TR Forum: Mike Brubaker and Alon Liel
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.
Senator Brubaker (R) meets Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek.
Senator Brubaker (L) meets with members of DEIK to discuss international com