Cablegate: American Council of Young Political Leaders Engages With

Dianne Wampler 12/13/2006 05:18:54 PM From DB/Inbox: Dianne Wampler





DE RUEHIT #2154/01 3460913
R 120913Z DEC 06




E.O 12958: N/A

1. Begin Summary: A visiting American Council of Young Political
Leaders (AYCPL) delegation engaged over dinner December 4 at the
Consul General's Residence with a group of Turkish political party
leaders, academics, business executives, and senior press columnists
and editors. The lively exchange of opinions regarding a wide range
of issues effecting U.S.-Turkey relations offered the U.S.
delegation a good idea of the marked differences in views and
approaches between Istanbul's secular elite and the Islam oriented,
religiously conservative segment of the population. It also
afforded the "Istanbullu" participants a rare opportunity for direct
exchange amongst themselves. End Summary.

2. On December 4, the Consul General hosted a delegation of
American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) whose 12-day
visit to Istanbul, Ankara and Kayseri was co-sponsored by the State
Department and the Turkish private sector and organized by the ARI
Movement, a Turkish political and social NGO that encourages young
people to take on leadership positions in politics. The six members
of the ACYPL delegation were: Joey Fillingane, Mississippi State
Senate (R); Ana E. Hernandez, Texas House of Representatives (D);
Victor R. Ramirez, Maryland House of Delegates (D); Cy Thao,
Minnesota House of Representatives (D); George Selim, Policy
Advisor, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, U.S. Dept. of
Homeland Security (R); and Albert James Lama (Escort), Chief Hearing
Officer, New Mexico Tax and Revenue Department (D). The Turkish
guests, the majority of whom were International Visitor Leadership
Program alumni, were Public Affairs Section contacts from academia,
political parties, business and media. The guests discussed a broad
spectrum of subjects including Iraq, Iran, Cyprus, the Pope's recent
visit to Turkey as well as Turkish domestic policies.

--------------------------------------------- -
Turkish-American Relations: Public Perceptions
--------------------------------------------- -

3. In response to a comment that some expatriates in Turkey
believed Turks were less friendly to Americans in recent years due
to the war in Iraq, Homeland Security's Selim commented that it was
his understanding that Arabic/Muslim populations continue to like
the American people but strongly object to American policies,
particularly in Iraq and the Middle East. Turkish guests agreed
this was the case in Turkey. An academic pointed to a recent poll
indicating that Turks believed the number one threat to Turkey was
the U.S., followed by an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq
and the PKK terrorist organization.


4. Rather surprisingly, an academic from Istanbul University
remarked that it was the duty of the U.S. to support Israel and that
this should be a factor in deciding how to react to Iran's nuclear
program. In the end, however, he argued it would be up to Iranian
President Ahmadinejad to determine U.S. reaction, since he would
decide how far to push his country's nuclear program.


5. Taking advantage of the presence of an official from Homeland
Security, several guests criticized the length of time it takes to
issue U.S. non-immigrant visas, particularly when "additional
screening" is required. A number of prominent academics have missed
conferences at which they were scheduled to deliver papers due to
the long screening process, even though in several cases they had
applied six weeks in advance. Students have been forced to defer
the beginning of their studies by a semester. ConGen Offs
underscored the importance of this issue, and Selim admitted that
such delays occur, but noted that the only remedy was to start the
visa application process as early as possible.

Cyprus, EU

6. The problem of Cyprus and its impact on broader EU accession
talks animated a number of conversations. One television news
producer accidentally sent a wine glass flying as he explained to
delegation members the impossibility of expecting Turkey to
compromise further than it already had on this issue (This preceded
the GOT's reported offer to open one seaport and one airport in an
effort to break the diplomatic logjam). An ARI movement member (who
described himself as a nationalist) strongly agreed, remarking that
there were two nations on the island and asking them to join as one
state and one nation was unreasonable. A Turkish think-tank
representative proffered his analysis of the suspension of Turkey's
EU accession talks on eight to ten subject headings. Whereas the
AKP government had signed an additional, written protocol committing
to the opening of ports, the Europeans in return had simply given a
verbal commitment regarding the facilitation of Turkey's EU
accession. This resulted, he believed, in the Turkish foreign
ministry being backed into a corner, and put in a position where
Turkey was expected to honor the signed protocol, with no
substantial guarantees in return.

