Academic Liaisons

THO Academic Liaisons
THO's Academic Liaison program is an opportunity for THO to continue to work with academic institutions from around the world and continue work in fostering the dialogue surrounding the U.S.-Turkey relationship.

Abdul Abbas

Abdul Abbas is pursuing an economics degree at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Being a Canadian student of business gives him the ability to look at contemporary policy issues through a unique lens. His previous work with THO in D.C. widened his understanding of the relations between the U.S. and Turkey, and by proxy, the U.S.’s relationship with the Middle East at large. He looks forward to adding his unique voice to ongoing discussions regarding U.S.-Turkey relations through THO’s liaison program.

Eda Uzunlar

Eda Uzunlar is an undergraduate at Yale University, studying as an Education Studies Scholar and majoring in Global Affairs. Born in South Dakota, her interests in international relations stem from her experiences living between the United States and Turkey, where her parents immigrated from. At Yale, she is the Vice President and Station Manager of the Yale Broadcasting Company (WYBC), the Under-Secretary General of Conference for Yale Model United Nations, and a debate coach for local high schools. Her areas of interest are education equality in conflict zones, education as foreign aid, education as diplomacy, and foreign correspondence in the media.  Feel free to reach her at

Melissa Ozdemir

Columbia Academic Liaison

A first-generation Turkish-American, Melissa developed a strong interest in U.S.-Turkey relations as well as political and foreign affairs. Earning her IB diploma in high school also contributed to giving her a global perspective. She holds a B.A. in Political Science - Public Law with a minor in Business Management from the University of North Florida. At present, she is pursuing her master's in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University where she is currently researching Brexit, the EU, and Northern Ireland.

At Columbia, she actively participates in the Columbia Turkish Students Association and the Association of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. She previously interned with Jared Genser, an international human rights lawyer at Perseus Strategies, a law firm in D.C. where she conducted research and directly advocated human rights cases on Capitol Hill. She also interned with Syrian Women’s Social Enterprise with Small Projects Istanbul, an NGO centered around refugee women and their families, helping them earn a livelihood and integrate into the Istanbul community where she translated between English and Turkish and directly worked with Turkish vendors as well as the women. She now serves as their community ambassador helping support and raise awareness in the states.

Pinar Gezgec

Born and raised in Maryland, Pinar Gezgec holds a bachelor’s degree in History with a concentration in the Middle East from the University of Maryland, College Park. She has a strong interest in political/ foreign affairs as well as participation and involvement with U.S. and Turkey relations.

Through her position as founder and President of the Turkish Student Association at the University of Maryland, she was able to extensively acquire leadership and communication skills. Additionally, she has worked for the Turkish Coalition of America in Washington, D.C. Throughout her time there, she developed first-hand knowledge of U.S.-Turkey relations and was an active advocate in promoting stronger relations between the two nations. With her volunteer work outside of school and work. Pinar took it upon herself to implement and oversee research projects and community events relating to advocacy and foreign policy.

In September 2017, Pinar traveled to Gaziantep, Turkey to visit the Syrian refugee camps and was able to build an interest in working and learning more about humanitarian aid and services provided by Turkish officials.

Currently, Pinar is in the MIR Program and is working on obtaining a Master's Degree from the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Bogazici University. With her educational background and past employment opportunities, she is determined to help THO promote and inform others about Turkish and American relations from Istanbul.

Baha Erbas

Baha Erbas; holds a BA in Economics(2010), was a Research Fellow at ASAM, in Ankara, (Eurasia Strategic Research Center) in 2008-2009, Erbas, and holds an MBA in Finance from the City University of New York. Erbas has been a columnist at USASabah since 2010 and a contributor to Turkey’s Daily Sabah. Currently, he is pursuing his MA at Harvard. Erbas writes report papers, articles and analyses about the geopolitics of the Middle East, Eurasia, national security strategies, American foreign policy.
Isil Acehan

Dr. Acehan is an historian and a researcher from Turkey. She holds an M.A and a Ph.D. degree in History from Bilkent University, Turkey. Her focuses are majorly on Ottoman immigration to the US and US-Turkey relations. Acehan received multiple scholarships and research grants to conduct her doctoral and post-doctoral research. Isil was a Fulbright visiting fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University in the academic year 2006-2007. Later in the 2017-2018 period, she was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, Italy. Currently, Acehan is a visiting professor at George Mason University, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies. She is also a Senior Advisor at PASS Global Strategic Consultancy. 
Sarah Houston

Sarah Houston is a world traveler who is excited to bring her passion for Turkish International Relations and experience as a Fulbright grantee to the Turkish Heritage Organization. During her Fulbright in Turkey, Sarah taught at Balikesir University while establishing a refugee community outreach group that worked with local Syrian and Iranian refugees to facilitate the visa process, preparing them for lives in the US. She also worked closely with the Director of the School of Foreign Languages to create and implement new curriculum, changing the way the University prepares English teachers for future employment.  

Sarah was a Posse scholar at Pepperdine University, where she studied Political Science and Film Studies. As Vice President of the Student Government Association, she founded Pepperdine's first ever Women's Initiative for students, bringing together women's groups from all over campus for speaker events and long term policy change. During her time at University, Sarah was awarded scholarships and grants to study in Buenos Aires, Argentina and work on the ground with widows in India through the White Rainbow Project. 

Sarah’s academic focus is on gender issues and economic development projects for underserved and displaced populations in the Middle East and Europe. In her thesis, What Do Women Get? Measuring Outcomes in a Post-Revolutionary Society, she focused on Egyptian women’s position in society during the Arab Spring. She is very interested in the current refugee crisis and examining obstacles the international aid community faces, specifically focusing on economic development programs implemented in the refugee camps. 

Prior to joining THO, Sarah acted as Political Director for David Trone’s Congressional Campaign, where she developed an overarching political outreach plan, establishing a diverse network of community, labor, and cultural organizations to solidify key constituency networks. Growing up in the DC area, Sarah also offers extensive non-profit and government experience on the Hill with American Psychological Association, Congress, and DC Public Schools Central Office.
Sonia Chabane

As a graduate student in the Governance of International Relations at Sciences Po Toulouse, in France, Sonia foresees to pursue a Ph.D. During a one-year exchange at Yeditepe University, she has researched Istanbul and Gaziantep as part of her undergraduate thesis, before displaying her results in Berlin and Istanbul. Her work deals with the years following the 2016 EU-Turkey deal and the Syrian refugee response implemented by varying actors in Turkey. As a former Research Intern at the Istanbul Policy Center in Spring 2019, among other tasks, Sonia participated in the elaboration of quantitative analysis of Turkey’s economic trade with the MENA. For the past nine months, she has been involved in European Horizons, Yale's student policy-incubator as a Research analyst, and now as Co-President of a Chapter.

Currently, she is thrilled to be associated with the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and The Turkish Heritage Organization. Throughout a combination of political sociology, sociology of international organizations, and urban geography, her main areas of research concern forced displacements, refugees' resettlements and returns, urban migrations, and migration governance and policies in the Middle East and North Africa.