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My Turn: Actually, Turkey is a lovely place for Americans to visit

Drawn in by the headline “From high school in Turkey to the coast of Maine,” I was interested to read the essay by Candice Dale in the Your Life section of the Aug. 11 Sunday Monitor. I very much enjoyed reading Dale’s recollections of coming of age in Turkey, her descriptions of Turkish foods and culture, and places they visited, and the enduring friendships that were formed.

As a former military brat who also came of age abroad, I could identify with how incredibly deep and special teenage friendships are when forged in a foreign land. My friends from high school abroad remain to this day, my very closest friends. In addition, having traveled to Turkey, I enjoyed reading Dale’s recollections of Turkish food and culture – such as buying simit “off trays that were carefully balanced on the heads of Turkish street vendors.”

I was surprised and disappointed, however, when Dale suggested that Turkey was no longer a safe place to visit. Nothing could be further from the truth. I assume Dale’s assumption arises out of coverage of recent demonstrations in Istanbul (and across Turkey) that were initiated in Taskim Square. Her assessment is unfortunate on many levels.

First, these demonstrations have nothing in common with the type or severity of the civil, and often violent, unrest that’s been occurring in other parts of the Middle East and northern Africa. Second, her comments serve to perpetuate a general lack of knowledge and understanding on the part of Americans about Turkey, its people and its relationship to the United States.

Turkey is one of America’s oldest and strongest allies, and the Turkish people are quite fond of Americans. The U.S. air base in Incirlik is the one of the largest in the world. More important, Turkey is probably the absolute safest place for Americans to travel in the Middle East. Ask any Americans who have actually been to Turkey and they will tell you that not only is Turkey safe for Americans, the Turkish people are among the most friendly and gracious people in the world.

As Dale expressed rather eloquently, military brats have a very special bond as a result of their experiences abroad. In a few weeks, my husband and I will be traveling to Turkey. While there, we’ll be visiting a former classmate of mine, who is Turkish. He and I met while standing outside the teen club on a military base in Belgium when we were 13 years old. That was more than 40 years ago.

I strongly encourage Dale and her friends to consider making Izmir the location of choice for their next reunion. I’m confident they’ll find the Turkish people, food and culture remain as lovely, exciting and familiar as when they were teens, and the ancient ruins of Ephesus equally unchanged.

(Joan Schwartz lives in Bow.)

I also had the fortune of visiting Turkey numerous times. I explored the ruins, the bustling cities, and the tranquil coasts. Although I am of Turkish descent, the local Turks assumed I was visiting from America or Spain and were always friendly. I had yet to encounter any hostility. I also have memories of friendships I formed as a child in Turkey. My friends were always curious about American culture - the movies, our old American cars, hip-hop, and food. I enjoyed learning more about my own Turkish heritage through them, while sharing my American culture as well. The recent protests in Turkey may place tourists on edge, however many of my law school colleagues spent their summer abroad in Istanbul in heart of the protests. We constantly exchanged emails and none voiced concern about their own safety. Moreover, they continued to explore the country, while witnessing the political movement in the many cities of Turkey. They also shared how hospital the locals Turks have been. Many of them shared authentic Turkish meals in the homes of locals they recently befriended. This is the Turkish culture! Do not be shocked if locals invite you home to share some tea or dinner. There is a Turkish saying: "Our doors are always be open to God's children." So, explore Turkey on your own and make up your own mind. I'm sure the country and its people will simply blow your mind, as it always does mine!

I had the great fortune to visit Turkey a few years ago, mostly Istanbul and a few days in the Anatolian heartland. Never have I encountered warmer, more hospitable people. My hotel in Istanbul was a minute's walk from Taksim Square, and during my stay the late Tom Lantos introduced an amendment calling the Armenian massacre "genocide" (which I happen to believe it was). There was a boisterous anti-American demonstration in the square, but I felt myself to be in absolutely no danger. The Turkish demonstrators were very clear about the distinction between an individual American and actions by his/her government. As to Tommy's comment below, it's poor manners for a guest to "tell the truth" about what he knows to be a sore subject for his host. I think that rule applies everywhere in the world. Want Turks to be more forthcoming about the 1910-15 period? Find a neutral location, avoid finger-pointing and be patient.

Yes, Turkey is a wonderful place and the Turks wonderful people. Unless, of course, a person wants to tell the truth about the horrors perpetrated by the Turks during the Armenian genocide. Then not so much.

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