Turkish Domestic Politics
7. Turkish guests also engaged in an animated discussion on the
likelihood of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan's announcing his candidacy for
the May 2007 presidential elections. The vast majority believed he
would do so, noting there were no promising alternate candidates.
While they expected initial public outrage among the secular elite,
they believed that the population would ultimately accept Erdogan as
President. A think-tank representative indicated that Turks could
tolerate a devout male Muslim leader, but that they were less
tolerant of devout Muslim women (referring to Erdogan's wife, who
wears a headscarf). He argued that Mrs. Erdogan's appearance
presents a concern for the general public and that opposition to
Erdogan's candidacy (or subsequent presidency) could be linked to
the public's perception of his wife. When the think tank
representative pointedly asked the Justice and Development (AK)
party mayor of one of Istanbul's largest local municipalities
(Beyoglu) for an answer regarding Erdogan's intentions, the mayor,
whose father is a close associate of the Prime Minister's, demurred,
saying he had no knowledge on the subject.

8. When the discussion turned to secularism in the Turkish army,
one ARI representative claimed that the military was in fact a
religious entity since all mess hall meals are preceded by mandatory
prayer. He was contradicted by an academic, who claimed that the
word "Allah" was not used in such prayers. Instead, the generic
Turkish word for God, "tanri" was used, which he believed made the
prayer less religious. There was also a heated discussion on
whether the law banning headscarves from public buildings and
universities should be rescinded. The ARI participant complained
that it was ironic that the State, which allows headscarves at
religious vocational "Imam Hatip" high schools, would not let the
same students dress the same way when they enter university. He
advocated extending the headscarf ban to include all high schools.
Homeland Security's Selim remarked that wearing religious garments
is not a concern in the U.S. unless it interferes with others'
rights. The ARI representative contrasted eastern provinces such as
Erzurum where students not wearing scarves were treated with
hostility with western provinces where scarf-wearing students were
often humiliated.

9. The same self-styled ARI "nationalist" mentioned above drew
astonished reactions from his fellow countrymen at one table when he
suggested that there should be a separate Kurdish state in northern
Iraq and southeastern Turkey. "I am a nationalist," he countered,
"and I also support Kurdish nationalism."

Pope's Visit

10. All the Turkish guests agreed that the Pope's visit was
received very positively in Turkey and that the Pontiff had
succeeded in bringing the Christian and Muslim worlds closer
together. Many noted that the Pope appeared to have "become a
diplomat overnight" by making gestures such as waving the Turkish
flag, using a few Turkish words, and especially by praying in
Istanbul's famed Sultanahmed (Blue) Mosque. His encouraging words
regarding Turkey's EU accession were also very positively received.
As one academic stated, "The visit could not have gone better."
Another Turkish guest wryly concurred with local observations that
"We Turks are funny people; two weeks ago we hated the Pope. Now we
love him."

Kayseri - Anatolian Tiger

11. Upon hearing that the ACYPL delegation would be spending four
days in Kayseri, a deeply religious and socially conservative city
of 500,000 in central Anatolia, the vice-chairman of MUSIAD, the
Islam-oriented business organization, noted that Kayseri has become
such an economic success story that it has earned the title
"Anatolian Tiger." One of the ARI guests noted that his
organization had recently completed a report entitled "Calvinist
Islam," about the phenomenon of economically successful religiously
conservative areas of Turkey. He said that the title, which
referred to a strong work ethic mixed with Muslim values, was
heavily criticized by the devout, who believed it could be
understood as an effort to Christianize Islam. The MUSIAD
representative agreed that the report was very controversial, saying
the title had made his life difficult for months as many Western
media outlets sought out his reaction. The ARI representative
attributed Kayseri's current success in part to the historical
legacy of the city's economically successful Armenian and Greek
populations, although he noted that this underlying factor was not
included in the original report due to potential political

12. Comment. This gathering at the Consul General's residence
provided an opportunity not only for the young political leaders
from the U.S. to meet their Istanbul-based counterparts, but for the
latter group to meet and engage one another as well in an unusually
neutral, relaxed atmosphere. The wide-ranging nature of the
conversation, and the emotion that some subjects (Cyprus,
headscarves, secularism) engendered set the stage for the remainder
of the group's visit to Turkey. End Comment.


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