Growing up in the Washington DC area, my parents were very active in the Turkish community. My father was one of the founders of the American Turkish Association and being so, they had the opportunity to know most of the officials at the Embassy. I remember the high level of respect and admiration that they had for the then Turkish Ambassador to US, Sukru Elekdag. In fact, I remember vividly after every visit to the Embassy, my mother would come home and go on and on for at least 10-15 minutes of how fortunate we were as Turks in America to be represented by such a man. During the late 70s and early and 80s, there was a lot of negative stereotype about Turkey. With “Midnight Express” standing at the top of the box office and the Media making sure everyone knew Mehmet Agca was a Turk, it was a bit of a challenge to let off a good impression to strangers. Its as if “Gobble Gobble” wasn’t enough, there were other issues that needed to be addressed. Back then, just being a Turkish diplomat was a risk but Ambassador Elekdag stood tall and worked hard to educate Americans on what it means to be a Turk. When he left his position, my mother said that he was one of a kind Ambassador and would not be matched.
I recently met the current Turkish Ambassador to US, his Excellency Namik Tan. I came out of that meeting feeling the same way my mom felt 25 years ago. Turks in the US are very fortunate to be represented by this man.
This Ambassador is very unique. He is very down to earth and holds an active approach in connecting with Turks in America. Prior to our meeting, I spoke with a student at Georgetown University who was one of many in the Washington DC area to be invited by the Ambassador to express his opinion and share details about his Educational Experience. This Ambassador is all ears and willing to listen to the Turks in America. What better way to understand the Turk that you represent than to meet them personally. It was very clear to me that he places great importance to Education and his emphasis to engaging the new generation youth is obviously paramount. During my meeting, we spoke about Education. It was clear to me that he understands the American Education system as well as any Senior Official in American Academia. He is sensitive and understands the challenges that Turkish students face when moving to other side of the world from adjusting to a new academic system to culture shock. His presence and leadership is a breath of fresh air for Turkish students studying in the US. His back is never turned and he is there to do anything he can to enhance their goal to succeed and be happy as student representatives of Turkey. During our meeting, we spoke of Ataturk and I learned so much. Ambassador Tan pays great tribute to Turkish History and the Flag. I was also pleased to even talk about my personal passion of Basketball. Despite his very busy schedule, he was keeping himself up to date with how Hidayet Turkoglu and Omer Asik were doing in NBA Playoffs and he even voiced some concern about performance of other basketball players.
The Ambassador also has a wonderful twitter page which gives us a clear opportunity of what his typical day is like. It is also a tremendous wealth of knowledge. I have learned trivial things like what President Wilson learned from Nasreddin Hoca to the myth of Turkish traveler, Evliya Celebi. From History to Jazz to Architecture, there is so much that can be learned from following the Ambassador’s tweets. This personalized approach to connecting with Turks is unique and effective. It adds to spirit and patriotism of Turkish Americans to know that their head statesman cares.
In addition to connecting with the Turks of America, Ambassador Tan is also the ideal representative of the Turkish Republic to America. He demonstrates the necessary courage in dissolving false and negative innuendo about Turkey and makes sure that Americans are aware of the great history, culture and opportunities that exist in Turkey. He travels the country and speaks to universities, corporations, committees to assure that Americans understand the value of Turks. His energy and presence educates Americans and creates opportunity that impacts the well being of both countries.
I came out of my meeting with Ambassador Tan with energy. As Ataturk once said,” Ne Mutlu Turkum diyene” or how happy it must be to say I am Turkish. That is the spirit that I came out with. Ambassador Tan possesses the leadership to extend that spirit or feeling. To me that is essential. For Turks living in the US, Ambassador Tan is a true leader and the ultimate representative. A man who is willing to go to bat for Turkey and its people. Today, I echo the same words to my son that mom told me 25 years ago.