[US to Turkey ’15] Maggie Mick: “Turkey—The Wall”

09-30-2015 posted by Acypl
American Delegation outside Old parliament building and Ataturk's Memorial in Ankara, Turkey. The author is pictured second to the right in the first row.
American delegation visiting Anıtkabir, Ataturk’s Memorial in Ankara, Turkey. The author is pictured second to the right in the first row.


My second ACYPL journey took me to Turkey last month. During a meeting in Ankara, our host asked us, “What does every human desire in this life?” In my American mind, I thought “Love.” He then answered his own question as none of the delegates had offered an answer aloud. “Freedom,” he said.

For me, this question and his answer represents all of the lessons, discussions, scenes, and moments we experienced during our time in Turkey. It was a sober reminder that a great number of people in the world are still trying to be free—including those living in and seeking refuge in Turkey.

For many of us in the west, we think of Turkey and its people as an old culture and civilization but that is misguided. Turkey is a new country (est. 1923) – fervently dedicated to preserving and protecting its founding leader Ataturk’s vision for the nation. To be a democratic, secular nation. A free people. Always respectful of its long and important history but a country looking to a progressive future.

Still shy of 100 years old, Turkey still seeks to be a country of its founding principles and does so against increasingly threatening conditions. The country is literally a figurative wall between the devastating chaos of war torn countries to its south and east and the hope of freedom to the west.

Maggie Mick with Turkish flag in Ankara
Maggie Mick pictured with Turkish flag in Ankara

Millions of Syrians are scaling this figurative wall into Turkey. We saw countless refugees in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir as we traveled the country. There were PKK Terrorist attacks on Turkish soldiers and police every day that we were there. Violent protests and riots against the ruling Party (AKP) held in response. Reading an ex-pat newspaper, we learned that the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and U.S. National Press Club had both issued statements that they are monitoring the AKP’s harassment of journalists and multiple news outlets. We were exposed to it all and all are threatening freedom in Turkey.

It was a frenzied time to be in Turkey but each of us felt honored and grateful for being there in this important moment for the country, region, and world. You know the expression “I’d love to be a fly on that wall?” In some moments, I was that lucky fly.

Driving through protests of the PKKK killings of Turkish police
Driving through protests of the PKK killings of Turkish police

The day after the Kurdish Party’s headquarters was burned in Ankara and on the day of many soldiers’ funerals, we met with the vice chairman of the main opposition party (CHP). He hurriedly left our meeting as he was late for another commitment. As we were leaving his offices and walking down the hall, I turned around and caught a glimpse of him warmly greeting, then linking arms and walking down the hall with the head of the Kurdish Party (HDP). In the June election, the HDP achieved 18% of the vote, which gave the party and its people (who have long been disenfranchised), seats in parliament for the first time in history. On that somber day in Ankara, two leaders were coming together to try and solve the country’s problems. It was a beautiful moment to see national leaders from different political affiliations and backgrounds coming together to help their country.

It has been a difficult transition to being back in America, since we were exposed to such serious geopolitical challenges. We looked displaced people in the eye and knew they no longer had a home. We heard the concerns of many Turkish people on the future of their free democracy. It has motivated me to work to find ways to ensure that others can achieve what we have every day in America: freedom.

Maggie Mick is the Director of Development, The Council of State Governments

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