Luncheon was offered during the TAA Annual Convention to our distinguishedguests. There were honorable guests including Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-R), US Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-D), Minister of Finance Mehmet Simsek of Turkey who respectively gave keynote speeches, as well as other distinguished guests. The luncheon was in a friendly atmosphere. We will now give keynote speech of Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-R) below.
CHAIRWOMAN ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN
Remarks at Turkic American Alliance Convention Grand Hyatt Hotel, Room 1000
I am honored to join you at this year’s Turkic American Alliance Convention. It is always a pleasure to speak about the strength of the U.S.-Turkish relationship. Many Americans do not realize the benefits of this relationship to our country, and unfortunately many Turkish citizens are equally unaware of the positive impact of these ties. That is why events like this convention are so important, to raise awareness of our strong cooperative efforts on a host of issues and build on these.
For example, the United States and Turkey have fostered a key strategic relationship which enhances the security for all our citizens, both at home and abroad.
Our nations understand all too well the threats that face our citizens, as attacks from violent extremists have taken the lives of many of our people on our very own soil. The PKK terrorist group is a common enemy to both the United States and Turkey. Since the PKK began operations in 1984, more than 40,000 people have lost their lives as a result of PKK attacks. Unfortunately, the brutality of the PKK attacks has not waned over those 30 years.
In October 2011, these extremists opened fire at will on civilians and police in southeastern Turkey, leading to numerous casualties and five deaths, including a pregnant woman and her 6-year-old daughter. Only a few weeks later, the PKK followed with another vicious attack on military troops in southeastern Turkey, resulting in the death of twenty-four soldiers and wounding eighteen others. These attacks are outrageous, and such tactics of terror will not be tolerated.
The United States is playing a critical role in Turkey’s counterterrorism operations against the PKK, by providing real-time satellite imaging, intelligence, and other operational and logistical support. In fact, the U.S. will soon be providing Turkey with Super-Cobra attack helicopters, which will be a tremendous asset to the Turkish military as they conduct operations in southeastern Turkey. U.S. assistance is quiet and behind-the scenes and so is not well known, especially in Turkey.
But I believe it should receive much greater public recognition. It directly counters the widespread misconception among many Turks that the friendship between our two countries is faltering, and that we no longer share close interests. In fact, our close relationship goes beyond that of a regional security partnership but one of global strategic importance.
It is worth noting that even in the midst of these difficult economic times, as many allies are decreasing investment in transatlantic defense, Turkey continues to maintain and even increase its contributions to the NATO alliance. Turkey continues to support the NATO mission in Afghanistan, by providing two Operational Military Liaison Teams to help train Afghan forces as well as providing critical logistical support through its military base at Incirlijk. Turkey also continues to actively engage in the NATO stability missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Turkey’s willingness to host these missile defense radar sites on its territory, despite posturing and threats from the Iranian regime, will promote security in the region and protect Turkish, American and European citizens from ballistic missile attacks. In addition, as a member of the Proliferation Security Initiative, Turkey continues to intercept Iranian shipments of arms to extremist groups such as Hezbollah in Syria and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Additionally, this year, Turkish national police arrested over 85 extremists with ties to Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda, including 15 who were plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. Turkeyâ€™s robust efforts against extremist groups have saved American lives, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
Not only are our countries cooperating to face the threats to our national security, we are also increasing our cooperation to address the looming economic challenges of our times. With trade between our two countries reaching almost $15 billion last year there is substantial room for growth in the financial services, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical industries. Turkey economy has maintained impressive economic growth over the past few years, providing new opportunities for increased trade between our countries every day.
To this end, the U.S.-Turkish Framework for Strategic Economic and Commercial Cooperation was established in 2010, and has already identified several areas for increased trade, including in the fields of: financial services, biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industries. In addition, our two governments are actively pursuing ways to expand opportunities for small and medium-sized businessesâ€”the engines of economic growth. We should work to build upon our existing trade agreements and develop greater economic ties.
Yet, as our strategic and economic ties become stronger we must always remember that these partnerships thrive due to the close, personal relationship between the American and Turkish people. For generations, Turkish immigrants have enriched the U.S. economy and society, and thousands more arrive every year.
Some notable Turkish-Americans who have left their imprint upon American culture are:
- The current President and CEO of the Coca-Cola company;
- The founder of Atlantic records, who brought to the American public such talent as: Jimi Hendriks, Aretha Franklin, and Eric Clapton; and
- Yale University Physics professor and winner of the prestigious Oppenheimer Prize for his work with elementary particles, Dr. Gurzey.
These are just a few of the many examples of how Turkish-Americans have all contributed their unique skills and talents to the enhancement of our country.
But as even in the closest of relationships, there are differences that must be addressed if they are to prevent an undermining of mutual trust. I am greatly concerned about the deterioration of the relationship between Turkey and Israel. I was encouraged by recent openings in the relationship that we saw following the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Israelâ€™s decision to immediately send temporary shelters and medical supplies to the victims. The Turkish government replied to this generosity very warmly, and I hope this represents an opportunity to restore those bilateral ties that have proven beneficial to the people of both Turkey and Israel.
Another issue of concern is the effort to label the violence that occurred during the fall of the Ottoman Empire as â€œgenocide.â€ The violence that occurred was a great tragedy, but the proper historical classification of those massacres is a deeply emotional issue. However, I do not believe that it is an appropriate issue for Congress to try to determine. Instead, it is best addressed by Turkey and Armenia directly, and I strongly support the proposal for Turkish and Armenian historians to review those tragic events through a cooperative and positive process.
As you can see from my remarks, I am a strong believer in the enduring value of the U.S.-Turkish alliance.
In my role as the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I will work to strengthen this important alliance and to strengthen it for generations to come.
Other keynote speeches will also be provided later.Click Here