Turkish-American Community: Assimilation and Brain Drain

Can Özcan

Can Özcan

is a Middle East expert at the University of Utah, teaching Turkish language, politics, and foreign policy
Can Özcan
Turkish-American Community: Assimilation and Brain Drain - MPC Journal - There is growing concern in the international peace community that the crisis in the Middle East if not rationally and tactfully handled by the global powers – the playing actors of the Middle East war theatre, the situation may reach at its zenith where peace would become a riddle of enigma in the region. The Middle East has been conditioned by outside forces into a powder keg that is ready to explode with the right trigger. As for the West, If Saudi Arabia and Turkey send their ground troops to Syria; a wider war in the Middle East could result in redrawn borders. But for the Russians, any such remaking of the Middle Eastern borders that could serve the Anglo-American-Israeli interests, would not be acceptable to Moscow. MPC Journal

President Barack Obama (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara – © Image: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Turkish community organisations in the United States lack the resources and intellectual discourse for proper representation and empowerment. Armenian, Serbian, Iranian and Albanian lobby groups do a far better job influencing state department to construct public opinion. The deficiency of Turkish-American organisations stems from the lack of consensus in the definition of national interest as a result of fragmentation in Turkish domestic politics.

The isolation of Turkish industrial giants from the American public sphere reinforces already existing divisions and leads to ideologically equipped state-sponsored efforts as an only option to navigate in the American public. Organic ties of the Turkish community organisations to Turkish political actors, such as the Erdoğan Administration, Kemalist establishments, the former Gülen movement, or Kurdish groups follow their own agenda without any intent of accommodation in their interests and value sets.

Other former Ottoman Empire groups have now completed the first stage of diaspora community building, which is to exist as a binding community under a common heritage. Historical context provides the necessary emotional tool set for such solidarity. Armenians utilize the rhetoric of 1915 genocide, Albanians invoke the Bosnian-Serbian-Croatian war of the 1990s, and Iranians cite their organic lineages to the secular Pahlavi dynasty.

The large Albanian population in the state of Illinois led to a presence in local politics, which in turn has left a mark on the Obama administration, due to his previous involvements in Illinois State politics. The early entrance of Armenians on US soil helped to solidify their world-view as a dominant discourse by influencing state and federal politics, as well as education and art. The Iranian-American community’s second generation has already penetrated key posts in the US such as CIA, Google Ideas and NASA thanks to their full intent to imagine their future within American citizenship and their common enemy in post-Ayatollah Khomeini establishments in Iran.

Infamous espionage attempts of the Gülen Movement against the Erdoğan Administration led to permanent cuts in financial and political support to various charter schools and community centres. The Movement’s current efforts to establish an alliance with Kemalist establishments will remain futile. The Turkish Government’s distrust of these conservative groups shifted their funding, not to other grass-roots organisations, but rather to a conservative, elite bourgeoisie such as MUSIAD USA.

In the next a few years, we will be witnessing government finance to find and create its own grassroots organisation or the co-opting of already existing Turkish-American assemblies to better align with the ideology of the Turkish state establishment. Yet, their intellectual map struck into selected events of Battle of Gallipoli, multicultural imaginings of Ottoman past, or the glorious War of Independence.

Derived from highly symbolic construction of Turco-Ottoman heritage in collective memory, the heritage industry is awaiting fierce debate in the mind-sets of the Turkish-American community with different political leanings. In the face of lack of consensus on national past and national interest, the identity of the Turkish diaspora falls into a trap of being utterly reactive to the global processes. Their immediate encounters with Armenian groups shape the content and form of the Turkish heritage industry.

Thus, the rejection of Armenian claims of 1915 unsurprisingly came to be the dominant cause for state funding. The Turkish Coalition of America’s strong support to promote a Turkist understanding of the Late Ottoman era, backed by Azeri petro dollars, has dominated the politics of heritage. The Turkish-American community is expected to consume these Turkist views of Ottoman era and Khojaly massacres of Nagorna Karabagh conflict as a binding communal ritual.

The disconnect between crafted heritage and the Turkish-American community, along with fragmentation within the community, has reached a point where immense intellectual power has become disillusioned with Turkish-American community organisations specifically, and Turkey in general. Kemalist success with its secular education project that dates back to the Tanzimat era give fruit to the emergence of globally competitive individuals equipped with professional skill set that enable survival of individual attempts to purse career goals in major US companies such as Google, Apple, or various start-ups.

However, they are disillusioned with their own past and existing Turkish community organisations. Unless Turkish industrial giants with neutral political background such as Koç or Sabancı Holding come into the picture by stepping out of their elite circles in New York City and Washington D.C., the Turkish American community will face a more absolute assimilation to American culture.

The future could be still re-envisioned thanks to dominance of a strong sense of return to homeland that does not exist in Armenian, Serbian, Albanian or Iranian communities. Well-funded community organisations with professional employers, immune to Turkish government influence, are much needed to meet the complicated and highly diverse needs of the Turkish community in art, law, business and education across the US. Otherwise, Turkish cultural centres will maintain a role of organising culinary workshops and their nationwide meetings will be host to global intelligence think tanks.

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