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Empowering Turkish Youth –  A Journey on Leadership & Political Transformation: Part I

Türkiye is a country I used to know exceptionally well from residing there for 35 years and personally engaging with the youth at the grassroots between the ages of 17 and 25, where our leadership-building sessions and events touched 50,000 young people directly and indirectly. We spent all our time trying to empower these young people because Turkish politics was old, out of touch with the world, corrupt, and always bringing the country down. So, a new political mindset with a fully empowered youth throughout Anatolia becoming local leaders was the only way to challenge the old guard and question their integrity, competence, and weaknesses. Everyone in Türkiye and worldwide who remembers this movement knows that we were a particular group that always carried themselves in a unique, mature fashion and was set up well to help transform Türkiye by 2014. 2014 would have been our 20th year; considering what we accomplished in our first decade. We could have built on this and multiplied our effectiveness domestically and internationally. For the last decade, Türkiye has fallen into that kind of predicament of hopelessness for its youth, who now have little hope going forward, and the next generation will be lost. An exodus of young Turkish talent has left Türkiye, which will appear to worsen even more. Young people cannot think about political issues and express their opinions. If you are not allowed to develop your mind and personal views, you will remain stunted in your social standing with no self-confidence and a lack of creative mindset. This is the same thing that has been happening in America for quite some time now at all the liberal universities, and it is negatively affecting societal mental growth and debate. This is the reason management of American politics has collapsed – it is simply being run by substandard people who have no idea what they are trying to do. Ivy League schools have failed the U.S. for 20 years. People from these schools cannot think for themselves. If this system is not totally revamped USA is gone for a very long time. Now I have been living in Florida for 4 years – every day is a disaster for me personally watching the news and following people making dumb decisions. Nothing has changed every day same people same stupidity. Amazing as the world laughs and prepares for the fallout. 

In the political world, our methods were unique. We created issues that were only a concern to us with our products, marking our positioning ourselves inside the political system. Nobody outside politics could understand what we were doing.

We formulated the new political thought and ideas. We even changed the language to accommodate things in Turkish, when it did not have some things connected to the objective rule of law, political ethics, accountability, transparency, human rights, and responsibilities – our core values. We created the words and phrases when a corresponding language did not exist in Turkish. Furthermore, we initiated projects across Türkiye to utilize these new words. We created our own political space and sphere, in which we established ourselves and our ideas. I would participate in television programs, where I was constantly criticized by professors and politicians, who told me these words did not exist in the Turkish language; thus, I could not use them. In a sense, we transformed the language. Our efforts created the very first Political Ethics Law in the Turkish Parliament, passed during the Ecevit government in 2000, that we had drafted. Turkish politicians naturally never implemented the law as political accountability was never real in Türkiye due to the consideration of parties of other parties as potential coalition partners, whom they need to protect today to work better tomorrow. In the political world, our methods were unique. We created issues that were only a concern to us with our products, marking our positioning ourselves inside the political system. Nobody outside politics could understand what we were doing.  

Still, it was just like a new product's entrance into the market and establishing its market share by following new marketing techniques. Once people start seeing your products, you can simply expand your product base and its following, precisely what we did and how we could become very influential in our first five years. In fact, the National Democratic Institute in Washington DC assisted us during this process by funding our awareness-raising campaign, which included distributing thousands of booklets in Türkiye. We benefited from the NDI funding from 1998 until 2004. We concluded that one of our biggest successes was to create awareness on critical topics, encourage people to take ownership of them, and leave a lasting mark, such as the new Ethics Law in Parliament. Had our movement continued, an Ethics Institute with connections to international networks, constant debates, and implementation of ethical values in society would have been established. Nevertheless, this never happened.

It is ironic that the National Endowment for Democracy, the parent of NDI and the International Republican Institute, allowed individuals representing government who began threatening them -   listened to unqualified people with zero context - that eventually discredited me along with my political movement. This process DC decision makers who all knew me very well - ignited a process  they started in DC began paralyzing us in a variety of ways. Examples of disinformation of me personally had zero merit and were totally ridiculous. The people who acted at that time to destroy me are directly responsible for the demise of that entire extended neighborhood. Our unique youth project with IRI began in 1998 and helped sustain funding for our youth leadership development program across Anatolia. This was my favorite project because it allowed me to spend extended time with the most impressive young people in Türkiye at that time who were fully empowered by me, who personally challenged anyone on the issues that they knew well and could successfully discuss from their perspectives. We never carried any ideology of any political party in the world. We never acted like partisans morons that I see every day here in Florida and all across America. As a result we were able to fund ourselves from DIFFERENT political groups in very modest amounts, between $15,000 and 20,000 per year. We were the only group able to do this. While all of these were happening, a very senior woman on the NED Board in 2003, after hearing these unbelievable degradation attempts and allegations about me, chose to believe what she had been told. Suddenly, she was ready to pull the plug on our joint financing by questioning why NDI and IRI were challenging the norms and funding the same political institution at the same time, without even meeting with me. During Bush's tenure in office, IRI initially withdrew funding from our most critical project, which was by far the most influential youth project in Türkiye back then. Nobody could even come close to competing with us because we set our own high standards, and the results were evident. We formed the ARI Foundation, which was preparing to establish a youth leadership institute in Türkiye run by young leaders from my movement. We had numerous successful exchange programs worldwide, and we will consolidate exchange programs, debates, and leadership training into this new Youth Leadership Institute. This was going to be one of the main backbones of the future. Bush and his decision makers destroyed this project and the future of the region. How Bush received a second term is beyond my political comprehension.        

