TR Fo­rum: Mike Brubaker and Alon Liel

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - Mike Brubaker Penn­syl­va­nia state se­na­tor

In July I had the op­por­tu­nity to visit Turkey to meet with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and business own­ers to learn more about the coun­try’s econ­omy and business cli­mate, and help con­nect busi­nesses and in­vestors from Turkey with po­ten­tial business op­por­tu­ni­ties in the US. The trip also of­fered me a chance to learn more about Turkey’s his­tory and cul­ture by meet­ing reg­u­lar cit­i­zens, al­low­ing me to wit­ness every­day life in the coun­try. The clean, wel­com­ing at­mos­phere of İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir and An­talya of­fered the per­fect back­drop to make in­valu­able con­nec­tions with business own­ers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, and to build bridges be­tween our cul­tures that will be of mu­tual ben­e­fit for Turkey and Penn­syl­va­nia.

Sev­eral non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions helped or­ga­nize the trip and paid for some in­ci­den­tal costs; I was re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing my own travel ex­penses (with­out the use of tax­payer dol­lars). How­ever, the per­sonal cost was a small price to pay for the wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence and in­sight I en­joyed dur­ing my stay. I had a chance to not only learn more about other cul­tures, but also make con­nec­tions and gain in­sight that will help me rep­re­sent cit­i­zens from dif­fer­ent coun­tries who have come to Penn­syl­va­nia in re­cent years. I be­lieve the visit al­lowed me to make new con­nec­tions with Turk­ish cit­i­zens as well as help­ing me be­come a more ef­fec­tive leg­is­la­tor in my own dis­trict.

I am very grate­ful for the chance the trip gave me to learn about another cul­ture through first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence in­stead of view­ing it through the fil­tered lens of var­i­ous me­dia out­lets. In some cases, in­di­vid­u­als ig­nore the ad­van­tages that can be gained by cre­at­ing strong cul­tural, so­cial and eco­nomic re­la­tion­ships with other na­tions be­cause they don’t fully un­der­stand other cul­tures. I be­lieve it is ex­tremely im­por­tant for pub­lic of­fi­cials to be con­tin­ual learn­ers, and one way we can achieve this is by study­ing and un­der­stand­ing other cul­tures, ex­am­in­ing how other na­tions solve com­plex prob­lems and find common ground. We should not al­low fear and mis­con­cep­tions to cloud our judg­ment about dif­fer­ent coun­tries and cul­tures. We should embrace the op­por­tu­nity to build bridges to con­nect with new cul­tures, in par­tic­u­lar with na­tions that are very dif­fer­ent from our own.

One of the İstanbul land­marks I saw dur­ing my visit was the Bosporus Bridge, one of the world’s largest sus­pen­sion bridges. While the bridge serves a prac­ti­cal pur­pose in terms of trans­porta­tion, it is also sym­bolic of a con­nec­tion be­tween dif­fer­ent cul­tures. The bridge con­nects Europe and Asia, unit­ing cit­i­zens of the world’s only city lo­cated on two dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents. The Turk­ish ex­pe­ri­ence in blend­ing and in­cor­po­rat­ing dif­fer­ent cul­tures from a wide va­ri­ety of so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds of­fers a num­ber of lessons for Penn­syl­va­nia and the US in gen­eral.

The eco­nomic value of in­ter­na­tional com­merce

Build­ing stronger re­la­tion­ships with dif­fer­ent na­tions doesn’t just in­crease the po­ten­tial for cul­tural growth and un­der­stand­ing, there is also a mu­tual eco­nomic ben­e­fit. Just a decade ago Turkey suf­fered from slow eco­nomic growth and triple-digit in­fla­tion. To­day the coun­try has re­versed this trend and en­joys one of the world’s high­est eco­nomic growth rates. This dra­matic turn­around is even more im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing th­ese mile­stones have been ac­com­plished with­out rais­ing taxes.

I met with Turk­ish Fi­nance Min­is­ter Mehmet Şimşek to dis­cuss a num­ber of the fi­nan­cial chal­lenges the coun­try has faced in re­cent years. I serve as chair­man of the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee in the Penn­syl­va­nia Gen­eral Assem­bly, and it was ex­tremely valu­able to hear some of the steps Turkey has taken to pro­mote eco­nomic growth, and to see the pos­i­tive re­sults of th­ese ac­tions. While not all of Turkey’s prac­tices and poli­cies are trans­fer­able to Penn­syl­va­nia, the chance to speak with Min­is­ter Şimşek was in­valu­able.

Dur­ing my visit, I also had dis­cussed in­ter­na­tional com­merce is­sues with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the For­eign Eco­nomic Re­la­tions Board (DEİK). DEIK pro­motes in­vest­ment in Turkey and helps keep Turk­ish business own­ers ap­prised of business op­por­tu­ni­ties in in­ter­na­tional mar­kets, in­clud­ing the US. The tremen­dous eco­nomic growth in Turkey is not con­strained by the na­tion’s bor­ders; Turk­ish in­vestors are in­volved in nu­mer­ous business ven­tures through­out the world, and many are in­ter­ested in find­ing new eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties in the US.

Meet­ing with some of Turkey’s lead­ing business minds can cre­ate tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits for the cit­i­zens I rep­re­sent in Penn­syl­va­nia. In­vest­ments in the state’s busi­nesses can gen­er­ate fam­ily-sus­tain­ing jobs for res­i­dents of my dis­trict in Lan­caster and Ch­ester Coun­ties. Turk­ish busi­nesses have in­vested heav­ily in in­ter­na­tional mar­kets, in­clud­ing sev­eral Euro­pean na­tions, and im­proved lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Turk­ish and US busi­nesses will gen­er­ate lu­cra­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties for busi­nesses and in­vestors in both coun­tries.

