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17 November 2007

2188) Turkish Anti-Americanism Through Eyes Of Americans Living In Turkey

 © This content Mirrored From TurkishArmenians  SiteIn Turkey anti-Americanism means opposition to American policies rather than bitterness against US citizens. Americans in Turkey say they have confidence in Turks’ ability to separate American culture and American politics .

On Oct. 8, most of the 7,500 Americans living in Turkey opened their email inboxes to find an unusually alarming note from their embassy in Ankara.

"This Warden Message is being sent to alert U.S. citizens in Turkey to anticipated legislative activity in the U.S. House of Representatives and its possible consequences in Turkey," the first lines of the message read.

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee was about to consider a resolution labeling the killings of Anatolian Armenians during World War I "genocide." The American Embassy urged its citizens to be alert for possible demonstrations and manifestations of anti-Americanism after the vote, advising them to "avoid large gatherings" as well as "places known to be frequented by Americans."

Obviously, US-Turkey relations in recent days have not been at their highest point. Adding to the tensions are Turkey's preparations for a possible cross-border offensive into northern Iraq, in an effort to stop lethal incursions from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). .


But while politicians are discussing the future of delicate bilateral ties, concerns about an increase in Turks' anti-American feelings have spread among the 7,500 Americans living in Turkey. Some of them might wonder if their usually friendly grocer has suddenly turned anti-American, or whether they should hide their citizenship from that inquisitive taxi driver.

Among them is Jeffrey Dixon, an assistant professor of sociology at Istanbul's Koç University whose research focuses on Turkey and the European Union. Citing results from a recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey that Turks' views of Americans have "hit rock bottom," Dixon admitted he was "a little concerned and in fact more concerned than before, given that data indicate a rise in anti-Americanism in Turkey."

Dixon lamented that US-Turkey relations were at their lowest point since he has been studying Turkey and said he feels alarmed when the embassy sends out alerts asking him to avoid certain places.

Surveys and official alerts aside, Dixon insisted that Turkish people general treated him very well. “I think that part of this is because I know Turkish,” he says. “Another part of this is because the Turkish people are able to separate American policies from American people.”

However Dixon confessed he had recently lied about his American citizenship and introduced himself as a German to a Turkish taxi driver. “I’ve done that before and said I was French or Canadian. If I can remember correctly, I did this because the taxi cab driver previously said something bad about the United States.”

Conrad Woodring, who has been working in Istanbul since March 2007, also remembers himself pretending to be Canadian on his first trip to Turkey four-and-a-half years ago. The United States had just invaded Iraq and US popularity worldwide was plummeting. At the end of the day, however, Woodring says he felt “like a coward” for presenting himself as a Canadian passport holder.

“I believe that the country where we are born should not determine the quality of our character. I know that people will frown upon me because I am American; this is unavoidable and I simply do my best to not associate with those people. I am not ashamed to be American. … One can either decide to live in fear, or not to. I am not afraid to be American,” he says.

Woodring has never lied about his citizenship since then. Despite a few instances in which he felt a little nervous lately, Woodring says he is confident that it only takes simple precautions to keep himself out of harm’s way.

“Turkish people’s intense nationalism has been manifesting itself in protests against their own government and against the PKK, not so much against Americans,” Woodring says. “Problems between the PKK and the Turkish army have overshadowed the US vote acknowledging the Armenian killings as genocide, so the level of anti-Americanism hasn’t increased lately.”

Woodring observed that most of his Turkish friends enjoyed discussing politics and often engaged in intellectual debates over the United States. “When the US was about to vote on acknowledging the killing of Armenians as a genocide, I noticed everyone’s opinion dropped one peg. Many of the Turks I know were very angered by this and there were a lot of discussions about how Turkey would stick it to the US by restricting the US bases in Turkey... They seemed to see this as a slap in the face from the US and were excited to see their country slap back.”

In Woodring’s opinion, Turkish people are unanimously against the US government and usually grant confidence to Americans who do not support the current American administration. Woodring, who says he does not trust his government either, insists he feels safe in Turkey and finds it very exciting to “witness first-hand democracy in action.”

