Turkish official wants to expand influence in Iowa and US

By Brent Griffiths, The Daily Iowan

Nearly 6,000 miles from Iowa City, Turkey acts as a bridge between Europe and Asia, and it is now looking to become more of a partner with the United States.

Beyond its strategic location near Iran, Syria, and Iraq, Turkey is looking to create deeper connections with the United States, which is encouraging one official to bridge the large geographical gap.

“When you look from the shift in politics from the west to the east, Turkey is in the middle of that,” said Fatih Yildiz, the Turkish consul general in Chicago.

Yildiz visited the University of Iowa on Monday to speak with students and faculty about creating those relationships at the state and local level. Iowa is looking to take that step — Yildiz will meet with Gov. Terry Branstad today.

“The trade [between Turkey and Iowa] is not that bright compared to Iowa’s other partners … the share we have is a miniscule one,” he said. “The Midwest in general is a specialized area for agriculture, and agriculture-related industries are very much important to Turkey.”

One official with the Iowa United Nations Association said the visit continues Iowa’s steps for global engagement along with the UI’s steps to develop further ties worldwide.

“There have been some shaky points in recent years [in U.S./Turkish relations], but Turkey is a transitional state between Europe and the Middle East,” said Yashar Vasef, the executive director of the Iowa United Nations Association. “It’s very important for us to make sure we operate and they operate under mutual interest.”

Yildiz believes Turkey offers an opportunity for a greater “strategic and moral ally” than China. This includes working to build a relationship with Iowa that is similar to the connection Branstad made with China.

“You may see, for example, the Chinese working with Americans in many fields including science and education, but the Chinese and Americans don’t call themselves strategic partners or allies,” he said. “So we have to make that difference out in the field.”

One way this relationship can be improved is through what Yildiz characterizes as “people-to-people diplomacy” where anything from stereotypes of the 99-percent Muslim nation to other misperceptions from both countries can be replaced through shared experiences.

“[Stereotypes and negative views of Turkey] can only be overcome by people-to-people diplomacy. Not only the leaders and politicians getting together charting new horizons for the relations between the countries, but it should be the people,” he said. “Real people that have a stake in creating new relations between [the two countries.]”

At the UI, the Turkish Student Association is working with its roughly 70 members of both Turkish and non-Turkish descent to learn more about each other and provide a hub for Turkish students studying at the UI.

In the fall of 2012, there were 31 students from Turkey studying at the UI.

“We using these kind of talks to develop relations between Turkish students and Turkish faculty members and students, faculty and staff at the University of Iowa,” said Emrah Tiras, the president of the UI Turkish Student Association.

One member of the association said he sees quite a few Turkish students — although more graduate students — at the UI, and welcomed the opportunity to be with the Turkish community.

“It’s really nice to see how the Turkish community came together for this event,” UI freshman Furkan Pecen said.

Yildiz sees a great opportunity in developing future ties with Iowa and the United States given the promise of Turkey’s future.

“When it comes to the areas of trade, economy, culture, science, education, we are not there yet,” he said. “We need support on a part of our American friends to raise the profile of this relation to match that name. We still have a lot of to do, but the potential is huge for the two countries.”

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