(As Prepared) – December 17, 2015
Çok Teşekkürler, Aydin Bey, and members of the Propeller Club for the opportunity to be here with you tonight.
Much has happened in Turkey since the last time I spoke with you in 2013 – four elections at the local and national level, rising security challenges within this country, in the region and in the world more generally, and fluctuations in international and domestic markets, just for starters. These are indeed challenging times for everyone, as the headlines remind us on a daily basis. Violent extremism and active conflicts uncomfortably close to us here pose threats to both of our countries and to the common bonds that unite us as we work together to promote freedom, peace, and security in the region.
Those threats come from many quarters: from the savage terrorism of Daesh and the ongoing conflict in Syria, to a Russian government that is challenging the basic principle that borders should not be changed by force, to the PKK’s violent attacks on the Turkish state. We need only look to any of the refugee communities Turkey is so generously supporting to know how much conflict and instability this region has experienced in recent years.
At the same time, we have seen challenges to some of the basics tenets of democracy in Turkey, particularly in the areas of freedom of the media and expression. The incarceration of journalists, blocking of open access to social media sites, and attacks on news outlets and commentators have created a chilling effect that prevents citizens from being fully informed and detracts from the quality of Turkey’s democratic institutions.
I must acknowledge here that the U.S. is by no means immune from difficulties itself. Partisan politics and deepening polarization only add to the challenge of coming to grips with already complex situations at home and abroad.
In Washington and in Ankara, efforts to confront these challenges are sometimes complicated by perceptions that the U.S. and Turkey are headed in different directions, with dissimilar values and fewer common interests than we used to share. Several factors contribute to this perception – a mistaken one, I believe – including the rapid movement of information, which tends to paint in instant, stark and often simplistic contrasts. But as in every relationship, whether between governments or friends, no one agrees with each other a hundred percent of the time. In this partnership, we continue to work on narrowing our differences or at least better understanding why we have them, because we believe we are always stronger when we work together.
Turkey remains one of our most important bilateral relationships, grounded in the work we have done together as allies and strategic partners to defend and promote the right of people in all societies to choose their own futures freely. Ambassador Bass is focusing our engagement here on three broad themes: presence, partnership, and investment. While fulfilling the first priority of our Mission – providing assistance to American citizens in Turkey – we work actively to build relationships with Turkish counterparts in education, civil society, sciences, and the arts on a broad range of issues, and to strengthen the trade and investment ties that are a cornerstone of our bilateral relationship. Looking ahead, we will continue to work very closely with Turkey to address the security challenges we face together and to promote prosperity and mutual understanding between our two countries.
It has been an honor for me to serve here in this magnificent city and to meet so many people in in Turkey’s diverse and vibrant communities who inspire me and make me hopeful about the future. Thank you, and enjoy the evening.