More than a dozen lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and both chambers of the United States Congress flooded a welcome reception at a US Senate building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday as Turkish-Americans are preparing to hold their largest-ever business gathering.
The annual convention, organized by the Turkic American Alliance (TAA), the biggest umbrella organization of Turkish non-profit organizations in the US, will largely focus on boosting business transactions between the US and Turkic nations, particularly Turkey. As a prelude to the convention, which is composed of a number of meetings with US government officials as well as members of Congress, the TAA held a reception at the Russell Senate Office Building on Tuesday night.
At least 200 people showed up at the event, including lawmakers from Turkey, public figures and businesspeople. More than a dozen US lawmakers were present at the event, reiterating their support for boosting trade with Turkey while also voicing concerns over declining democracy in the country. Representatives of more than 15 countries also attended the event, which concluded with a landmark gala on Wednesday night. More than 50 US lawmakers went to previous conventions.
While Senator Roger Wicker urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to “follow the rule of law,” Senator Martin Heinrich expressed concerns over press freedom violations in the country and urged the Turkish authorities to uphold free speech. Rep. Charlie Dent noted that he was aware of the concerns of many in the room regarding the recent crackdown on the freedom of press in Turkey, adding that he stands with those people and supports them in their efforts.
Major rights advocates have begun to increase their criticism of Turkey's poor record on political rights, freedoms and civil liberties. Freedom House, a US-based non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy, kept Turkey in its “Partly Free” category, while the country's press freedom was classified as “Not Free."
Some 10 journalists remain behind bars in Turkey, including journalist Mehmet Baransu and STV network executive Hidayet Karaca. Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 countries in its latest press freedom index.
Rep. Mike Honda hoped that the relationship between Turkey and the US lasts long and said that he was a "strong supporter" of freedom of speech and that it ought to be protected.
The TAA said leading businesspeople from the US and 15 other countries will focus on facilitating trade and investment during the business summit, of which Today's Zaman is one of the chief sponsors. It added that business leaders and government officials will meet their counterparts from all around the world to discuss opportunities for collaboration and increasing trade and investment.
Former Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Roman Gotsiridze highlighted that Turkey was Georgia's most important economic partner and that he was delighted to participate at the convention. Manoj Gursahani, vice chairman of the US-India Investors' Forum and Kiprono Kittony, national chairman of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also gave brief remarks and expressed their gratitude for being hosted at the reception.
Senators Thom Tillis, Angus King, Tim Kaine, Bill Cassidy, John Boozman and Rob Wittman as well as Representatives Pete Olson, Jim Himes, Joyce Beatty and Brenda Lawrence made brief remarks, extending their support to Turkey and reiterating the essential need to improve cooperation with the US ally.
Senior Senator Bob Menendez stated that he was proud of the vitality of the Turkish-American community in his home state, New Jersey. He highlighted that he deeply appreciates the stance that many in the room that evening had taken for the freedoms of speech and press.
Turkish main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Bursa deputy Aykan Erdemir said in his remarks that economic prosperity comes with democracy.
Published on Today's Zaman, 18 March 2015, Wednesday