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Letter to President Obama: Turkey in an Arena of Trials

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James (Cem) Ryan
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Inauguration Day

20 January 2009


The Honorable Barack H. Obama

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500



Dear Mr. President:


I write this letter to you, Mr. President, with my highest and warmest regards, best wishes, and my hope for a better, more just world. I have fond memories of this particular day, 20 January, your day of inauguration as president. Forty-eight years ago-six months before you were born-I, along with my fellow West Point cadets, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to salute the newly sworn president, John F. Kennedy. Next to graduating from West Point, it was the highlight of my life. January 20, 1961-it had snowed heavily the night before and the day dawned windy with arctic temperatures. It was perfect, a memory crystal buried deep. How young we were, so enthusiastic about confronting a dangerous world with our young president. But while euphoria is grand, it is also dangerous, Mr. President. It didn't take long for reality to take hold. And so time goes. I have now lived in Istanbul, Turkey for nine years. Over these years a "reality" has set in regarding our beloved country, America. And so I write to you today, Mr. President, to warn you about conditions in Turkey. "The world," wrote Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, "is an arena of trials." And the Bush policy of making Turkey a "moderate Islamic republic" has been, and continues to be, an arena of disasters. Mr. President, time is of the essence to correct this. And you need to know more about Turkey to do so.

Accordingly, I have enclosed two books: one a biography, Atatürk, by Andrew Mango, the other, a copy of The Great Speech by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Nutuk in Turkish). The latter epic work flowed from the pen of Atatürk, a 36-hour speech delivered over six days in October 1927. Therein, he recounts the Turkish War of Independence and the founding of the Turkish Republic. It is an astounding document.


I have tried to show, in these accounts, how a great people, whose national course was considered as finished, reconquered its independence; how it created a national and modern state founded on the latest results of science. The result we have today is the fruit of teachings which arose from centuries of suffering, and the price of streams of blood which have drenched every foot of the ground of our beloved homeland. This holy treasure I lay in the hands of the youth of Turkey. Turkish youth! Your primary duty is ever to preserve and defend the national independence of the Turkish Republic. (Atatürk, The Great Speech, 715)


By reading this book, Mr. President, you will immediately understand the enormous genius of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. You will see how the forces of religious fundamentalism didn't magically vanish after Atatürk ended the sultanate and abolished the caliphate. Instead, they continued to subvert his revolutionary reforms from the very beginning. This is the nature of religious fundamentalism here in Turkey. It never stops. It is vital that you understand this, Mr. President. Turkey has always been a target for these dark-minded forces. And now these ignorant minds run the country. Reading the words of Mustafa Kemal will also help you marshal your own significant resources and talents, for you seem to be blessed with a capacious mind much like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's. Decisive, informed leadership is needed today by the president of the United States. These were defining characteristics of Atatürk, along with his great personal integrity. May you learn well from him, Mr. President, a man who fought a war against religious terrorists for his entire life. 


Now the democratic, secular, social state of the Republic of Turkey, governed under the rule of law, is under siege, both from without and within. I know this, Mr. President, I live here, and what I know is not sanitized by political niceties and outright propaganda. The undoing of this nation, created in Atatürk's mind as a young army officer, has been long underway. But now the day is here. The black-minded ignorance of religious fundamentalism becomes more apparent every minute. Alcohol bans, women shoved under politically symbolic headscarves at the behest of duplicitous politicians, a compliant, subverted media.  Here, so-called "liberals" work in compliance with outside forces (your CIA, for example, Mr. President). And the corruption of the religious ruling party is stunning and stinks to the high heavens from theft, rampant bribery, and election fraud. Currently, a scam called Ergenekon purges the left-wing opposition rivals (all adherents of the enlightened principles of Atatürk). To further contaminate his work, a smattering of outright criminals is added to the list of detainees. All this and more has brought democratic Turkey near its knees. And Mustafa Kemal Atatürk never knelt for anyone, ever. As a child he even refused to play leapfrog.


European Union members, who never read him, wonder why so much fuss is made about Atatürk. Of similar traitorous stripe as the "entente liberals" of Atatürk's day who conspired with the British occupiers for a mandate over Turkey, today's  "liberal" Turks (liboþ) fall over themselves subverting secular Turkey and the principles of Atatürk, in the name of democracy. The ruling party works its religious agenda demeaning the integrity of women at every turn, debasing the liberation of women by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. And the United States of America, our country Mr. President, directly aids and abets these subversive forces. This is shameful.


Mr. President, most Americans remain ignorant about Turkey and, amazingly, even more so about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Without knowing this man one knows nothing about this country. The enclosed books are my attempt to prevent you learning about Turkey solely by reading sterile briefing books, self-serving CIA studies, State Department policy papers, memoranda from your national security advisors, and, most particularly, reports from the western press. Most of the Turkish press, and, in particular, the current Turkish government are similarly ever-willing purveyors of self-interested propaganda. Beware, Mr. President, for you will receive regurgitations of superficial, stale, and even incorrect information, like the Bushian nonsense that Turkey is a "moderate Islamic nation." Via the headscarf issue-the "ocular proof" of piety for western consumption-this ill-conceived initiative, without any Koranic justification, has created a gigantic, violent, societal schism in Turkey. Mr. President, is America a moderate Christian nation? I mean, should Americans wear visible crucifixes? Please reconsider this nonsensical policy, Mr. President. (Again, read The Great Speech to see how religious subversions beset Atatürk at every turn.)

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James (Cem)Ryan is a writer living in Istanbul, Turkey. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, he has a MFA from Columbia University.

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