Turkish Daily News
16 November 2002
Right now according to American politicians relations have
improved to their highest point since the events of September
11. September 11 worked to the advantage of Turkey. They started
to know Turkey better and the more they know, the more they like
Relations between the two countries could improve if we can
show the light to the people of the diaspora. We do everything
to promote Turkey to Armenian and Greek groups, mostly Armenians
Elif Akbas Dr. Kayaalp Buyukataman, President of the Turkish
Forum and Executive Vice President of the Federation of Turkish
American Associations, was in Turkey recently to promote stronger
relations between this country and the United States. He has spent
years in the U.S. working on lobbying efforts so that Americans
would understand more about Turkey and its people and there is
still much to do.
Buyukataman answered questions for the Turkish Daily News and
the complete interview follows.
TDN- How do you evaluate politics in Turkey?
BUYUKATAMAN- That is a difficult question. As an association
we do not get involved in politics inside Turkey. I mean we
deal with politics outside of Turkey, in other words foreign
policy. But as I see it, Turkey’s politics are going through a
rebirth. Everything is being reshaped, parties have been opened
and it will be better in the future.
TDN- What do you think of the relationship between Turkey and
the United States?
BUYUKATAMAN- That’s what I have been thinking about for the last
40 years. Of course the better the relationship is the happier
Turkish Americans become. Nothing makes us happier than a good
relationship between Turkey and the U.S. We like to keep it
this way and that is what we are fighting for — to keep good
relations between the two countries and to improve Turkey’s
foreign relations by giving it support in every country. Right
now according to American politicians relations have improved to
their highest point since the event of September 11. September 11
worked to the advantage of Turkey. They started to know Turkey
better and the more they know, the more they like it. Of course
there were lobbies working against Turkey and they have been
the main problem in the U.S. for Turkish-U.S. relations.
TDN- What do you think about the work being done by the Turkish
lobby in the United States? Do you think that their work is
BUYUKATAMAN- You say Turkish lobby and that is a very broad
subject. There are various associations such as the Turkish Forum
or the Federation that are working for Turkey without expecting
any compensation for their efforts. Their own contacts have
affected the country.
Lobbying should start from the bottom, making friends and contacts
and influencing members of Congress whether or not they work
for Turkey. That’s what we have been trying to do, establish
a lobby from the ground up and create a force to influence the
U.S. Congress and the public. We have several problems but some
of them could be overcome with manpower and people because each
of us has a different life, with our families. We do this with
time that we steal from our families.
The Federation or Assembly and the Turkish Forum work this way. In
that respect maximum effort is placed on lobbying; however,
we can do much better if we would be better at measuring the
organizations working on that and for the nation too. A lobbying
team in Washington paid by the government is never enough. If
it had been enough, we would have been capable of stopping the
proclamations regarding Armenian genocide. So far 27 states
have accepted the genocide and placed it in their curriculum. We
have started making contacts and we have new programs. We have
already obtained proclamations in that respect and started
gaining momentum. In the end we will be successful because we
are telling the truth.
TDN- What do you say about Turkey’s bid to become a full member
of the European Union (EU)?
BUYUKATAMAN- When Turkey declared that it accepted the laws
(required for full membership of the EU), the Turkish Forum
praised the attempt and congratulated the parliamentarians
for passing the laws. We Turkish Americans consider this the
greatest victory of this year. It is greater than our football
team’s success in the World Cup. Of course when we did this,
we met with some opposition. But the majority of the people
living outside the country, our 183,000 members have only made
a couple of negative comments; the rest were positive. We all
praise Turkey’s effort to become a full member of the EU. We
will achieve that all together.
TDN- What is your opinion about the Turkish-Armenian relationship?
BUYUKATAMAN- This is a good question. When you say the
Turkish-Armenian relationship, there are two issues. The first
issue is Turkey and Armenia and the other one is the Turks
and the Armenian diaspora [Armenians in “exile”] who live in
the United States. The way I see how relations between the two
countries could improve is if we can show the light to the people
of the diaspora.
We do everything to promote Turkey to Armenian and Greek
groups, mostly Armenians. When they hear the name of Turk
or Turkey something triggers in them and they start fighting
regardless of the object if it bears the name of the Turk. This
is not a racist comment. This is a fact. These relations have
triggered some memories implanted in them from their childhood,
false statements, false stories because the Armenian church
wants to keep the Armenians together by creating hatred of the
Turk. The first thing they teach in the kindergarten is “Turks
are dogs.” These are the first words and we have checked their
books. From that age onwards the children start to create an image
of the Turk that does not exist. It exists in their mind because
they want to create hate so that they can bring the Armenian
groups together. This is working outside the country. Of course
it is not working in America as far as we can see but these lobby
groups influence them. One reason for that is the people of the
diaspora give most of their income to Armenia.
