Cablegate: Three American Corners Open in Turkey

Published: Fri 27 Jun 2003 02:02 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. SUMMARY: In the past week, the U.S. Mission in Turkey
has opened three uniquely Turkey-specific American corners
in three of the most dynamic business cities of the country.
The venues are the headquarters of Chambers of Commerce and
Industry in those cities. We believe that the venues are on
target, that the timing is significant given the current
state of the bilateral relationship and that the media
impact of opening all three during the same week will have a
positive impact on attracting an audience. END SUMMARY.
2. BACKGROUND: For several years, business leaders,
academics and others have called for a more tangible
American presence and more information about America in
provincial capitals outside of our consular cities.
Ambassador Pearson and Embassy/Consulate officers have
sympathized with these requests, but there was no mechanism
or funding for new initiatives. We were aware of the
successful Russian model of American Corners, but Turkey
does not have the highly developed network of cultural
palaces and libraries or the SEED, FSA or other funding that
exists for ex-Communist countries. Our contacts were
specifically requesting a U.S. Business Information Center
and chamber of commerce and industry leaders in different
cities had shown an interest in hosting them (as they were
already doing for well-funded/staffed EU offices). In early
FY01 the Public Affairs Section was able to set aside
$10,000 from program funds with the intention of
accumulating reference materials and a designated computer
to give chamber staff access to Mission IRCs, FCS offices
and the Consular Sections. Even to do this we had to get
Turkish blessing through a Diplomatic Note exchange with the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That was completed in February
of 2002. We drew on the models presented by our Moscow
colleagues at the Global PAO conference in April 2002 and
the RPO Vienna presentations by IRO Eric Johnson. We
ordered materials and equipment for our experimental site at
the Chamber of Industry in Gaziantep. The cost of the
equipment, materials and travel of staff, ours and the
chambers, for set-up and training grew to over $30,000. In
the course of the summer, the Department allocated $55,000
for our American Corner initiative. But now we had learned
how to do it "on the cheap" and we had good arguments for
expanding the effort to other cities. Accordingly, instead
of one center, we took the monies available and ordered two
more sets of equipment and began looking for appropriate
hosts. We settled on the bustling business cities of Bursa
3. WHY THERE? The original impetus for centers for American
information came from the business community and they were
thinking of FCS outreach. Turkish libraries are not well
developed or staffed and the universities have American
Studies or EFL centers where the focus is strictly academic
and access is limited by school holidays, short hours and
student-only policies. Business chambers are well-known,
have an eager constituency and we made availability to the
public an obligation in the protocols that we have signed
with them. The three cities are legendary for their
aggressive businessmen. The chambers compete with each
other and that could be an additional boost to their support
for their "corners". Gaziantep is in the South East, served
by the Consulate in Adana. This is the section of Turkey
that has suffered most from the long Kurdish insurgency,
from the embargo on Iraq and from economic crises. Placing
an office there demonstrated our commitment to helping this
region. The local university has an active EFL department
and is working towards a linkage with the State University
of New York. A "corner" there would have an audience.
Kayseri natives are proud of their reputation as sharp
traders. It is the hometown of the Foreign Minister, and has
a university that is heavily supported by the business
community - a concept we can support. Bursa is the fourth
largest city in Turkey, a major business center and recently
the site of our EFL Summer Institute. It is in the Istanbul
Consular district and the presence of the corner will help
to give the Consulate access to this lively community. The
chamber there offered near-palatial space in a dramatic new
4. WHY NOW? Turkey has long been an important ally and this
kinds of outreach was needed to get out of the Ankara-
Istanbul "beltway" mentality. But during the past three
years, with two economic crises and frequent political
shakeups, the confidence of foreign investors and of Turks
themselves has been shaken. While the US supported Turkey's
efforts at EU accession and economic reform, the
disagreement over involvement in the war with Iraq,
particularly the March 1, 2002 vote not to permit the
deployment of American troops on Turkish soil and the
opening of a northern front, led to much anguish in both
countries about the state of the relationship and whether
the old friendship would survive. The Gaziantep "corner" was
set up just as the build-up to the war in Iraq and the
increasing public criticism of the US and demonstrations in
front of our embassy and consulates (and McDonalds)
increased. It made sense to hold off on a visible opening.
But since Secretary Powell's April visit to Turkey and
subsequent exchanges of visits, evidence of the intent to
work together is coming back. Accordingly, we spread out,
the DCM to Kayseri, the PAO to Gaziantep and the Consul
General from Istanbul to Bursa.
5. THE OPENINGS: On June 18, DCM Robert Deutsch cut the
ribbon at the Chamber of Commerce in Kayseri after calling
on the Deputy Governor of the province and Deputy Mayor of
the city. National and local press were on hand for the
ribbon cutting and caught the city's most powerful business
leaders and the DCM interacting with the chamber staffer who
would be the link to Mission commercial, consular and
educational resource people. In Kayseri, Public Affairs, FCS
and Consulate Adana staff were on hand to demonstrate how
the "U.S. Information Office" could be used as the Governor,
Mayor, Rector of the local university and asked questions
and posed for the cameras. In Bursa, Istanbul Consul General
David Arnett, with Public Affairs staff, paid official calls
on the Governor, the Mayor, and at Uludag University.
During the course of this official visit, on June 24, the CG
and staff were joined by the Governor and senior chamber
members in a well-publicized opening at chamber headquarters
located in the Organized Industrial Zone. Local papers
front paged the event in highly favorable coverage as did
Bursa TV stations.
6. THE FUTURE: Now comes the test. We have passed through
numerous complicated steps, set up venue-specific centers
and trained bright chamber staffers in our IRCs, FCS offices
and Fulbright offices in Istanbul and Ankara. We have
effectively drawn the attention of the local and national
leadership and potential audiences to the institutions. Now
we have to make them work. The Gaziantep staffer has
developed a visitor recording template which can be used for
contact management and the development of an outreach list.
We are beginning to get questions from the attendees at the
opening events. We will be sending out electronic flyers
reminding invitees and chamber members of the contact
numbers of their centers. We have agreed that after the
summer vacation period in Turkey, we will launch a "Doing
Business with America" road show that will have our
Commercial and Agricultural Offices, the Caspian Trade
Initiative and the Mission's Econ section all involved in
making the "corners" visibly useful tools. Our English
language and American studies contacts are already being
informed that these centers are open to them and viable
sites for research, seminars and meetings.
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