Friday, November 20, 2015

Georgetown's ITS loses funds from Turkey

The Institute of Turkish Studies (ITS) Loses its funding from Turkey

The Institute of Turkish Studies (ITS) published an announcement on November 19th to inform that Turkish administration's financial support, which has been provided since 1982, is ending.

Announcement says:
"For over thirty years, ITS has been the principal independent supporter and sponsor of Turkish studies in the United States. The research, publishing, and teaching of several generations of scholars, now the leading lights of American academe on matters Turkish and Ottoman, have been supported – indeed, made possible – by this funding, for which they and ITS as an institution are grateful."

ITS was receiving on average between $200 and $225K funding per year from successive Turkish governments for 33 years. That means ITS' support has been bipartisan over decades. 

Georgetown University's ITS has been a respected actor in Washington DC over the years. It has helped creating 13 Turkey programs in 13 different American universities. ITS is not only encouraging discussions over Turkish Republic’s history but also Ottoman history along with Turkey's contemporary political, social and economic developments. ITS has raised an awareness about Turkey’s "glorious past" Ottomans which AKP officials love to talk about. ITS has been faciliating thousands of students going to Turkey every summer for Turkish language classes. Many of these American students have had incredible adventures in Turkey in their early years.

When one thinks how much lobbying groups or actors charge Turkey every year ($1, $2 millions every year), this program at a world leading university by a quarter million dollars seems like a great bargain.

So why do we think AKP preferred to end this Turkish studies program that has been going over 30 years and maintained by dozens of various Turkish administrations?

Steven A. Cook, who is an expert on Turkey at CFR in Washington, also is featured on ITS’ “hall of fame” for being a former benefactor of ITS grants said this: “The move to cut Ankara's contribution to ITS does not surprise me. Turkish leaders--and quite frankly, more than a few Turkish philanthropists--expect something in return for their goodwill. That something is for the grateful recipients to echo the views of their donors.”

As Cook briefly touches here, for sometime, it has been indeed talked that the AKP government is not happy with Georgetown’s ITS program for it is not pushing AKP vision in Washington "good enough" and defending it against others. ITS, as it says on the website clearly as one of its missions: “To promote better understanding of Turkish politics, economy, and society through conferences and lecture series.” ITS wants to stay away from daily politics. It wants to promote better understanding of Turkish politics but not better understanding of AKP’s vision.

For AKP administration, there are lobbying groups and Turkish-American associations, Embassy to push its vision and policies as its lawyers and spokespeople in Washington. There are “think tanks” like Seta to promote its ideas.

ITS, during its 33 years helped hundreds of students and academics like Stanford Shaw, Kemal Karpat, Jenny B. White, Joshua Hendrick and Steven A. Cook (more can be found).  

Jenny B. White who is at Boston University’s Department of Anthropology, author of books and many articles on Turkey, also featured at ITS’ “hall of fame” said this: “Almost all ITS money goes to funding grants, very little to overhead. I don’t understand why the Turkish government would defund such a lean and effective organization with a proven track record of bringing information about Turkey to campuses around the country, even in the heartland, setting up Turkish programs, fostering scholarship about Turkey, helping train new generations of scholars. I’m very proud of being associated with ITS and what it has accomplished and I’m very disappointed at the decision to defund it.”

Even though the program is losing its funding from the Turkish Government and its trust, “ITS continues to exist as an NGO and we are looking forward to continuing the very important task of supporting independent scholarship on Turkey,” said White, “this came as a shock after thirty years of operation. ITS has been the principal independent supporter and sponsor of Turkish studies in the United States. Several generations of US-based scholars, including myself, received ITS support for their research, publishing, and teaching about Turkey, often at crucial moments early in their careers.”

It’s expected that the ITS will be looking for some money to continue its work. Will there be any Turkish or American philanthropists, donors?  

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