In Armenia there are about two million people and the diaspora
people number much more than that. Over a ten-year period they
were able to get just about $1.5 billion from the U.S. government
for Armenia. We call that the genocide.com industry. They have
created a story and they have gotten help from churches throughout
the world. One percent of the help given by the U.S. to Armenia
returns back to the U.S. and secondarily to Armenian associations
and through them to the politicians in the Armenian lobby who
are successful passing all those billions to Armenia. That
is a good return — 1 percent and a hundred times more than
that goes to Armenia. What is funny about it is that Armenia
is still a poor country, suffering for money even as it gives
money to politicians who have come under the influence of the
diaspora. So this conflict continues that way. They invented a
genocide to create money for themselves. Unless this is resolved,
relations between Turkey and Armenia may never improve.
TDN- Turkey and Armenia have had several problems, especially
economic ones. What is your perspective about these issues? How
could we overcome these problems? Do you think that the work
that has been done is enough?
BUYUKATAMAN- In the past there were two different groups Turkey
and Armenia, the Turk and the Armenian diaspora. In the framework
of the relationship between Turkey and Armenia, Turkey always
forgives, you know following the policy of Ataturk. This is the
way we were raised. Nobody told us what happened in the past. We
were told about the Armenian revolution, etc. And that is all.
However as long as the Armenian diaspora hates the Turk starting
from primary school, there will be no peace and understanding
because the diaspora in America and in Europe controls Armenia
regardless and the other one sends major amounts of dollars
to feed the politicians. If anybody opposes them, they work
against him. Unless the diaspora accepts the truth as far as this
invented genocide story is concerned, there will be no peace
and understanding. One exception to this is of course if the
Armenian people in Armenia finally get fed up with what’s going
on and start setting up rules but this is highly unlikely because
Armenia still is not a civilized or democratic country. It is
still left over from Communist Russia. The same regime continues.
TDN- What is Turkish Forum’s perspective on the minority rights’
law and the death penalty in Turkey?
BUYUKATAMAN- You mentioned minority rights. Turkish Forum starts
with the definition of a Turk by Ataturk. Whoever appears as a
Turk he or she is a Turk. Regardless of that I have seen many
Albanian friends from Yugoslavia or America and they work much
harder to promote Turkey because they feel they are Turks. We
have also have some Armenian friends who work harder than us to
prove they are Turks. We work together hand by hand. So when you
talk about minority rights which part is the minority I don’t
know. If someone feels as if he is a minority, he must have the
same rights with the rest of us. Because we are living in the
same country, we share the same ideals. This is one country.
TDN- In the past the Turkish government has hired professional
lobby groups but these were not successful. How is the federation
doing in comparison with the past efforts?
BUYUKATAMAN- The lobby groups hired change continuously. There
were different groups and each one had problems. They were not
completely successful. If there was a position, then they were
successful; but if there was opposition from different lobby
groups, then no. The Armenian lobbies were pressuring the states,
and people from the states put pressure on Washington. The senator
has to make a decision; he listens to the people who elected him,
not a lobby group in Washington, D.C. That is one reason that
they were not successful.
But we are trying to counter act that by forming special
alliances between Turks and Americans. In our plan we have 17
new associations that are spread out right to the middle of the
U.S. To promote economic and agricultural relations between
Turkey and America is why we have contacts with the Istanbul
Chamber of Commerce and the Union of Turkish Chambers. They have
responded and they are giving support to us. With their help,
with our plans, with the feedback we have received from farmers or
people who trade with Turkey we are going to be successful. Plus
when we have established trade relations, it will be easier to
influence the senators because of the people who have the most
relations with the senators. So we are going to multiply our
power and elevate the Turkish lobby.
TDN- What kind of activities do you engage in? How do you plan
to find new members?
K.BUYUKATAMAN- We inform well-educated people about the issues
because we may expect more from them. We tell them that Turkish
groups outside Turkey need help. We push the button and get a
response. That is what we are trying to do. Education is our main
goal. My experience shows that if an association is very active,
the number of members grows rapidly.
Istanbul – Turkish Daily News People are willing to believe what
they hear Sedef Buyukataman, director of media relations for
Turkish Forum and Dr. Kayaalp Buyukataman’s daughter, believes
that Turkey is not getting its story across to the world. She
pointed this out in answering questions for the TDN and stressed
that, since it doesn’t, people believe what others say.
The complete interview follows.
TDN- What is your general perspective about the current issues
that are on Turkey’s agenda such as the EU and the problem of
SEDEF BUYUKATAMAN- Our acceptance in the EU is the same problem
that we have in U.S. Typically in Turkey we are taught or we
believe or it is part of our culture that you don’t generalize
about ethnic or religious groups and hate them regardless of
whether some of the people in that group are fighting against
you. What happened is Turkey has remained silent. We are a Muslim
country and to the Christian world this means different. This
means automatically not the same. People do not like accepting
what they don’t know. That is the basic underlying message of
Turkish Forum and the Federation. We are trying to let people
know more about Turkey. I have been living here for three
years. Before I moved here everyone said “Why are you moving
to Turkey? You are not going to like it.” But after they came
to see me here they said that my country was lovely and my
people were wonderful and they added that they were expecting
something completely different. This is the main problem. And
it is the same problem we have with the lobbies working against
us in Europe and U.S. People are willing to believe what they
hear and because they are not hearing anything from Turkey,
they believe what they hear on the negative side.
