Güler Köknar: Our goal is for guests of cultural tours to fall in love with Turkey and plant a seed so that they pursue their own personal or business interests in Turkey
Mrs. Koknar is a graduate of the German High School in Istanbul (1985) (Ozel Istanbul Alman Lisesi) and the Istanbul University School of Law (1989). She entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey as a career diplomat in 1989 and worked in various capacities until 1994, including as Vice Consul at the Turkish Consulate General in Houston. Leaving the Foreign Service, from 1994 to 2002, Mrs. Koknar worked as Executive Director of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) in Washington, DC. In 2004, Mrs. Koknar became Executive Director of the Turkish Cultural Foundation and also works as Vice President of the Turkish Coalition of America, an organization she helped to establish in 2007. Mrs. Koknar is married and has a daughter.
TAIK: Could you please share with us brief background information about Turkish Cultural Foundation (TCF)? How was it established, when, and what was its mission?
Mrs. Köknar: The Turkish Cultural Foundation was established in 2000 with the mission to support the preservation and promotion of Turkish culture and heritage worldwide, through original programs and cooperation with like minded organizations. The Foundation is a US tax-exempt public charitable organization supported entirely by private donations, with offices in Boston, Detroit, Istanbul, Sonoma, Istanbul and Washington, DC. Our office in Istanbul was formally established as a foreign Foundation in 2005 as the Turkish Cultural Foundation Turkey branch (Turk Kultur Vakfi Turkiye Subesi).
The Foundation's main mission is to build cultural bridges between the United States and Turkey, increase knowledge on Turkish cultural heritage and its contributions to world culture and humanity.
In support of promoting Turkish art and culture in the United States and around the world, the Turkish Cultural Foundation underwrites major cultural and arts events related to Turkish culture, including festivals, exhibitions, workshops and lectures. Over the years, the Foundation has grown into the largest private grant-maker for projects related to Turkish culture and we list all organizations, individuals and the projects supported by our grants also on our website
TAIK: TCF is operating some portals that provide information about Turkish Culture, Turkish Music and Turkish Cuisine. Would you elaborate about these projects?
Mrs. Köknar: The Foundation's main public educational effort on Turkish culture takes place through the internet. The Foundation maintains the most visited websites on Turkish culture, www.turkishculture.org since 2000. The newest additions to our Turkish Culture portal is the Image Archive of Turkish Art and an online Who's Who in Turkish Culture and Art .We added to this website a portal on Turkish music, at www.turkishmusicportal.org and Turkish culinary culture at www.turkish-cuisine.org. In 2009 alone, over 2 million people from 200 countries visited these portals. The websites have been created by the Turkish Cultural Foundation under the guidance and with input from experts in these fields. Turkish Culture portal is available in English, Turkish Music Portal is available in Turkish, English, French and German and Turkish Cuisine Portal is available in Turkish and English. Our Turkish Music Portal has twice received the prestigious Golden Spider Award for best website on music.
TAIK: Would you give us some details about TCF's programs for people to people cultural exchanges and their outcomes?
Mrs. Köknar: The Turkish Cultural Foundation believes in citizen's diplomacy to strengthen relations between Turkey and third countries, especially the United States. We are also strong believers that a visit to Turkey can correct prejudices and open minds like nothing else. In this regard, TCF started a now widely acclaimed educational program in cooperation with the World Affairs Councils of America (WACA) on a nation-wide scale. In its third year, this collaboration created a nationwide educational outreach program focusing on teacher education and public education on Turkey with the aim to enhance general understanding about Turkish society, culture and history. As part of this program, nearly 900 teachers across the United States participated in workshops on Turkey, while the public programs on Turkey have reached thousands of Americans through cultural events ranging from book club readings to cultural displays at festivals. Since 2007, 215 middle school and high school teachers have visited Turkey on study tours as guests of the Turkish Cultural Foundation. Upon their return, teachers incorporated their experiences and knowledge on Turkey into their lesson plans ranging from geography to history, from art to anthropology, contributing to an enhanced understanding about Turkey among thousands of American high school students.
In addition to its study tours for teachers, the Turkish Cultural Foundation also hosts cultural tours to Turkey. Since its first cultural tour in 2006, the Turkish Cultural Foundation has hosted 108 Americans from different walks of life on such cultural tours. These influential Americans come from government, business groups, academia and non-profit organizations and receive an in-depth exposure to the historical, cultural and natural beauties of Turkey. It may sound like a cliché, but our goal is for these guests to fall in love with Turkey and plant a seed so that they pursue their own personal or business interests in Turkey.
TAIK: TCF has become an art bridge between Turkey and US to introduce Turkish artists and works of art to the world. Could you tell us more about these achievements? What are your future plans in this area?
