All Started in 1979…
On August 19, 1977, the President of the Maryland American Turkish Association (MATA), Dr. Ülkü Ülgür, in his letter to the membership, stated “it is no news that Turkey and Turkish-Americans in this country are beset by many problems and recently have been subjected to unfair treatment and discrimination by some other ethnic groups and their political representatives. Your new Board of Directors believe that we clearly need to intensify our efforts for better and more effective representation of our views, especially in the light of growing criticism and hostility from many quarters.” Another part of the same letter stated that, “we have reached a tentative agreement with the new president of ATA D.C., Mr Yavuz Somen, to collaborate and work together in these crucial and vital areas.”
Similar letters and notes in the American Turkish Association of Washington, D.C. (ATA D.C.) reflected the concern of this community to the problems faced by Turkish-Americans in this country.
On June 29, 1978, MATA President, Dr. Ülgür, in his letter to ATA D.C. President Yavuz Somen stated, “In our recent Board of Directors’ meeting we have discussed the possibility of bringing our associations together by affiliating them in some official form. We, as members of the Board of Directors of the Maryland American Turkish Association, believe that such an affiliation will be a giant step forward for better representation of the Turkish community in the Mid-Eastern United States. Therefore, we have unanimously elected three of our distinguished members to form an ad-hoc committee and have instructed them to work jointly with a similar committee so that a solution can be found to realize the goal of uniting these two respected organizations.”
The ad hoc committees of ATA D.C. and MATA met on November 5, 1978. ATA D.C. was represented by President Yavuz Somen, Suat Başaran, and Loren Myers while MATA was represented by President Ülkü Ülgür, Cenap Kıratlı, and the late Alp Karahasan.
By 1979, there was a crying need to address the attacks, the distortions of history, and the discrimination the Turkish-American community was facing every day in their jobs, at schools their children attended, and in their daily lives. Isolated local, Turkish American organizations were unable to cope with the massive work that needed to be done nationwide. Upon his arrival in Washington to take up the post of Ambassador from Turkey, Dr. Sükrü Elekdağ was met by members of both ATA D.C. and MATA at a special reception held at the Navy Officers Club in Bethesda, Md. on September 23, 1979. He inspired both communities with his dynamic approach to U.S.-Turkish relations. Now the two communities were no longer talking merely about regional cooperation. Visions of a national umbrella organization were forming.
In the aftermath of threats of yet another arms embargo passing through Congress with virtually no Turkish-American voice raised in opposition, a series of meetings were held in the Washington, D.C. area. A steering committee was formed in November 1979, headed by ATA D.C. President Yavuz Somen with the late Yurdakul Göker and Taşkın Atıl and by MATA President, the late Dr. Alp Karahasan, with Dr. Ülkü Ülgür, Cenap Kıratlı and Şengün Nun. The advisor associates were Erol Gürün, Aydın Çağınalp, Hasan Akdemir, Tuncer Kuzay, and Ozcan Tuncel. Out of their meetings came an agreement to establish the nationwide Assembly of Turkish American Associations.
Washington, D.C. was chosen to be the headquarters of the new organization to utilize the vast opportunities for promoting U.S. Turkish relations among policy makers. A Secretariat for the Assembly was established to coordinate the activities, publish a nationwide publication and generally be the central source of information on Turks and Turkey. For this purpose office space was provided by Adil Araboğlu, a Washington business leader, and the Assembly was in business. Clearly the tasks that lay ahead were enormous and the resources limited.
The first ball was a fundraising activity sponsored by ATA D.C. and MATA, and held on December 29, 1979 at the Turkish Embassy. One hundred and forty-six people managed to raise $17,470 for the Assembly.
ATAA’s first publication, ATA-USA was published in February 1980 and news about Turks and Turkey premiered nationwide. With coordinating committee members Yavuz Somen, Ekrem Bulgur, and Yurdakul Göker from ATA, and the late Alp Karahasan, Ülkü Ülgür, and Cenap Kıratlı from MATA, planned for convening the general assembly on May 17-18, 1980 in the nation’s capital pressed forward with great speed.
More than 120 people representing 24 organizations and 5 student associations gathered at the Embassy Row Hotel during this two-day conference and brought plans on the drawing board into reality. The delegates elected the Coordinating Committee members to a special Steering Committee. Their task was to draw up a constitution and bylaws for the Assembly to be presented to the delegates at the next annual convention. Founded to deal with issues confronting the community, the Assembly was not to be given time to grow and mature slowly, but rather would have to come on as an adult and face Armenians crying “genocide,” and trying to include their grievances in a national museum dedicated to the memory of six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II. The “Midnight Express” image of Turks and Turkey was constantly being shown with even President Carter giving it free advertising.
Now there was an organization that was writing letters with the weight of the whole Turkish-American community behind it. Publications were giving the members information about the issues to enable them to set the record straight when they encountered distortions and attacks on their Turkish heritage.