A naive comparison of the US and Turkey
I was a participant in the US Department of State International Visitor Program for two weeks. We were a group of 21 human rights defenders from 21 countries all over the world. I will try to explain some of my observations and comparisons in my column today.

Our group started with a visit to Montpelier, in Orange County, Virginia. This is the site of James Madison's plantation and the home of one of the fathers of the US constitution. It was very interesting for me to hear liberal ideas coming from the owner of nearly 150 slaves. Yet it would be anachronistic to say that Madison was a supporter of slavery. Just the opposite, he was full of liberal ideas, mostly influenced by John Locke of England and Montesquieu of France. I now understand better how a constitution can become a unifying tool for a nation if freedom and human rights are the soul of the document. As we debate of a new constitution in Turkey, it is important to include all parts of society, such as the Kurds, the Alevis, non-Muslims, the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning) community and others in the text so that it benefits all. It was a valuable visit for me regarding the philosophical roots of the US and the US constitution.

We also visited some of the state institutions in the capital city, Washington, D.C., including the US Department of State and the Department of Justice, as well as several NGOs. It was an exciting moment for me during a meeting at the Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom to see how nationalism is effective foreign policy if there are consumers for it. It was also surprising for me to see the name "Margaret Thatcher" and the word "freedom" in the same title. It is a phrase like "the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Press Freedom Award."

A group of us visited Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the theme was indigenous rights. We went to the Gilcrease Museum, a wonderful museum of Native American art and artifacts, and we also saw an exhibition about "the Black Wall Street of America" at the Greenwood Cultural Center, based on the 1921 race riots in Tulsa that reduced more than 1,000 homes, 23 churches and lots of African American businesses to ashes. What I saw at these two museums was clearly accomplished, or at least attempted, genocide and I believe that creating these kinds of tributes is a brilliant way of apologizing. I hope we can have the same kind of institutions soon in Turkey for the Armenian genocide and for the rape, murder and destruction directed mostly at Greeks and Armenians, though also Jews, Syriacs and converted Muslims, on September 6-7, 1955. It also showed me how much hard work we have to do on these shameful issues of our past.

Finally, we visited San Francisco, California. It is a lovely, liberal city to leave our hearts in. A visit to the Castro district, known for its LGBTQ community, and learning about the assassinated gay rights activist and political leader Harvey Milk, showed me the clear need to address this issue in Turkey. We have to work on the prevention of hate crimes in Turkey: one transgender individual is attacked every 15 days, according to 2013 statistics.

I realized that not all of the US is liberal like what I saw in San Francisco and Washington; there are also many conservative states, like Oklahoma. Another similarity between the US and Turkey is that the coastal areas are more open-minded and liberal compared to the middle of the country. It is important to concentrate more on human rights in both countries. As Rumi stated: "Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."  

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Last Modified: 2014-05-28 09:00:02
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