Mrs. Köknar: We have a number of initiatives to help Turkish artists promote their work toward international art audiences. In 2008, we launched a Who's Who in Turkish Culture and Art (http://www.sofaexpo.com) section on our website, which has now neared 1000 entries. This is a free service for Turkish artists to promote their work and provide links to their websites. The Turkish Cultural Foundation websites' incredible traffic numbers provide Turkish artists with a powerful gateway to the world. Second, we are sponsoring a Turkish Cultural Foundation at the annual Sculpture Objects and Functional Art expositions in New York and Chicago. For the third year, the Turkish Cultural Foundation invited a select group of upcoming and established artists to present their work to thousands of art lovers and gallery owners, who visit these shows and an invitation for Turkish artists to apply for the 2010 shows has just been released. To further the Turkish Cultural Foundation's goal of showcasing Turkish artists for international audiences, the Turkish Cultural Foundation also provides funding for Turkish artists to perform, take up residencies and participate in international fairs and conferences. In 2009, TCF provided support to concerts in New York and Chicago by Idil Biret, harpist Sirin Pancaroglu and flutist Elif Yurdakul in Rio and Nantes.
TAIK: TCF provides scholarships and research fellowships in Turkey. What is the aim of the scholarship and the requirements to benefit from it?
Mrs. Köknar: The Turkish Cultural Foundation's Fellowship on Turkish Culture and Art aims to provide support to students, researchers and scholars who conduct research and publish on the art and culture of Turkey, with a special emphasis on studies related to the preservation of Turkey's artistic and cultural heritage. The mission of the Turkish Cultural Foundation Fellowship Program is to recognize and assist scholars, whose academic achievements and research reflect the commitment of the Turkish Cultural Foundation to disseminating knowledge about Turkey's cultural heritage. Since the Fellowship program was established in 2008, a total of 11 post-doctorate and 12 Ph.D. dissertation fellowships were awarded by the Turkish Cultural Foundation.
TAIK: Recently, TCF has launched an Image Archive on Turkish Art. What is the size of the archive and what kind of images are gathered in?
Mrs. Köknar: The Image Archive of Turkish Art is a digitalized slide repository created from nearly 12,000 slides, which have been donated to the Turkish Cultural Foundation by Prof. Dr. Nurhan Atasoy, renowned Turkish art historian and Senior Scholar in Residence at the Foundation. Images range from textiles to miniatures to tents and are a unique compilation of images taken during Dr.Atasoy's extensive domestic and international travels to museums, exhibitions and other locations dating back to 1955. The Image Archive of Turkish Art is accessible to students, scholars and researchers worldwide. In instances where a direct reference cannot be found, the Archive can offer researchers relevant information on the subject of their interest. In addition to Turkish art, the Archive also contains a selection of images relevant to the study of Turkish culture.
TAIK: How long you have been leaving in USA? How you have developed your career in this country?
Mrs. Köknar: I have been living in the United States since 1991, when I was assigned as Vice Consul to the Turkish Consulate General in Houston. After working in this position for 3 years, I resigned for family reasons from the Turkish Foreign Ministry and immediately after became Executive Director of the Washington based Assembly of Turkish American Associations, a position I held for 8 years. In 2004, I became Executive Director of the Turkish Cultural Foundation. I am truly lucky to be working in a line of work that as always been close to my heart, help strengthen the image of Turkey abroad, while contributing to establishing a stronger Turkish American community and a strong US-Turkey friendship.
TAIK: As the Executive Director of a foundation promoting Turkish culture in US, how can you evaluate Turkish-American relations? What do you think should be done for further developing the awareness in both sides, and ties between these two cultures?
Mrs. Köknar: Relations between the United States and Turkey are largely shaped by government to government ties. While generally making a positive impact on the communities they live in, Turkish Americans are too small in numbers to change the lack of understanding about Turkey in the United States alone. Perceptions among Americans about Turks and Turkey are not viciously bad, but they are still mainly negative due to the largely negative media coverage about Turkey and stubborn stereotypes. Sadly, most Americans don't have a real concept of Turks and Turkey. Therefore, US foreign policy vis-à-vis Turkey and particularly congressional actions are not based on grassroots support from the American public at large. It is therefore incumbent on Turkish Americans to rise up to this challenge and change minds about Turkey by promoting their heritage and culture in a positive way, which they are increasingly beginning to do. In addition, Turkish Americans need to get involved in the American political process and make their voices heard. I am reminded of the story of an American politician answering a prominent Turkish American, who asked him why members of Congress always vote in favor of the Greek lobby and against Turkey, by saying "Because there are more Greek restaurants." This is certainly a simplistic way of putting it, but liking or disliking a certain culture based on a personal experience, has an incredible impact on people's general perceptions and their decisions. Alas, Turkish Americans cannot do this alone. Turks from all walks of life, in the non-profit sector to the arts, business to academia, should seek their own ways to build people to people bridges with the United States, as well as other countries that matter to Turkey's future, and contribute in their own ways to changing hearts and minds. I strongly believe that a multi-faceted civic effort that complements strategic, economic and other dimensions of the US-Turkey partnership and focuses on building people-to-people bridges will make a lasting impact on further strengthening relations between the two nations and shielding them, to a degree, from the ups and downs of politics.