Headed by Egemen Bagis, Istanbul MP and Turkish Grand National Assembly Chairman of the Turkey-USA Interparliamentary Friendship Group, a parliamentary delegation including Sukru Elekdag, Deputy President of the Friendship Group and Istanbul MP; and members of the Friendship Group Reha Denemec, Ankara MP; Mevlut Cavusoglu, Antalya MP and Zeynep Damla Gurel, Istanbul MP organized official visits to the states of New York, Washington and California between the dates of May 19-27, 2006.
The delegation initially attended the 25th Annual Turkish Day Parade and Turkish Culture Festival, which are organized in New York by the Federation of Turkish American Associations.
With the participation of the Minister of State and Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin, our country was represented at the Deputy Prime Minister level for the very first time, which made the Turkish community in the U.S. very content. Tens of thousands of citizens representing the entire Turkish world and belonging to different ideological backgrounds has proven the solidarity that keeps them together in the streets of New York. The utilization of the billboards located on highways for the notification of this event has also created great enthusiasm.
Our delegation has had the opportunity to talk to many of our Turkish citizens during the visit. Most of the questions addressed to Friendship Group members were about dual citizenship and voting rights. Besides answering all these questions one by one, the minister has clarified these and related issues at a press conference.
Mr. Bagis has welcomed the delegation who has come from Turkey for participating in Turkish Day Parade which was organized within the framework of Turkish-USA Cultural Festival activities with a breakfast meeting.
Apart from the delegation, Ahmet Ertegun who lives in the United States, Atilla Pak, the chairman of Turkish-U.S.A. Associations Federation, the honorary chairman Ata Erim and New York Ambassador Omer Orhon were also present at the meeting.
During this meeting, Mr. Bagis emphasized how a huge organization it has become since the action was started by a handful of Turkish people and reached today such a great number of 40 to 50 thousand participants from Kirim to Cyprus, Balkan to Ahiska, from people wearing scarves to people wearing mini-skirts, from supporters of Galatasaray to supporters of Fenerbahce, young and old. Bagis drew attention of the guests to this solidarity by mentioning how this event has brought together so many people through their love for Turkey and how content he is before this great enthusiasm.
Mr. Bagis mentioned that the existence of such a determined and enthusiastic community and such a fortified bridge would also prove wrong the claims of some people regarding the deterioration of the relations between Turkey and U.S.A. He also added that this very same solidarity would show the provocateurs, who try to divide this unity, that their efforts are in vain.
WASHINGTON DC MEETINGS:
- Roy Blunt, Deputy Majority Leader Chamber of Representatives(R, MO)
The delegation initially talked to Mr. Blunt who knows Turkey very closely and supports her as he is the groom of Mr. Pearlman who was a member of the Turkish-American Committee in the previous years. The members of the delegation has recommended the Armenian issue to be dealt by historians and that the committee would not be able to give a judgment on this issue, and that a draft proposed by the American congress might jeopardize the reputation of the Congress as it was impossible to resolve the issue on an international legal basis. The members of the delegation has expressed that the attitude of Turkey regarding this issue was very clear and they have also expressed anew their recommendation which they previously made to Armenians for ‘going through archives mutually, creating an objective commission consisting of historians and wait for their decision'.
Henry Hyde, President of International Relations Committee,
Chamber of Representatives, (R, IL)
Mr. Bagis has also thanked Mr. Hyde, who will retire in the coming elections due to serious health issues, for his efforts and defending our cause on the Armenian issue by carrying it to the Secretary of State Ms. Rice and the President of the Congress and writing them a letter for their support. Mr. Hyde has pointed to the success of Turkey in Afghanistan and mentioned that Turkey has to be the leading country in the region.
Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, Member of International Relations Committee,Chamber of Representatives (R, FL)
Ms. Lehtinen, who during the meeting has realized that she is not a member of our Friendship Group and is proud of being the grand daughter of a Jew who has immigrated from Turkey to Cuba, mentioned that she would become a member of the group. With her participation the number of members of the Turkish-American Friendship Group has increased to 72. Mr. Bagis has mentioned Turkey's vision and expectations about Iraq and PKK, Cyprus and the EU.Howard Berman, Member of International Relations Committee,Chamber of Representatives (D, CA)
Mr. Bagis, after giving Mr. Berman, who is expected to visit Turkey for Aspen Conference, a general information on the relations between the U.S. and Turkey has talked to him about the improvements about PKK and or expectations about the issue. The delegation has agreed to make frequent contacts with Mr. Berman who has extensive knowledge on Turkey and Turkish foreign policy.
Luncheon with Members of the Friendship Caucus
A luncheon was offered by the United States Association of Former Members of Congress in honor of the American -Turkish Inter-parliamentary Friendship Group delegates. In addition to Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Co-chairmen of the Turkish Caucus, the luncheon was also attended by Caucus members Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AR), Rep. Steven Rothman (D-NJ), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Rep. Jim Cooper (D, TN), Rush Holt (D-NJ), and many former members of Congress.
