Some Turkish-Americans in central Ohio are speaking out against recent actions by the government in Turkey, primarily the takeover earlier this month of their home country's best-selling newspaper.
Their goal is to make their voices heard and to raise awareness among their neighbors. They hope that Turkish-Americans in other cities do the same.
Turkish immigrants in the United States have stakes in both nations, said Onder Secen, 38, who lives on the North Side but was born in eastern Turkey and grew up in Istanbul.
"A democratic Turkey is the best ally for the United States," said Secen, who has been in the U.S. for 17 years. "Right now we don't have it."
Turkey, a member of NATO, is a critical U.S. ally.
A 42-year-old Worthington woman who has lived here almost 20 years said Turkey has been the only democratic country in the Muslim world, and the change in direction worries many Turkish-Americans. Another Worthington woman, 40, who has lived in the United States 13 years, fears there's no mechanism to reverse the trend.
The women said they had been to Turkey in recent months and that things had flipped from a democracy to rule by one person: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They asked that their names not be published because they fear speaking out could cause ramifications for family members who work for the Turkish government.
Both Secen and the women are members of the Columbus chapter of the Turkish American Society of Ohio and of the Ohio chapter of the Niagara Foundation, which has a large number of Turkish supporters.
On March 4, Erdogan's government seized the Zaman newspaper, which had been critical of his rule, after a prosecutor said it was spreading terrorist propaganda and being investigated for financing a terrorist organization. The paper had been affiliated with Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim religious leader who lives in Pennsylvania. The state has said Gulen was attempting a takeover and was behind the newspaper's recent government corruption investigation.
A number of human-rights groups, European leaders and President Barack Obama have expressed concern over the government's actions, as have the editorial boards of some U.S. newspapers.
Secen especially took issue with the Turkish government demonizing Gulen, whom he says is a scapegoat. Secen said Gulen has encouraged citizens to become active in schools, banks, news outlets and other segments of society.
"People are inspired by him to do good things," Secen said. "I'm one of those people who have been inspired by him. When you have a movement like that, with no political goals, usually the people in power see it as a threat."
Secen said some residents of Turkey, including his parents, are unaware of the issues because the government is controlling the news. They have told him that they think the Gulen movement is to blame for the unrest.
"I can barely talk to them," he said. "They blame me."
The 42-year-old woman said she was especially shaken by a Sunday suicide car bombing that killed more than 30 people in Ankara, Turkey's capital, her hometown and the place where she spent her teenage years hanging around with friends at bookshops and cafes.
"That really brought tears to my eyes," she said, adding that her cousin was in the area during the attack and described the panic and terror.
"I'm really worried. My cousin couldn't stop crying," she said. "She saw body parts flying around, she smelled the blood, she saw the fire."
She said the only hope for her country is if the international community reaches out to help.
"Having a democratic Muslim ally in that region is just really important," she said. "They're moving away from the democratic way and that's worrying for all of us."
Published on The Colombus Dispatch, 18 March 2016, Friday