Turkish Heritage Organization U.S.-Based Non-Resident Fellows Travel to Turkey

Turkish Heritage Organization U.S.-Based Non-Resident Fellows Travel to Turkey


The Turkish Heritage Organization Non-Resident Fellowship culminated this past week with a visit by our U.S.-based fellows to Turkey! The fellows included Alen Amini, Chief Operating Officer for WhoWhatWhy focused on business and technology; Danielle Khan, Special Assistant to Ambassador Swanee Hunt; Alpcan Karamanoglu, Data Analyst focused on international political economy and transatlantic relations; Kaylee M. Laakso, Partner at Program Management & Planning Lead, L&M Strategic Solutions, LLP focused on security and foreign policy; Ezra Mannix, Digital Content Strategist and Editor, Center for Financial Inclusion, Accion focused on education and refugees; and Coby Vail, Program Officer at Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy focused on exchange and public diplomacy.  

Since September, Non-Resident Fellows have worked to contribute to constructive dialogue surrounding U.S.-Turkey relations and Turkey’s role in the international community. The group of Fellows is composed of graduate students, young researchers and professionals, and practitioners with a special interest in U.S.-Turkey relations, bringing a diverse set of backgrounds and perspectives to discuss the U.S.-Turkey relationship. In particular, Fellows focused on security, education, humanitarian aid and refugee issues, energy, economy, technology, citizen diplomacy, and international exchange.

While in Turkey, the Non-Resident Fellows met with different think tanks, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and officials to share their perspectives and engage in constructive dialogue on the various issue areas that the Fellows have focused on throughout the past nine months. These critical conversations will help foster an understanding of how to better support the development of initiatives that enrich people-to-people ties between the U.S. and Turkey. 

First, upon arrival in Ankara, the Fellows met with officials from AFAD- Turkey’s Interior Disaster and Emergency Authority that functions to meet the needs of Turkey’s prevention and protocol for emergency needs. While at AFAD the Fellows heard from AFAD experts Cem Vural, Burhan Aslan and Osman Gulesen. AFAD works specifically with disaster management with natural disasters (earthquakes most commonly), but most recently has been working primarily in response to the Syrian Refugee crisis to ensure Turkey responds appropriately to the influx of millions of refugees escaping the impact of the Syrian Civil War. Through a discussion of technological developments, policies, and a tour of the facilities the Fellows were able to engage in an in-depth conversation and examination of AFAD’s work on an international scale and learn of protocols from the Turkish Perspective. 


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THO Non-Resident Fellows during their meeting with AFAD

THO Non-Resident Fellows Travel to Turkey - 2


The Fellows also met with members from TEPAV, the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Turkey. With senior officials from TEPAV, the Fellows were able to discuss the latest research and statistics surrounding the Turkish economy, developments in U.S.-Turkey trade rations, and the economic involvement with the EU accession plan and process. Further, the Fellows and officials were able to discuss important trends and influences in imports and exports of Turkish trade and the impact this plays politically in different regions in the world.


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THO Non-Resident Fellows at the end of their meeting with TEPAV


Next, the Fellows connected with Ilija Vojnovic and other staff members from the International Republican Institute branch in Ankara. The IRI is an international nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to advancing democracy and freedom. The IRI works to encourage effective democracy. The Fellows were able to share thoughts on the most recent local Turkish elections, the role of democracy in U.S.-Turkey relations and learn more about the important work of the IRI in Turkey. 


THO Non-Resident Fellows at IRI

THO Non-Resident Fellows at IRI


Before leaving Ankara, the  Fellows were able to tour the General Assembly building and Plenary Hall where the legislative action takes place. Afterwards, the THO Non-Resident Fellows met with Deputy Minister of Energy and Natural Resources in Turkey, Alparslan Bayraktar. With Deputy Minister Bayraktar, the Fellows engaged in a dynamic conversation regarding Turkey’s energy sources, nuclear energy, clean energy, the political nuances in the Eastern Mediterranean and much more. 


