“THE PEOPLE WHO ESTABLISHED THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY ARE THE TURKISH PEOPLE”

“The people who established the Republic of Turkey are the Turkish people.” In this description Turkish does not contain any reference to an ethnicity but references a group of people (free from any ethnicity or religion) who had fought and worked together to establish the Republic of Turkey. “
[Interview 2 of 2 ] TurkishLibrary.Us proudly presents an exclusive interview with the President, Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), GÖKHAN ÖZALP on the ATAA’s 40th Anniversary Celebration 

along with the 100th Anniversary of the start of Turkish War of Independence and Turkish Revolution through a long-day Conference in Arlington, DC on October 5, 2019.
In the second part of this interview, with Mr. Özalp, we’ve focused on the founding principles of ATAA, changing demography of Turkish community in the US, along with on the challenges and towards its new direction.
– Interview conducted by Bircan Ünver, The Light Millennium & TurkishLibrary.Us

Part 2 of 2 – Let’s continue
Part 1

What are your programs and vision to make ATAA more relevant to all the Turkish-American community at large?

– We are a cultural organization. In our future programs, we will be emphasizing the aspects of our culture that are shared universally by our members and followers. By saying culture, I do not just mean food, music or folklore, these are important too. However, I mean the universal values we share, that makes the unique Turkish – American culture in the US., that are respect and support of the founding principles of Turkish Republic set by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and respect for rule of law, democracy and human rights. We will be organizing seminars in various states to engage or communities with respected speakers to talk about these values.  

What will it take to change the ATAA’s well-established perception that it mainly deals with the Armenian Diaspora to a much more broader and diverse one? 

– Yes, it has been perceived that ATAA’s pure focus is on the “Armenian” related issues. This is normal because ATAA was founded to serve as an umbrella organization to defend our community from these baseless accusations. 

However, as I mentioned before the dynamics have changed. I have always defended this position that FETO (Fettullah Gulen Terrorist Organization) was even a bigger and imminent threat to our Republic and to the Turkish-American community in the US. And this turned out to be true because this terrorist organization had caused great and direct damage to Turkish Republic. Its shadow is still looming in different circles in Turkey. We have to understand that if Turkish Republic cease to exist then there will be no cause to defend ourselves from the baseless accusations of “genocide“. This is why we will support new programs promoting rule of law, democracy and human rights in Turkey and in the US. I am not saying we will abandon our reputation for being the Turkish umbrella organization that deals with the Armenian Diaspora, but this will not be the soul focus of the organization in the future. The UN program we will be undertaking is a big step towards establishing this new perception. This will take time but we will be persistent. 

We all know well that if a Kurd or Armenian or Jew or Rum Orthodox Christian migrated from Turkey, they hardly say, I am “Turkiyeli”, instead, whatever their religious identity or ethnicity.
On the other hand, in particular, during the last decade and up to date, we’ve been witnessing frequently that there has been a multi-layered political push towards replacing “Turk” or Turkish” in the US with a made-up word, “Turkiyeli” (Turkian/although there is not such a word or as in translation in English). This particular approach has been injected through various channels in the name of “embracing all of those who migrated from Turkey to the US”. 
In this push and political injection, I consider that all the Turkish citizens and “being Turks” have been under attack towards putting all of us under a “minority” category, instead of owning and conveying our cultural identity and background in the US! What is ATAA’s stand point on this?

– When Turkish Republic was established, this was clearly discussed by our founding fathers and Ataturk has clarified the discussion in his definition:

The people who established the Republic of Turkey are the Turkish people.” In this description Turkish does not contain any reference to an ethnicity but references a group of people (free from any ethnicity or religion) who had fought and worked together to establish the Republic of Turkey. 

As I mentioned before, ATAA is a staunch supporter of founding principles of Republic of Turkey. 

Now, ATAA both will celebrate its 40th Anniversary and the 100th Anniversary of the “May 19, 1919” the date was launched by Ataturk Independence War against aligned occupied power of the time. Could you please give us some highlights about the Conference and 40th Anniversary celebration program?

– The conference is designed to celebrate both our 40th Anniversary but more importantly the 100th Anniversary of start of Turkish War of Independence and Turkish Revolution. 

We have invited experts to speak about the Turkish War of Independence and its impact to the world politics. As known, it is the Turkish War of Independence is fought in Turkey but the outcome has a bigger impact on the then world politics and the Muslim world. 

