Successful Turkish-Americans in US politics

After the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden on Jan. 20, one by one the members of his Cabinet were confirmed by the Senate. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were approved and have taken office while the secretaries of transportation, homeland security and trade are expected to be approved without a hitch.

Biden made a speedy start, signing 30 executive orders in his first five days — setting a new record. Usually, presidents tend not to sign more than five executive orders within their first weeks. Biden signed executive orders to better fight the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, on top of the remarkable steps he has taken to provide economic relief.

We have yet to see how Biden will approach Turkey, but it is worth noting that three successful Turkish-American women are a part of the Biden administration, women who are representative of not just the new generation but Turkey, too. Here are the Turkish-American women who have key roles in the Biden administration:

Didem Nişancı: Chief of staff at the Department of Treasury
Özge Güzelsu: Deputy general counsel at the Department of Defense
Naz Durakoğlu: Assistant secretary for the Bureau of Legislative Affairs at the Department of Foreign Affairs

It’s worth mentioning that there are quite a few young Turkish-Americans working in U.S. Congress. Durakoğlu previously worked with House of Representatives members Michael McMahon and William Keating and later with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

I have known Durakoğlu since 2010 and can assert that she is highly intelligent with outstanding analytical and communication skills. She exemplifies a “can-do” attitude when tackling tasks with positive energy.

At present, Lale Morrison, Congressperson Alcee Hastings’ Chief of Staff and Murat Gökçiğdem, chief of staff for Congressperson Eddie Bernice Johnson, are both serving in congressional positions.

Leyla Moses-Ones is another success story, serving as the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. to Albania. Clearly, the Turkish citizens working at these governmental institutions have remarkable legacies.

Turkish Caucus group

Eighty-six members of the 117th Congress are members of the Turkish Caucus Group, a friendly body that works to develop Turkey-U.S. relations and emphasize the importance of Turkey in Congress.

Within the group, there are two Democrat and two Republican co-leaders. Eighty-two members are also members of the House of Representatives, 42 being Democrats and 40 Republicans.

Similarly, four members of the Senate are also in the Turkish Friendship Group, of whom three are Republicans and one a Democrat. The same mechanism exists within the Turkish Parliament, going by the Turkish-U.S. Parliamentary Friendship Group.

From time to time, members come to the capital, Washington, D.C., to meet with their counterparts. Results-oriented visits will be of vital importance in the coming era given the U.S. Congress’ unfavorable perception of Turkey.

Naturally, a huge responsibility falls on the Turkish community living in the U.S., and it is encouraged that they meet with their elected representatives at the state level.

Turks from the Turkish-American community need to engage more on a political level in order to create a network and generate trust.

To be strong in the U.S., if you don’t have the votes you need the finances. Given that Turks migrated to the U.S. relatively later, they have not yet had the time to work their way up in society to become senator or mayor. It makes us proud to hear a Turk’s success story every now and again, but more systematic work needs to be done through unity and solidarity.

Before I finish, I want to make an example of Hacıbey Çatalbaşoğlu, who is currently studying at Yale University but also serves as a city council member in New Haven, one of the most important cities in Connecticut.

Çatalbaşoğlu, a flourishing young man loved by all, is in politics at the age of 23. He comes from a humble background; his father owns a pizza shop, and his mother is a nurse, but he has made something of himself despite his circumstances, and I hope we will see him in Congress in the future.

I am optimistic about the Turkish-U.S. relationship having encountered many Turkish-Americans excelling in their career paths.

Foreign Policy Expert on U.S.-Turkey Relations, ME, Security, NATO, Transatlantic / Journalist / 2019 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Recipient