President Obama has begun his first official visit to Turkey, his first trip to a Muslim country since he was inaugurated president. This trip was announced on an earlier visit to Turkey by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also appeared while in Turkey on the popular news talk show “Come Along with Me” (“Haydi Gel Bizimle Ol”).
In December 2008, following the election, it had been announced that the President-Elect planned to pay a visit to a Muslim country. This visit is intended to improve the image of the United States in the Muslim world. President Obama, who spent part of his childhood in another Muslim country, Indonesia, chose Turkey presumably because it is officially a secular state and has been a close ally of the United States. Even so, since the US invasion of Iraq, support for the United States has plummeted in Turkey, which has been playing a crucial role in keeping dialogue open with other important regional states such as Iran, Syria, and Israel. Under President George W. Bush the United States sought to promote Turkey because of its “moderate Islam,” but some Turkish politicians are uneasy with any discussion of Turkey as a “Muslim” state.
Obama will address the Turkish Parliament in Ankara. He will also visit in Istanbul Haghia Sofia (Aya Sofya), the former Byzantine church and mosque which is now a museum, as well as the Blue Mosque. Many residents of Istanbul will prefer to stay at home, however, rather than try to witness this historic visit or even go to work, since traffic in Istanbul will be hopelessly tied up due to extraordinary security measures.
For sample coverage see:
- Obama due to arrive in Ankara for symbolic two-day Turkey visit
- Obama’s official visit of a Rorschach test
One can read about this visit in English on many Turkish media outlets on the internet. You can find many more articles from the Turkish press and electronic media by searching on Google News or other search engines.
Uli Schamiloglu is chair of the Middle East Studies Program at University of Wisconsin-Madison.