Introduction to

Turkish American Studies

Inaugural Workshop


June 6-7, 2014 - Boğaziçi University, İstanbul



Paper Abstracts

List of Participants




A Brief Look at the Literature about the Turkish Immigration to the United States of America and the Hitherto Unrecorded Story of Osman and Timur

Belma Baskett, International Society for Literature and Theatre


I wish to discuss two Turkish books that are of major importance on the topic of immigration of Turks to America that otherwise may not be mentioned in the workshop. The first book, Bir Devrimci Doktorun Anıları (Memoirs of A Revolutionary Doctor), first published in 1925, was written by Dr. Mehmet Fuat Umay from his journal of his trip to the United States in March-May 1923. The other book is Anadolu'dan Yeni Dünyaya: Amerika'ya İlk Göç Eden Türklerin Yaşam Öyküleri (From Anatolia to the New World: The Life Stories of the First Turkish Immigrants to America) by Rıfat N.Bali, published in 2004.


Dr. Umay was a medical doctor and the secretary general of Himaye-i Etfal Cemiyeti - Association for the Protection of Children in Turkey. He went to the United States on the suggestion of Türk Yardımlaşma Derneği - the Turkish Charity Association of New York - to solicit donations from the Turkish immigrants in the United States for the thousands of orphans left in dire need after the Turkish War of Independence. During his trip, he collected a great sum of money which was used for new buildings and institutions for the care of orphaned children in Turkey. His memoirs contain information about the Turkish immigrants he met, and are written in an informal manner.


Bali is a sociologist. His book is a very scholarly book based on serious archival research. He has an extensive bibliography. The book thoroughly covers the topic from the earliest years to almost the present. Both books contain some of the same material. It is interesting to meet the same key figures in both books. Sabiha Sertel, for example, was a student in New York when Dr Umay met her; she traveled with him and was his interpreter. In the Bali book, she and her works on the subject appear as one of his sources.



History of Turkish-American Relations

Pınar Dost-Niyego, Atlantic Council Istanbul Office


The historiography of Turkish-American relations has focused on the post-WW II period, during which relations between the two countries intensified because of a new US policy of containing the Soviet Union. According to this account, the origin of US interest in Turkey can only be explained if approached through the framework of the US policy toward the Soviet Union. Thus, this approach cannot speak of a US “Turkish policy” prior to the declaration of the Truman Doctrine.


Contrary to prevalent historiography, the foundations of the tight post-war Turkish-American relations were laid during the war, not only because of the Soviet threat, but because of a new US global policy defined before the advent of the Cold War. US postwar awareness of the Middle East in general and Turkey in particular derived not only from the events of the period 1945-1947, but also from US experience accumulated during the war in the region. Events and conditions of the conflict itself resulted in American military and civilian specialists producing a mass of reports and strategic plans for the postwar Middle East, in which Turkey occupied a crucial position.


The foundations of the new US Turkish policy can be summarized in three themes: a new US international trade policy; the American desire to extend its hegemony in the Near and Middle East; and the installation of bases overseas. These three elements were closely related: the US policy of international trade and installation of overseas bases depended on the American desire to extend its hegemony in the Near and Middle East.


What's in a Hyphen?: Between Turkish American Studies and Turkish-American Studies

Brian Edwards, Northwestern University

This paper takes the occasion of the 2014 workshop held at Boğaziçi University to think critically about the relationship between the dual aspects of its promise: as a new chapter in Turkish or Turkey-based approaches to the field called “American Studies” and as a renewed focus on the study of Turks in the United States. I explore the tension between Turkish American Studies and Turkish-American Studies in the context of ongoing debates about the field and its transnational dimensions, as well as the critique of the relationship of American Studies to the history and logics of American Exceptionalism. I build here on my own work in "American Studies in Motion: Tehran, Hyderabad, Cairo,” and in my extended critical introduction (with Dilip Gaonkar) to Globalizing American Studies (Chicago, 2010), in which Gaonkar and I argued that approaches to American Studies from outside the United States had the potential to reveal “America” as a fragment and to highlight the rubric of circulation, both crucial new directions for the field in the 21st century. My title for this paper plays on Janice Radway’s famous 1998 Presidential address to the American Studies Association, which interrogated the tensions implicit in both field and association as gleaned through the rhetoric of naming. Radway herself invoked Mary Helen Washington, whose presidential address the previous year asked, "What Happens to American Studies if You Put African American Studies at the Center?" So in my paper, I will ask both, “what’s in a hyphen?” and “what happens to Turkish American studies when you put Turkish-American studies at the center?”



