Impressions from Washington, D.C.

Impressions from Washington, D.C.

It is amazing how much can change in a decade; I had not been to the U.S. since 2005. When I arrived in Washington, D.C. on April 25 to bid farewell to my friend Esther, I needed a few days to #RememberEsther, as well as to #RememberBerkin, and so I ended up spending a week there.

Even though I read U.S. papers daily, being on the ground is different. The first thing I noticed was the health and fitness craze. Gyms were a part of American life in 2005, but I saw a huge interest in women’s sportswear, perhaps best epitomized by athletic apparel company Lululemon. Starbucks also surprised me, not only with their many products not available in other countries, but also with calorie information next to their beverages.

I was also extremely taken aback by the transformation of Washington, D.C. I worked as an external consultant for the World Bank in the summer of 2004 and had last visited the city in the winter of 2005. At the time, 14th Street was an area I was advised to avoid at all costs after dark. Fast forward 10 years, and the neighborhood is full of trendy restaurants and cafes.

I caught several smaller changes as well, but I was most amazed by the interest in Turkey. There were two events at the Brookings Institution alone, which has a very active U.S.-Turkey Forum, also called the Turkey Project. Energy expert Gareth Winrow presented his policy paper “Realization of Turkey’s Energy Aspirations: Pipe Dreams or Real Projects?” on April 28.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also referred to Turkish energy policy in her Sakıp Sabancı Lecture in Brookings on May Day. She spent a lot of time sharing her worries on the disappearance of checks and balances and press freedom in Turkey. Incidentally, the U.S. think tank Freedom House moved the country into the league of “not free” countries in its “Freedom of the Press 2014” report, which came out the same day.  

Albright said she was “deeply troubled by unsupported assertions accusing Americans and religious minorities of being behind plots.” One of the key figures who made such claims, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, gave the opening speech of a full-day conference on the future of democracy in Turkey on April 29. In response to a question, he denied his remark that Jews were behind Gezi, even though it is possible to find it, as the questioner noted, easily on YouTube.

The event was organized by the Washington, D.C. branch of the pro-government think tank SETA and featured distinguished pro-government columnists from several propaganda outlets. According to them, there are no journalists in prison, and the Turkish press is free – or at least no less free than before the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power.

For myself, I was very pleased to learn about this country with the same name as mine. This other Turkey is completely free, elections are fair and most importantly, it is ruled by a kind, just, honest and democratic leader. I plan to emigrate there as soon as I find out where it is.