THO Non-Resident Fellows in the General Assembly

THO Non-Resident Fellows in the General Assembly 

THO Non-Resident Fellows in the Plenary Hall

THO Non-Resident Fellows in the Plenary Hall

THO Non-Resident Fellows with the Deputy Minister of Energy and Natural Resources

THO Non-Resident Fellows with the Deputy Minister of Energy and Natural Resources


The Fellows additionally met with SAM, the Center for Strategic Research of the Republic of Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Here the fellows discussed the difficult topic of US-Turkish relations recent rockiness following the developments of the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. Through this candid conversation the officials and fellows were able to discuss the future of U.S.-Turkish relations and the storied resilience of the two allies in years past. Additionally, the fellows were able to gain a grassroots perspective from Turkish officials on the role of the U.S. in the region and how the fellows can continue to foster and dialogue surrounding U.S.-Turkish relations moving forward.

After a packed few days in Ankara, the Fellows flew to Istanbul to begin the next portion of the fellowship experience. The Istanbul meetings kicked off with IPC, the Istanbul Policy Center. The Fellows met with researchers, professors and members of the IPC staff and worked through varying difficult issues surrounding the challenges that currently and historically have plagued the U.S.-Turkey relationship. 


THO Non-Resident Fellows at their meeting with the Istanbul Policy Center

THO Non-Resident Fellows at their meeting with the Istanbul Policy Center


The Fellows then met for a luncheon meeting with one of the program’s sponsors, the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ICOC). With the ICOC, the fellows met and heard from the Chamber’s Secretary General and other officials on various topics relating to the Chamber’s work, the developments of US-Turkey trade and the economic impact specifically in Istanbul.


THO Non-Resident Fellows after their meeting with ICOC

THO Non-Resident Fellows after their meeting with ICOC


Continuing on the topic of economic development, the Fellows also heard from a unique perspective from the private side of the economic discussion with DEIK, the Foreign Economic Relations Board, and TURKVEN, a large private equity firm in Turkey. The Fellows and officials discussed business, trade, and economics on an international level. 


THO Non-Resident Fellows outside TURKVEN

THO Non-Resident Fellows outside TURKVEN

Also while in Istanbul, the U.S.-based Fellows met with Turkish-based THO Fellow Sarah Khalbuss to hear more about her work with Istanbul & I. Conservations focused on the work of civil societies in Turkey, and Sarah’s inspiring experiences helping integrate refugees into the community of Turkey.

Finally, the Fellows were honored to meet with the new U.S. Consul General of Istanbul, Daria Darnell. The staff from the Consulate in Istanbul and Consul General Darnell discussed a number of topics with the fellows ranging from the role of the consulate in Istanbul, the impact of local elections, and the overarching goal of the consulate in regards to US-Turkey relations moving forward. 


THO Non-Resident Fellows with Consul General of Istanbul, Daria Darnell

THO Non-Resident Fellows with Consul General of Istanbul, Daria Darnell


The fellowship experience ended with an exciting tour of the Bosphorus Strait! We are excited to see how the THO Non-Resident Fellows utilize this experience to continue to foster the dialogue surrounding U.S.-Turkish relations.

Previously, the Turkish-based Non-Resident Fellows traveled to Washington D.C. for a week in May of this year, and performed the same tasks their U.S.-based counterparts recently completed on their visit to Turkey. The participants of the Turkish-based Non-Resident Fellows included: Ipek Ariogul, a Senior Economic Advisor in the British Embassy in Turkey focused on researching issues surrounding the economy; Sarah Khalbuss, Co-Founder of Istanbul & I focused on research surrounding Syrian refugees and refugee integration; and Ozge Taylan, a Ph.D. candidate in International relations focused on research on security, the economy, and history.

During their time in the U.S., the Turkish-based Non-Resident Fellows had valuable conversations with think tanks, officials, and THO advisory board members around U.S.-Turkey relations, including discussions around the importance of a U.S.-Turkish partnership, economic development, the Washington D.C. perspective of U.S.-Turkish relations, the role of the Congressional Research Service, different educational programs and systems, and the importance of grassroots advocacy.

We would like to take a moment to thank our sponsors Turkcell, Turkish Airlines, ITO (Istanbul Chamber of Commerce), ATO (Ankara Chamber of Commerce) and Amerikan Estetik for supporting this program and encouraging the vital conversations that took place. We are eager to see these global change-makers bring back an increased understanding of the U.S.-Turkish relations from the Turkish perspective!

To learn more about the Turkish Heritage Organization and the Non-Resident Fellowship program visit our website found here: https://www.turkheritage.org/en/about-us/nonresident-fellowship