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Former Turkish ambassador talks diplomacy at UA

A former U.S. ambassador to Turkey spoke to an audience of about 50 people last night about the past and future of the U.S. diplomatic relationship with Turkey.

   


The lecture, entitled ""Turkey and the U.S.: Challenging Relationship in a Difficult Region,"" took place in room 130 of the Manuel Pacheco Integrated Learning Center. Former Ambassador Ross Wilson started the lecture by greeting the Turkish attendees in their native language. He then gave a brief history of Turkey and entertained questions. 

   

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Turkish Republic Day is today, which recognizes the day in 1923 when Turkey became a country.  It emerged from the Ottoman Empire and the changes that occurred after World War I. Turkey was then and still is at a crossroads, Wilson said.

   


""The Republic of Turkey, I think, remains one of the great success stories in a very complicated part of the world where success stories are relatively few and far between,"" he said.


Wilson stressed Turkey has been important because of its location between Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Caucasus, Black Sea, and the Balkans.


""Do we have another ally and friend anywhere in the world that borders on so many hotspots that rank so high on our list of foreign policy priorities?"" he asked. Wilson also said Turkey is important because of its stability and prosperity.


When he began his role as ambassador, Wilson said the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey was strained. This was because the Turkish parliament had voted to refuse the U.S.'s request to move in to Iraq from the north on March 1, 2003.


The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which Wilson described as ""an extremely violent, Marxist Leninist gang of thugs"" had also increased violent attacks between 2005-2007, which caused problems in the region. The U.S. military did not intervene in the violence, which Turkey saw as penalty for the parliament's actions, Wilson said. 


""It had the effect of flushing away good will that had been built up over long periods of time among civilian leaders and particularly among military leaders in both of our countries,"" he said. 


The relations improved once former President Bush changed the policy in the fall 2007 to allow the U.S. to support action against the PKK, he said.


He said it was important to reestablish dialogue with Turkey because our countries share common objectives, such as peace in the Middle East.


""We have similar if not identical goals,"" he said.


Christian Sinclair, assistant director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said there are 51 undergraduate and graduate students in the Turkish Studies program. Sinclair said now that Wilson is no longer the ambassador of Turkey, he was able to speak ""authoritatively and candidly"" about the region.    


Connor Mendenhall, an economics and international studies senior, attended the lecture because he is interested in Turkey. Turkey is his focus region for his international studies major, and he studied there last year.

   


""I was there to see some of it firsthand,"" Mendenhall said of the topics of Wilson's lecture. ""I think it was nice to hear what he has to say outside of his official capacity,"" he said.

   


Jodi Perin is a member of a group study that will be traveling to Turkey in May 2010 through the Southern Arizona Rotary Foundation. She called the lecture ""interesting and informative.""


""It gave us all a basic political background,"" she said.


Wilson has recently retired after 30 years in the U.S. State Department's Foreign Service. Before serving as ambassador to Turkey from 2005 to 2008, Wilson served as ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan from 2000-2003.

   


Wilson said he became involved in foreign policy because he wanted to serve his country.  He is currently living in Washington D.C. and teaching at George Washington University.

     


""I think if September 11 reminded us of anything, it's that Americans need to know about the world around us,"" he said.


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