At the very constructive and significant luncheon, Rep. Rothman himself mentioning the alleged Armenian genocide, asked: "Why is Turkey not negotiating with Armenia?" Mr. Bagis, suggesting that he had been misinformed, produced information about the invitations and attempts made in this regard. Other members of Congress, supporting the statement of Mr. Bagis, also have indicated the need to leave this matter to historians. Mr. Bagis gave detailed information about the letter of our Prime Minister addressed to the Armenian Prime Minister
Amb. Hon. Dan Fried, Asst. Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
The Ambassador expressed his deep regret for the attack on the Danistay and expressed his condolonces. Reporting that the visit of US Secretary of State Dr. Rice had been very successful, he stated that the "Joint Strategic Vision", announced jointly by the two Foreign Ministers, is in preparation and will be finalized following the deliberations of both Governments; he also stated that he is expecting the document to be made public at the earliest visit by senior executives.
In addition to these issues, views were exchanged on Iran, Iraq, Middle East, PKK, Kerkuk, Azarbaijan-Armenia conflicts, the alleged Armenian genocide and Cyprus.
Amb. Hon. Eric Edelman, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy
During the meeting our delegation repeated to Mr. Edelman that the most important issues within US-Turkey relations are PKK, Cyprus, and trade. When discussing the Kerkuk issue separately, it was indicated that the Iraqi constitution should not be separatist. Mr. Edelman stated the importance of the "Strategic Cooperation Document", and that there might be at times slipping in relations, but that he believes that such a document may serve as a guide.
In respect of the Iraq issue, Ambassador Edelman, considering the election of the cabinet as a good development, stated that as of now the cooperation between Turkey and the US on military and intelligence was increasing. He indicated that the bilateral relations had been having more positive course since the visit of US Secretary of State Dr. Rice, and expressed the importance of the continuation of such executive level visits.
Mr. Bagis formulated our expectations in the struggle with PKK; the sensitivity of the Turkish nation on this issue; the damaging effects of the PKK issue on bilateral relations; the recent increase in acts of terror in Turkey; the effects of funerals on the population, and reminded about the US promises on the war against terror.
American Turkish Council (ATC) Dinner
Mr. Bagis informed attendees, consisting of businessmen and some bureaucrats, about Turkey-US relations, expectations, and EU membership process. Mr. Bagis also answered questions regarding current events, such as the attack on the Council of State and the elections.
When the president of ATC, Mr. Brent Scowcroft, who served as the National Security Advisor to former US President George Bush, asked: "What are the three things you want the US to do?", Mr. Bagis answered that before everything else the fight against the PKK had to increase and that the same level of determination shown against Al-Qaeda ought to be shown against the PKK.
Subsequently-he said- more effort needed to be made to lift the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, and thirdly he emphasized the need to increase the level of trade between the US and Turkey.
Washington Institute For Near East Policy Round Table Discussion
At the meeting comprehensive information was conveyed to the people in attendance, members of different think-tanks and academics. Questions about current events, from the attack on the Council of State to the elections and the election of the president were asked. In reply Mr. Bagis stated that the governing party has not lost its strength, that the elections will be held on time, and in that occasion one of the many candidates, worthy of representing our nation, will be selected as the President.
Mr. Bagis, who also touched upon domestic political issues, declared that there will be no early elections, as was already stated by the Prime Minister, and that the majority of the National Assembly believes that, for the stability and the continuity of the state, the elections have to be held at the scheduled time. On the topic of the election of the president, Mr. Bagis stated that there are hundreds of names suitable for the position, and the 22nd Term Representatives of the National Assembly will elect the president at the appropriate time. Mr. Bagis said that to discuss this issue would be a groundless occupation in addition to being disrespectful of the President. Turkey's determination to exert every effort possible to resolve the Iran issue without a war was also mentioned.
After the introduction of our delegation to the California State Assembly by Senator Sheila Kuehl, who presided over the delegation which visited our country in 2005 as guest of the National Assembly, Mr. Bagis, in a speech representing the delegation, confirmed that Turkey is the most reliable US ally in a very difficult geographical area, and stated that Turkey and US are cooperating on critical issues such as those pertaining the Greater Middle East and North Africa Initiative, Afghanistan, Iraq. He said that this close cooperation between the two countries would continue in the future.
In addition, our delegation met with the State Senate Democratic Party Majority Leader Dr. Gloria Romero, the Republican Party Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman and other senate officials at Sacramento.
The delegation of the National Assembly also attended the 3rd Meeting of the Turkish American Business Conference, bringing together over 100 Turks working in Silicon Valley, and discussed mainly the progress of the Turkish technology sector, joint venture possibilities with high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, and successful Turkish investments in US.
Communications given by delegates during in this meeting confirmed that for Turkey the US are no longer limited to Washington or New York, and that Turkey is expanding to the West Coast, primarily to California; it was stated that the Prime Minister was the first Turkish Prime Minister to visit California, and that the attachés for trade, tourism, and education were appointed for the first time. The delegates declared that they believe in the idea of supporting the economic relations between Turkey and US West Coast.