Oklahomans experience Turkey’s emerging role as a democratic model.The 17th-century Blue Mosque provides a backdrop for the group during a tour of Istanbul. Front, left to right, Juley Roffers, Russ Florence, Louisa McCune-Elmore, Linda Meoli and Orhan Kucukosman. Back, left to right, Bill Bleakley, Murat Zengindemir, Kelly Burley and Jim Langdon. Kucuksoman and Zengindemir were hosts during the trip.
With much of the Middle East immersed in political change, one predominately Muslim country serves as a model for democracy while expanding its influence as a regional, economic and political power.
According to The Economist, the emerging Islamic mainstream will look for its model “to the democratically elected AK party in Turkey, with its Islamic flavor diluted by tolerance for others and respect for secular institutions.”
At this historic time, seven members of Oklahoma’s media were invited to Turkey for a 10-day trip in late March by The Institute of Interfaith Dialog, a nonprofit organization established by Turkish- Americans and headquartered in Houston.
The institute hosts these cultural exchange trips to bring global communities together to promote cooperation and understanding from the vantage point of respect, accuracy and appreciation. It has hosted visits of nearly 200 Oklahomans to Turkey since the program began, with participants drawn from government, academia, religion, law enforcement and, now, the media.
The executive director of its Oklahoma City office, Orhan Kucukosman, personally guided this group of media people, comprised of Jim Langdon and Juley Roffers, publishers of Tulsa People; Kelly Burley, executive director of KOSU radio; Louisa McCune-Elmore, editor-in-chief of Oklahoma Today; Bill Bleakley and Linda Meoli from Tierra Media Group, publishers of OKCBiz; and Russ Florence, president at Schnake Turnbo Frank.
The entire group was impressed with the vitality of the country’s democracy, now energized by national elections to be held in June. McCune-Elmore observes, “In Turkey, it seems everyone has a genuine stake in the future and a clear understanding of the past, from the prime minister to the hotel bellman.”
All the Turkish government and media representatives the group encountered were enthusiastic about the positive changes in their country. The Oklahomans met with members of parliament and a staff member of the country’s constitutional revision committee to discuss the June national election and the pending consideration of revisions to Turkey’s constitution.
Meetings with young media representatives revealed a bursting enthusiasm for a free and dynamic press. One was the young news director of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, TRT, who impressed the group with his candor and zeal. Hired from a private television network, he’s been given the challenge to clean up TRT’s bureaucracy and create more meaningful news content for the Turkish people.
“Our job is to become the voice of the people, not the voice of the state,” he says. His plans include bringing in American correspondents experienced in election coverage to cover the Turkish national elections in June and to create a regional news network to compete with Al-Jazeera.
Other media visits were with the executive director of Journalists and Writers Foundation; an international news correspondent for Aksiyon, a leading Turkish news magazine; and a manager of the Samanyolu broadcasting group, Turkey’s leading private television network.
Visits to various historical and cultural sites enhanced the trip, including stops in Istanbul, Ephesus, Ankara and Cappadocia.
Of particular appeal was a trip to the city of Nigde in central Turkey. There the group visited an elementary school organized by local citizens inspired by the Turkish Muslim writer and educator Fethullah Gülen, whose works and discourse served as the inspiration for organizing the institute.
The Oklahomans were guests at dinner, followed by a student program, and then were hosted for the night in the homes of school patrons.
The profound effect of the trip’s experiences was best expressed by Burley: “We’re all human beings trying to find our way in the world, and this trip was a pleasant reminder that different social and political cultures still have much in common — namely the bonds of family and fellowship.”
The trip was concluded with a surprise invitation to the wedding of a parliament member’s daughter, which was also attended by the Turkish president and prime minister.
Every person traveling on the trip was overwhelmed with the hospitality and friendliness of the Turkish people. Frequent invitations were offered to the Turkish hosts to visit Oklahoma and share in the hospitality of its people.