The Road (Not) Taken: Learning to Talk Again
By Alison Rogers ’12, Staff Writer
“Look as long as you can

at the friend you love

No matter whether that friend is moving away from you

or coming back toward you.”

— Rumi

Welcome Back! Winter at Amherst makes it impossible to even pretend I am still in Istanbul. It is wonderful to see all my friends’ faces here on campus though I know I’ll miss many I left back at home. No doubt that this article is among many Amherst students returning from time abroad have written about the feeling of returning to the U.S. and Amherst College campus. I’ll try not to waste too many words on the topic. For me, the hardest adjustment is hearing and speaking English with strangers or casual acquaintances. After spending five months in Turkey with almost no Turkish language ability, the idea that I can merely step up to a cashier and order a hamburger without wild gestures and slow repetition in a faux accent is exciting and at times uncomfortable. I newly appreciate talking to a fellow student about what I learned in class, thinking out loud about complex ideas, or merely laughing at a Youtube video when before the humor did not translate well. Fluency in a language, be it in a native tongue or a second language, allows one to feel a sense of comfort, as if one can blend in. But the ability to express oneself is also empowering.

I wrote in an earlier column that not being able to communicate the simplest requests or thoughts makes one modest. At times, I felt stupid. I started to suspect that an infant’s vocabulary might match my intellect. In some ways, this was true. Suddenly, a whole world of opinion, humor, life experience and culture I had no access to was before my eyes and the small amount of information and cultural references I had seemed so insignificant in the face of this wealth. When I returned it was as if slipping back into my element, where I could speak about the things I knew and feel once again that I knew something, anything relevant to daily life. A friend of mine who spent a year building NGO’s in India and Israel said that it was like “remembering one can speak again.” Of course, perhaps the biggest struggle is finding that no matter how many words or what kind of words I use, it is impossible to relate to my friends and professors what I saw over there, who I was, and what my life was like overseas. I struggle to understand how to remember the past five months. Another friend of mine thought that being back made the whole experience seem like a dream in many ways. Yet, unlike a dream, the knowledge and passion and friends from my abroad experience remain. How does it fit into the rest of my life?

Recently, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu published a book on the new principle of Turkish foreign policy. He calls it a “zero-problems toward neighbors” policy. On Jan. 20, the New York Times published an article entitled “Turkey’s Rules” in which the author describes Davutoglu’s character and success. He has taken on the mission of challenging Cold War ideology and for his efforts is being recognized as an important player in the Balkan and Middle East region. Constantly, Turkey has had to balance its strong alliance with the U.S., its aspirations for European Union membership, and its generally pro-Western philosophy with its relationships to Middle East countries, Russia and other states competing with those powers. Aras and Findan, scholars on the topic, have written that Davutoglu’s policies reflect an entirely new rhetoric that is made possible by a “new geographic imagination” of the role of Turkey in the Balkans and Middle East. They argue that the old idea of Turkey as a bridge between Europe (the West) and the Middle East and South Asia (the Rest) failed. Thus, envisioning the potential of the State as a central country is newly feasible. Scholars of Turkish foreign policy constantly argue the extent to which Turkey has always bent its will towards western policy by turning down alliances with the Middle East or Russia, sacrificing its own interests for their sake.

However, after speaking with a variety of Turkish citizens, their confidence that the AKP, the current ruling party, is truly deviant from Turkey’s traditional politics is less certain. Despite numerous reforms and their pro Islam domestic initiatives (which fly in the face of Turkey’s secularist past), Davutoglu, Prime Minister Erdogan and other members of the AKP seem typical of Turkish politicians. Additionally, Russia still possesses a strong hold in the Black Sea and South Caucasus. The European Union continues to consolidate power and deny membership to Turkey with no hopes of shift anytime soon. A legacy of Balkan ethnic instability must be grappled with. Iran has emerged as an unpredictable competitor for regional influence as well. Indeed it is apparent that the lingering burdens of the Cold War order remain. It remains to be seen whether Davutglo’s “zero problems policy” is truly reflecting a new geographic imagination or merely another attempt to use political rhetoric to sway public opinion that a growing balance in foreign policy and reform in Turkish politics exists. At the very least, it is hard to ignore a growing interest in popular media towards Turkey over just the past year alone. Turkey’s more active diplomatic efforts, its economic growth and governmental reform are necessarily evidence that it is becoming the regional power, and must be listened to more closely. Its real estate and legacy makes it worth listening to and its leaders are demanding attention. It is almost as if the world is again remembering that Turkey can speak.

Issue 12, Submitted 2011-01-26 01:25:50