Reactions From Turkish-Americans in the U.S.

06/17/2013 08:18 am ET | Updated Aug 17, 2013

If you live abroad, the most unbearable time to be away from your motherland is during the hardest periods facing the country, such as Turkey is experiencing now. I feel dreadful about the situation of the past two weeks. My heart is bleeding. Like many others I cry, pray and hope for the best for all the victims of this process, including us. Since the demonstrations started two weeks ago, many people in the U.S. have come together to protest the attitude of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and criticized the anti-democratic actions of Turkey. Öncü Saraç Tüzüner, a devoted Gezi Park protester in New York, said:

He [Erdoğan] only listens to what he really wants to hear. He has to stop calling his people names. You can't change everyone's opinions. We need to be heard and respected by him. All of us are educated individuals; we know what is right and what is wrong. With forbidding, he can't teach us anything. He should really listen to these young people and see they do no harm but protect the country from going modern to an islamic country. All individuals have their own right to believe or not to believe. He really should stop pushing Turkey to the edge!

Yes, protests are taking place everywhere in the world, but Turks in the U.S. have a very unique place. It seems that we are the only ones who took out full-page ads in a national newspaper, the New York Times, to protest against Erdoğan, and we are the only ones who thought of organizing a demonstration in support of Erdoğan, too. Since the advertisement has become one of the most talked about issues, I spoke with Olgaç Ünsal, one of three people -- along with Murat Aktihanoğlu and Duygu Atacan -- who led the initiative to place an ad in the American media against Erdoğan's policies. Ünsal told me that "since the local mainstream coverage was poor, we thought that placing an ad in a prestigious newspaper could help us voice our concern. We were very selective about the wording of the text to embrace everyone in Turkish-American society." Ünsal apologizes if the ad offended anybody, saying:

I am a regular Turkish citizen, and our intention wasn't to humiliate our government. It was just a warning to Erdoğan to be a more democratic leader to represent us fairly. We only want to bring Turkey on to a more democratic platform. We were heard, mission accomplished. This is just a democratic experiment.


However, the advertisement was heavily criticized by many members of the Turkish-American community. Many think that it is a shame to complain about our government, similar to others who are against Turkey, with a paid advertisement. The reactions were plenty. "The paid advertisement was wrong. The audience is the general public, the average Joe. First at all, the general public does not care. Even if they did care, they would not know what to do or how to respond to the ad. We can call local representatives, write them or pay them a visit. But how many of us have already developed local ties?" asked Banu Ibisi in Pennsylvania.

Now, among this chaos there is a brand new platform called "Herşey Türkiye İçin" (Everything is for Turkey) that is organizing a "unity demonstration." Halil Danışman, the spokesperson, told me that the platform was established by regular people. "Throughout the week, we have witnessed the U.S. media coverage of the Gezi Park protests in Turkey misrepresenting a lot of facts on the ground. The American public was presented with the protesters with almost no mention of the well-known hate-based ideological groups which capitalized on the opportunity for conflict." Moreover, he criticized the Turkish community in the U.S. who sponsored an advertisement published by two major newspapers. "It is unfortunate to see that most of the information and commentary on these protests in Turkey suffer from a failure to understand Turkish politics and society and therefore mislead the American public. Thus we came together via this platform to explain what is happening in Turkey with a different point of view," Danışman said.

However, the platform has been criticized for supporting the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) since many AKP supporters have taken an active role in promoting the platform. I don't know how things will look like by the time this article is published, but right now, AKP supporters, Erdoğan's fans and some conservative people who don't support the AKP but cannot find a place in the "chapuller" movement are willing to go to the demonstration.

Unfortunately, within two weeks the facts have been twisted. While people here are united by freedom of speech and democracy, they have become intolerant, offensive and more sensitive. I cannot agree more with Sezai Kalayci, Zaman's U.S. representative, who said: "The people of Turkey have been confused by dictatorship, the status quo and the authority of the state for a few centuries. A few years of living in the U.S. doesn't change this fact so easily."

Regretfully, no matter where we are, polarization, intolerance and a lack of dialogue in Turkish societies are rising. It feels like most of us have the "fight to be right" syndrome: We all want to talk out loud but not listen. We only listen to receive endorsements. Otherwise, we get crazy and attack each other cruelly, with blame and curses. In addition, in that chaos we are missing the fact that our opinions cannot be divided by 50 percent as Erdoğan believes. There are a lot of people who don't fit into the two groups: supporter and non-supporter of AKP.

Why do we insist on coding each other into templates in our minds? We don't admit that this doesn't work despite the fact that it is during times such as these that we should come together as a society and listen to our conscience to understand each other to find a mutual solution.

Thank God there are people who still patiently believe that all this nonsense will carry us to a mature democracy and will enrich civil rights, like me.

Please keep in mind that whenever we're in conflict, there is only one factor that can make the difference between being destructive or constructive: attitude. We have all witnessed that rejection, aggression and retaliation are not a good way to communicate. The only method to solve any human conflict is true love.

This Article was previously published in Today's Zaman.

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