We have also invited distinguish speakers that we believe will excite our community with their speeches on ATAA, Turkish Americans and Turkish War of Independence. Our distinguished speakers are Prof. Emre Kongar, Dr. Yalcin Ayasli and Hon. Edward Whitfield. Prof. Kongar, I believe does not need an introduction as he has a big fan base in the US. So as Dr. Yalcin Ayasli as the founder of Turkish Coalition of America. Hon. Edward Whitfield is the founder of Turkish Caucus and have been a strong ally for the Turkish-American community.

Our conference will be followed by a reception and a Gala Night with award ceremony and live music.

Is the Conference open only to ATAA members and delegates or to all interested individuals?
And, what are the expected number of the attendees of the Conference?

– The conference is open for general public who are interested in celebrating the 40th Anniversary of ATAA and the history of War of Independence of Turkish people in the early 20th century. 

We are expecting between 100-200 attendees. 

Will there be an Outcome Report of the Conference to be posted on your website including presentations follow by the conference in order to make its all concept and your landmark event’s contents available to all interested parties globally?

– There will be a Summary Report of the Conference accomplishments. The report will be available online on the ATAA.org website. It will also be emailed to our mailing list.

As one of the two largest Turkish-American umbrella organizations in the US along with the FTAA, are there mutual programs or projected-ones in terms of bringing the largest possible Turkish-American community together in the US?

We certainly hope to work with FTAA. FTAA with ATAA is one of the oldest and prestigious umbrella organizations in the US. I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Turkish Parade in New York. It was a big success with many attendees. I commend the Federation for this year’s Turkish Parade. The Federation’s mission, their values, founding principles and their support for Ataturk’s Republic have always been in parallel with ATAA. We have worked together in the past on we hope to work together in the future. 

ATAA has made a unique history over 4 decades during last 40 years on behalf of the Turkish American Community in the US, in particular, from the Civil Society Perspective, visibility and contributions. In this line, what are the first 5 things/programs that you would like to see that ATAA has implemented and accomplished on the utmost level during the next 5 years as well as by its 50th Anniversary?

ATAA like all other local Turkish-American organizations have to raise funds and needs volunteers to stay active and vibrant. To be frank, these are important challenges needs to be addressed. I believe if ATAA understand the changing demographics and profile of communities and manages to stay relevant to the new generation of Turkish Americans, these two challenges will be there but will only have a minor impact on the organization. To understand and stay relevant, our strategy is to get our organization involved in programs which we think will excite the communities and will enable ATAA to outreach to a broader audience. 

As the final question, could you introduce ATAA’s new project “Bright Future” please? And, when do you plan to implement it?

Bright Future is ATAA’s most important project so far. It is a joint venture between Baskent University and ATAA. It is an online Turkish language teaching platform for children ages 8-12, 13 and up and also for adults. This one of a kind platform not only teaches language but also teaches aspects of Turkish culture as well. This most valued and impressive project will be launched during the first quarter of 2020.

Thank You.

Part 1

Part 2 of 2 – End. 


– More information about ATAA’s 40th Anniversary Conference is available by clicking here >

ABOUT

Mr. Gokhan Ozalp was born and raised in Ankara. He attended TED Ankara Koleji and later received a B.S. degree in Chemistry from Hacettepe University, Ankara. Mr. Ozalp moved to the U.S. in 1995 for higher education. He received a M.S. degree in Information Systems and an MBA with a Specialization in International Business Management from Eastern Michigan University. Professionally, Mr. Ozalp worked as a developer and a project manager in the medical device software industry. Currently, Mr. Ozalp works as a software consultant for medical device startups. Mr. Ozalp has been an involved member of Turkish-American community in Michigan and in the US. He served as a Board member for Turkish American Cultural Association of Michigan (TACAM) from 2009 to 2010, was on the Board of Trustees from 2010 to 2012 and has served as the Vice President from 2017 until today. During his term as a TACAM Board member, Mr. Ozalp chaired the organization’s Grassroots and Outreach committee which was established to work on a special project with ATAA to create a Grassroots movement within the Turkish American Community in Michigan. Mr. Ozalp was involved in inspiring and training community members to participate in advocacy and outreach on issues relevant to Turkish Americans. Mr. Ozalp served the Turkish-American Community in the US as an ATAA Board Member from 2013-2016 and as President Elect from 2016-2018. Currently Mr. Ozalp is the President of ATAA Board of Directors. Mr. Ozalp is married, has a son and lives in Michigan.  www.ataa.org

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