to have a nuclear Iran next door. The regime in Tehran continues to redirect the frustrations of its own people toward the Jewish people in order to avoid scrutiny of its own domestic abuses and mismanagement. With a rich history of tolerance, empowering its people, and economic growth, Turkey has no need to do the same. Consider the demands of the millions involved in the Arab Spring: dignity rather than persecution, representative government rather than authoritarian rule, and generally a preference Page 4 of 5
for peaceful protest rather than violence. While Iran spreads anti-Semitic rhetoric to make up for its failure to live up to any of these demands, these same demands are the exact features of a democratic culture that have set Turkey a part because of its proud history as a secular republic. It is because Turkey is already a great nation that I wanted to learn more about your country and also share some of the concerns I see from Washington. The Turkish proverb, ―He who seeks a faultless friend remains friendless,‖ applies to both sides of our friendship. I want you to know that I am optimistic about the future of this region and that my hope lies with the Turkish people. The existence of a significant population of Turkish-Americans reflects our shared values of freedom, dignity, and tolerance. During the American Civil War, Sultan Abdul Hamid sent a symbolic caravan of camels and goods to demonstrate his support for our country and our cause. Many of the Turks who accompanied the shipment stayed and enriched America‘s democratic and open society. And I am optimistic because a place like Bahçeşehir University exists in Turkey. This university, barely a decade old, already exhibits the qualities of a great educational institution. The University sponsored the critically acclaimed documentary ―Turkish Passport,‖ which tells the true story of Turkish diplomats in Nazi-occupied France during World War II who risked their lives to save more than 1,000 Jews of Ottoman-descent from the Holocaust. The film‘s director told the audience at the Cannes Film Festival that his goals were to show that human values transcend all religious, ethnic and cultural divides, and to honor those brave individuals who refused to be indifferent or apathetic in the face of the suffering of others. Is there a more valuable example that Turkey can set for the rest of the world than this one? In twelve short years, you will mark the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic and evaluate the progress Turkey has made. I foresee a future where Turkey will not only have a larger, more prosperous economy, but also that it will be an exemplar of democracy in the Middle East and in the entire world. And if this comes to pass, when the centennial celebration arrives, every citizen of this great country will happily declare: ―I am a Turk;‖ And every friend of Turkey will proudly say, as I do today, ―I am a friend of the Turks.‖
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