When the board member at NED started calling NDI and questioning their bending of the rules, NDI promptly followed suit and cut off our funding for our very successful ethics project. While they had already received funding for the current year, NDI pulled out of the program the following year due to pressure. “GencNet” was extraordinary and unique for young people in Türkiye. As a result, the organization was so well positioned to build on its successes going forward as the leaders we molded were spread throughout Anatolia. They became society leaders doing the same thing, and it became contagious. Every young person wanted to be a part of GencNet, and we would hold yearly GencNet summits in Istanbul for long weekends where we would bring together the top 1000 individuals that we found and wanted to cultivate as leaders. Because of the success of our program and participants in May 2002, T.V. channels like NTV and CNN Turk broadcast our conference live throughout the weekend. That was the weekend when everyone in Türkiye could see what the movement and its young members were all about. Because of the NED decision, we lost two of our most potent project funding simultaneously. We could not grow and, for several years, lost momentum in organizing successful programs throughout Türkiye. We had matched local funding sources that saw the decisions from IRI and NDI, so I lost all my matching funding in Türkiye when they pulled out. Major funders like Turkcell pulled out, and we could not find the funds to keep the program growing. For me, the legacy our movement left behind in Anatolia was endless possibilities for transforming politics. Therefore, NED's seriously flawed decision hurt the country tremendously and stunted the growth of its youth to a large extent. Even though senior positions rarely care about their decisions in Washington DC and never feel accountable for anything, I hope she and all those making these decisions to undermine my movement are happy with the results. The relationship was permanently redrawn during Bush FIRST TERM. I wrote an article in TPQ everyone can read exactly what happened Paradigm Shift of US – Turkey relations. So called bright people in Turkey said I was young and not experienced to understand US relationship could not be damaged in such a way. Media, politicians and civil society who knew nothing about US relations said I was totally wrong. I guess growing up in Washington DC for my entire youth period and 10 years of creating a movement from scratch meant nothing to these arrogant people. I know all of them personally sad that they allowed this to happen. Nobody in Turkey was even close  in the same hemisphere with my US related intelligence / experience. I was by far number one, so they dubbed me CIA spy Mossad spy and other wonderful depictions.

We formed the ARI Foundation, which was preparing to establish a youth leadership institute in Türkiye run by young leaders from my movement.


Supposedly, I was one of America's most trusted political analysts and the leader of a non-partisan political movement that would be aligned with international values and principles, which Washington knew well for almost one decade. Decisions were made on my behalf based on pure disinformation and fantasies. Despite knowing me very well, U.S. officials failed to stop these actions. In 2003, the Atlantic Council of the U.S., NATO, and the Turkish Foreign Ministry came to see me and told me that my movement had been selected to co-organize the NATO Youth Summit, which took place in Istanbul alongside the NATO summit of June 2004. Clearly, this was a huge honor for us, and we were rightly chosen by people who were familiar with us and had confidence in our reputation and credibility. Other institutions partnered with the German Marshall Fund to co-organize the National Summit at the NATO Summit. After seeing that we were to host the Youth Summit, they personally lobbied the Prime Minister's office. Several months later, the Turkish Foreign Ministry notified me that our work on the Summit needed to stop.

I was informed that Ibrahim Betil would be taking charge of the summit through a newly formed youth foundation. This foundation had no experience, but because of connections to government officials, Betil worked with Can Paker and Tesev to take the summit from our movement. The Turkish Foreign Ministry strongly suggested that Betil will work with me and my movement as we had put in 6 months and there was not much time before the NATO summit. Betil said his Board had decided to go it alone without my movement. Soon after that, ACUS ceased correspondence with me regarding the NATO Youth Summit, and we were completely removed from this significant international event. When I called the U.S. Ambassador in Ankara and senior officials in Washington DC, nobody seemed ready to go to bat for us which clearly showed me their hostile intentions going forward. My hard work was appreciated when I told them I had arranged for world leaders, including Tony Blair and others, to speak to young people during the Summit. It was not difficult for me to see that my most significant problem was not the Turkish government, but Washington DC and U.S. officials. Every chance they got, they took a swipe, weakened our 10-year progress, and harmed our future. In less than one year, NED, IRI, NDI and ACUS were shut down by U.S. officials. Ten years of a superb international track record and having the experience to put together something magnificent at NATO was taken away without much thought or sorrow. The Turkish government was never my main concern because I simply did not see anyone in Türkiye on my level and competing against me.


This is the first part of a series of articles...


Kemal Köprülü
Kemal Köprülü

Kemal Köprülü is the Publisher of Transatlantic Policy Quarterly (TPQ).

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