Last year I es­tab­lished the In­ter­na­tional Com­merce Cau­cus in the Gen­eral Assem­bly to help iden­tify ways Penn­syl­va­nia can ex­pand in­ter­na­tional trade and business op­por­tu­ni­ties. In­ter­na­tional com­merce al­ready con­trib­utes nearly 8 per­cent of state GDP, and this fig­ure has dou­bled over the past decade. There is sub­stan­tial op­por­tu­nity for growth in Penn­syl­va­nia through in­ter­na­tional in­vest­ment, and build­ing a strong re­la­tion­ship be­tween Penn­syl­va­nia and DEİK -and with sim­i­lar business as­so­ci­a­tions in other coun­tries -- can pro­mote lu­cra­tive business re­la­tion­ships that tran­scend our na­tion’s bor­ders. I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to con­nect Penn­syl­va­nia in­vestors and busi­nesses with new op­por­tu­ni­ties through­out the world.

Turk­ish his­tory of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism

Through­out more than 235 years of our na­tion’s his­tory, the US has prided it­self on be­ing a melt­ing pot for dif­fer­ent cul­tures, re­li­gions and na­tion­al­i­ties. How­ever, while our na­tion is just a few hun­dred years old, Turkey en­joys a his­tory and cul­ture that stretch back thou­sands of years, from the Stone Age through

to to­day’s mod­ern democ­racy. Turk­ish ex­pe­ri­ences of­fer valu­able lessons for our coun­try as we strive to rep­re­sent mil­lions of in­di­vid­u­als of dif­fer­ent re­li­gion, na­tion­al­ity, cul­ture and val­ues. As the first democ­racy in the Mid­dle East, Turkey has for decades been a strong ally of the US. Pres­i­dents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both vis­ited Turkey, sig­nal­ing the im­por­tance of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two na­tions. Democ­racy in Turkey is only a few decades old, but Turk­ish democ­racy still of­fers another im­por­tant per­spec­tive for US lead­ers, as the na­tion works to in­te­grate dif­fer­ent re­li­gions and cul­tures.

One such ex­am­ple is the Ha­gia Sophia in İstanbul. This ar­chi­tec­tural won­der was con­structed almost 1,500 years ago and served as a Christian church for close to a mil­len­nium. When the Ot­tomans con­quered İstanbul in 1453, they con­verted the church into a mosque. The build­ing served as a place of wor­ship for Mus­lims for nearly five cen­turies prior to the es­tab­lish­ment of the Repub­lic of Turkey. To­day, the im­mense domed build­ing serves as a mu­seum that pays homage to both Is­lam and Chris­tian­ity. In a coun­try with a sto­ried his­tory that in­cludes great po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious up­heaval, this mon­u­ment seam­lessly brings to­gether two re­li­gions that have for cen­turies fre­quently been at odds, and is in­dica­tive of the na­tion’s tol­er­ance and ac­cep­tance of dif­fer­ing view­points. The union of th­ese two dif­fer­ent world­views speaks vol­umes about the county’s re­spect for the dif­fer­ent re­li­gious be­liefs of its cit­i­zens.

One of the keys to pre­vent­ing con­flict is to build re­la­tion­ships with those whose life ex­pe­ri­ences have led them to embrace dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. While meet­ings with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and business own­ers were ex­tremely valu­able to me as a leg­is­la­tor, the per­sonal con­nec­tions I made with every­day cit­i­zens dur­ing my visit brought me the great­est sense of sat­is­fac­tion. Dur­ing a visit to Turgut Özal Univer­sity in Ankara, I met sev­eral stu­dents who were busy man­ag­ing their per­sonal and pro­fes­sional con­nec­tions on the same so­cial net­work­ing site I use to com­mu­ni­cate with my con­stituents, Face­book. De­spite the fact that we did not even share a common lan­guage, we were able to con­nect via so­cial me­dia and share de­tails of our very dif­fer­ent lives. Th­ese un­likely con­nec­tions of­fer each side a win­dow into the other’s world, help­ing bridge the gap be­tween our cul­tures. My trip also fea­tured vis­its to the homes of Turk­ish fam­i­lies, and I was hum­bled by the hos­pi­tal­ity of my hosts. I am very grate­ful for the hu­man bonds I forged in Turkey, and I hope to main­tain th­ese con­nec­tions for years to come.

A few weeks be­fore my trip, I joined with sev­eral of my col­leagues in the Gen­eral Assem­bly to mark Turk­ish Cul­tural Day at the Penn­syl­va­nia Capi­tol, in­clud­ing vis­its from mem­bers of Turk­ish Par­lia­ment, and tra­di­tional Turk­ish food, mu­sic and dance. I also spon­sored a res­o­lu­tion rec­og­niz­ing the strong re­la­tion­ship be­tween Penn­syl­va­nia and Turkey and an­nounc­ing our com­mon­wealth’s in­ten­tion to pro­mote even stronger cul­tural, ed­u­ca­tional, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic re­la­tions in the fu­ture. It is in the in­ter­ests of both sides to strengthen th­ese re­la­tion­ships, and I am hope­ful that the con­nec­tions I made dur­ing my trip will pro­mote not only stronger business re­la­tion­ships, but also stronger friend­ships and un­der­stand­ing be­tween our cul­tures.

PHOTO: COUR­TESY OF SEN. BRUBAKER

Se­na­tor Brubaker (R) meets Turk­ish Fi­nance Min­is­ter Mehmet Şimşek.

PHOTO: COUR­TESY OF SEN. BRUBAKER

Se­na­tor Brubaker (L) meets with mem­bers of DEIK to dis­cuss in­ter­na­tional com

merce is­sues.

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