Woodring recalls his feelings the day he was stuck in his car on a bridge during a recent protest that took place in the area where he lives: “People were marching down the street shouting in a language I didn’t know. The roads were blocked and had I needed to run, there was nowhere to go since I was on a bridge. This was the first and only time I have been afraid in Turkey. The protesters had an intensity in their eyes [such] that I immediately envisioned things taking a turn for the worst.”

Woodring says all his friends have advised him to avoid protests, tourist areas and to maintain a low profile. But while the political situation in Turkey has been volatile lately, Woodring describes himself as “lucky” to witness Turks out in mass, “standing together for what they believe in and making a difference.”

“The government has truly been listening to and doing the will of the people. True, it has been reluctant in doing so, but the Turkish people have a strong voice. It is very exciting for me to see this all happening,” Woodring says.

Karen Miller, a 20-year-old from Long Island, New York, also finds that living in Turkey nowadays inspires her to take advantage of seeing the public view of America in the eyes of Turkish people. “I don’t think US-Turkish relations are at a good point in time right now,” says Miller, an exchange student at Istanbul’s Koç University this quarter. “As I have never lived outside the US, I have only heard of political issues with other countries from American news and media. … But here it is even a different understanding, because at any moment I could just ask someone about their opinion on the matter.”

Although she says she was afraid of the way people would treat her after hearing about the Armenian resolution in House Foreign Affairs Committee, Miller realized that the motion had not made any change in Turkish people’s attitudes toward her. “As time passes, I am still meeting many other people and have no fear in introducing myself as an American from New York.”

“I’ve come to learn that Turks are very kind, welcoming and hospitable people, but I feel that is even amplified when they learn I am an American. I don’t believe that it is because I am American but just because I am a foreigner and it is always interesting to meet people from new and different places,” she notes.

Miller has therefore never lied about her citizenship in Turkey, although some of her friends in the US had been joking that she should fake a Canadian accent and say she is Canadian when asked about her origin.

In fact, Miller says she disagrees with Americans and others who state that Turkish people are in danger of becoming anti-American. Miller says she has confidence in Turks’ ability to separate American culture and American politics.

“When an official says a comment like that, I almost feel as though by making that statement he or she is making the Turks slightly more anti-American just by putting the idea out in the open. I also do not like the American embassy warnings about avoiding demonstration areas, but do understand why they give such warnings. Living in Turkey, I want to experience as much Turkish culture as I can and if that means seeing current events such as a demonstration, then I will go to a demonstration,” Miller says.

But while those three Americans agreed on the ability of Turkish people to engage in an insightful conversation about American politics and relations with Turkey, their answers differed when asked about the number-one questions from Turks to Americans.

Woodring finds Turks’ most frequent questions deal with their own country and people. “Turkish people have a lot of pride about their country and their culture and they like to hear what foreigners think of their country,” Woodring says. “When it comes to the topic of America, Turkish people like to ask me about what I think about the situation in Iraq, the PKK. It usually starts with them asking me what my opinions are about the US occupation of Iraq, which shifts over to did I know that the PKK, a terrorist organization in the East of Turkey, is hiding out in northern Iraq and receiving weapons from the US.”

A sociology professor, Dixon says he is asked about American culture in general, the extent to which people feel isolated in the United States, how the US family structure is similar to and different from that in Turkey and why the American people supported Bush in the previous presidential election.

As for Miller, she says the number one question is “Do you like Bush?” sometimes followed up with “Did you like Clinton?” Turkish people, Miller says, “always make it known that they do not like Bush but did favor Clinton. … I am surprised how people don’t usually ask me questions about the US occupation of Iraq. Instead they just ask me how I like the president, not his efforts in Iraq.”

Americans planning to settle in Turkey or to visit the country should therefore calm their fears of Turks’ anti-American feelings, which Americans living here describe as directed to the American government and its policies rather than to American citizens. On the contrary, they might be tempted to witness “democracy in action” in Turkey, no matter what politicians might be telling each other on bilateral talks over sensitive issues.
18.11.2007, ANNE ANDLAUER İSTANBUL /Zaman

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