Kansas meets Turkey

Turkey politicianAhmet Aksuzkaya and Kay Wolf are politicians from Turkey and Kansas.   Aksuzkaya is a member of the Turkish Parliament from the city of Kayseri in south-central Turkey.   Wolf is a member of the Kansas State Senate.  She was on a tour to Turkey that Miriam and I joined in September 2014. The tour was designed to foster inter-cultural dialogue across political and religious boundaries.

Kay Wolf is a moderate progressive Republican.  She barely survived Governor Brownback’s attempt in the 2012 primary to replace moderates with right-wing conservatives who would support his social agenda and tax policies.   Before serving in the Senate, Wolf was active in Kansas City government, and then in the Kansas House of Representatives.

Aksuzkaya told our tour group that the people of Turkey generally had a negative view of the U.S.A., but that changed when Obama was elected president and made Turkey his first overseas visit.   He said that the U.S. invasions on Iraq and Afghanistan increased the levels of violence and terrorism in these states.  He did not support Turkey joining the European Union.  He expressed weariness with politics and doubted whether he would run for re-election.

Aksuzkaya is a progressive Muslim who is associated with Hizmet, a Turkish non-governmental  humanitarian movement.  The name “Hizmet” means “Service.”  The movement is only about fifty years old, but it has some ten to fifteen million members.  It has branches and ministries in 160 countries.  The founder of the movement is Fetullah Guelen, a former imam born in eastern Turkey.   Guelen promotes modern education, democracy, mutual aid, science, peace and inter-religious dialogue.   All these, he says, are grounded in a proper understanding of the Koran.  Violent terrorists, Guelen argues, are by definition not Muslims.  Among his many popular books is “Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance.”

The Hizmet agency in Kansas that sponsors tours for Americans in Turkey is the “Institute of the Southwest.”  It’s headquarters are in Lenexa.  The tours include traditional tourist sites as well as visits at Hizmet agencies in Turkey for mutual aid (remarkably similar to Mennonite Central Committee), for higher education, and for ecumenical dialogue.   Tour members have opportunities to meet Turkish people in their homes, including at least one overnight stay.

Miriam and I will be on our second trip to Turkey from September 13 to 25, 2015.   During that time I will take a vacation from this blog.   Meanwhile, if you are interested in Christian/Muslim dialogue and the Turkish bridge between Asia and Europe, you are invited to start planning for a Hizmet tour in the summer of 2016.