TDN- Turkish Forum has an institutional identity. In the framework
of this identity could you carry these problems to authorities?
S.BUYUKATAMAN- That is what we have been working on especially
with our recent delegation trip that included Istanbul and
Ankara. I must say that I was very, very impressed with the
feedback that we got from everyone that we met and we met with
some people from the political and military arena. Everyone
understood what the issues were; they were clear on the fact
that they needed to be solved and when we presented them with
a solution or at least the beginning steps of a solution the
feedback that we got was very, very positive so I have a lot of
hope that this is going to be a significant turning point for
Turkey in the world arena. Because I have a lot of faith in the
people we met, I have significant respect for all of the people
in charge of running our country right now and that includes the
Turkish people. Because I am one of them I can say that people
understand basically what the basic problem is and what I think
has been missing has been that external perspective. We came
here with some solid, tangible things that we can do to start
turning this around. Basically the feedback that we got was
TDN- What is Turkish Forum’s perspective about the minority
rights law and the death penalty in Turkey?
S.BUYUKATAMAN- With regards to the death penalty I just want to
say something about that having grown up in the United States in
the 70s and 80s when America was talking the most about getting
rid of the death penalty. America still has the death penalty
in some states. I think it is completely an individual issue —
I may believe one thing; my father may believe another. I don’t
think it stems from the culture but if nothing else I think it
adds to what I was saying earlier. The world has a certain view
of Middle Eastern Muslim countries and I don’t think that the
EU is excited about including Turkey in the EU because we have
economic problems and political issues and cultural differences
and maybe if Belgium would turn around tomorrow and say that death
penalty still exists, maybe there wouldn’t be that much negative
feedback if Turkey continued with the death penalty. It is just
unfortunately — I don’t want to say racism because it is not
exactly racism — but because we have not established ourselves
as a Western democracy in the eyes of the rest of the world,
these things will always be an obstacle for us so we have to
make as much effort as we can to get into the EU.
TDN- How about Turkish young people in the U.S.? Do they
preserve their own Turkish culture? What are their interests and
hobbies? How do they evaluate the political and social changes
in Turkey? What is their attitude towards religion?
S.BUYUKATAMAN- In a country in which we have the benefit of
U.S. culture, there are negative and positive things. We have to
thank our families that we have the benefit of Turkish culture. I
never felt as if America was home for me. I love America and
I adore my friends there but there are certain expectations
from the social aspect that I have from my friends and from my
relatives. So those of us who were fortunate enough to grow up
in a strong Turkish culture while living in the U.S., we end up
feeling that Turkey is a strong part of our lives and our roots
are very clear.
We have the benefit of knowing where we come from. There was no
formal response from Turkey about teaching Armenian genocide in
schools. And that is the part that upsets me the most because I
am not sure that everyone would do that but I did independent
research. I did not listen to what my father or other people
said. I needed to find out what happened on my own and when I
did I realized that in regard to genocides, it is just a matter
of respect to use the word genocide.
To me the word genocide is what happened to the Jews in Nazi
Germany. It upsets me to know that I have friends who are
American and I have Armenian friends who told me that the Turks
committed genocide against their people and asked my opinion
about that. And I can only offer them what my perspective is
and they are left to make a decision on their own. But how many
people have Turkish friends whom they can ask this to? And that
is really the disappointing part of Turkish youth.
I have been working as a sort of assistant in various
organizations that my father has been a part of and at one point
I was part of the Turkish Youth Associations’ Federation. It
has always been an effort to band together with my close
friends because before I came here I only knew perhaps one or
two Turkish people living in American culture. I did not seek
out Turkish people because they were around so much but when we
got together we had certain bonds and we understood the struggle
the other was going through. We try to keep in touch as much as
possible. We would get together in Federation events and that
was very important for us.
What is going on politically in Turkey right now I think is a
lot of confusion. I can talk for myself because we are used to
an American system with two parties; we are not use to changes
in the economy. But that does not mean that I am not interested
and we do not want to do things about it. There were some moments
when I really wanted to enter a party but I couldn’t find how to
get in touch with them. So that sort of communication needs to
be built up. Because I think there are many young Turkish people
in United States who want to do more but we do not know how.
I have never been a religious person despite my coming from a
Muslim family. I read the Koran and really enjoyed it. The problem
was it differs from translation to translation. That’s our main
problem and I think it is the same problem in Turkey. Most of
my friends and I do not pray five times a day but being Muslim
is important for me. It is a part of who I am.
Istanbul – Turkish Daily News