Turkish Tailors Establishing Themselves in American Society: Experiences of ‘Lower Class’ Immigrants

Tahire Erman, Bilkent University


This paper is about Turkish tailors living in Methuen, Massachusetts. They moved to the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s upon the demand of the American government for tailors to work for the textile and clothing companies in Rochester, New York. They were initially all men and moved to Rochester with the intention to save money and return home. They brought their families in the coming months and they were joined by other Turkish immigrants over the years. When the economic crisis hit the clothing industry in Rochester, some of them moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts. Today some live in Methuen clustered around the mosque turned from an old church. This article is based upon an in-depth study of these tailors and their families between September 2005 and May 2006. A couple of visits were also made to the mosque and its community in November 2007 and July 2009. As ‘lower class’ Turkish immigrants living in the United Statess, their study contributes to our understanding of immigrants by demonstrating the problems they have faced, especially when they were discriminated by the mainstream Turkish migrant community, and the strategies they have developed to survive in their new society as ‘lower-class’ people.


An Implausible Juncture?: Locating Turkish Literature in an American frame.

Elena Furlanetto, Duisburg-Essen University


In her 1998 article “Ethnic Fatigue: Başçıllar's Poetry as a Metaphor for the Other ‘Other Literature’,” Gönül Pultar defines the concept of Turkish-American literature as problematic, to the point of questioning the very possibility of it. The problem highlighted by Pultar seems to be that the Turkish and the American spheres hardly ever intersect: for this reason, the “putative juncture” (Pultar, 1998: 126) between these two dialectic selves, sparkling the possibility of an ethnic literature in English, is problematic at best, implausible at worst. Yet, in 2005, the publication of Elif Shafak’s first novel in English, The Saint of Incipient Insanities, made Turkish novelists visible on the world literature arena, and pointed at the necessity to address a tradition of Turkish literature in English that develops along a Turkish-American axis, and yet eludes the canons of ‘migrant literature.’ My paper calls for a reconsideration of ‘Turkish-American literature’ as a transnational phenomenon that covers a much larger field than literature produced by Turkish immigrants in the United States. Shafak’s Anglophone oeuvre emerges as a representative of a prolific branch of Turkish literature in a specifically American frame, written in English, negotiating the American influence on Turkey’s modern identity and addressing a double readership.



The Second Generation of Turks who Migrated to America

Müzeyyen Güler, Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts


This paper presents data obtained during a research done on second-generation children of Turks who migrated to America 40 years ago. The research, comprising an 129-item questionnaire and intensive observation, was done in the fall of 2010 and and the winter of 2011. The sample consisted of 129 youths aged between 16 and 29. They were chosen among those living on the East coast of America, using the snowball technique. The way the “American-Turk” identities of the young Turks in the new continent are formed, in mosques, schools and Turkish parade and culture days; their being in-between two cultures; their conflicts with their parents; and their education, language acquisition, working conditions, and residential areas were examined.


Building up a New Identity through Music: The Case of Ahmet Ertegün

Elif Huntürk, Bilkent University


The founder of the worldwide-known Atlantic Record Company, Ahmet Ertegün guided the music industry of his time. Today, he is regarded by the music authorities as having been the most influential music producer. Being a diplomat’s son, Ertegün spent his childhood and early adolescence in several European cities. His temporary migrations started when he was two and ended up in the United States in 1934. When his father died in 1944, his family went back to Turkey, yet he and his brother Nesuhi stayed on. Thus, Ertegün, come to the United States as a diplomat’s son, became an ordinary immigrant after the death of his father. The experience of being a real immigrant within the music culture reshaped his identity. This paper will focus on the transformation of a member of the first-generation Turkish republican elite. I will specifically emphasize the role of music in the process of his Americanization.



Orientalism to Neo-Orientalism: Turkish Studies in the USA

Tuğrul Keskin, Portland State University


The United States had become a global political power by the end of WW II, and started competing with the Soviet Union over political and social spaces in the developing world. As a result of Cold War politics, the United States borrowed the old imperial policies of Europe, which were based on classical Orientalism, as defined in Edward Said’s famous work. Thus, the United States national security strategy started to design in the 1950’s area studies within American universities, funded by the Department of Education, Department of Defense, and Department of State. This policy involved a multi-layered approach, and was based not only in the universities, but also at government-funded agencies and non-governmental organizations. The Fulbright program and the Peace Corps were established as a consequence. The first “Middle East Studies” centers were established at Harvard, Princeton and Portland State University. This was the beginning stage of academic involvement in Turkish Studies in the United States. However, over the years, Turkey’s strategic and geopolitical importance attracted the attention of Washington policy-makers. Between 1959 and 1972, there were twenty-seven American military bases, and thirty thousand US troops deployed in Turkey, in addition to many Fulbright scholars and Peace Corps volunteers. In the 1980’s, during the neoliberal era, this Orientalist approach was transformed, and took on a more policy-oriented form of neo-Orientalism in both the United States and Turkey. As a result, we witnessed the growth of academic Turkish Studies programs in the American educational system, funded by the Turkish government, and the US Department of State, Department of Defense, and Department of Education. This NATO-based academic orientation facilitated the imperial domination of Turkey by the United States. This development was accelerated after September 11, 2001, and today Turkish politics and language have become a part of the national security strategy of the United States. I will examine in this paper the emergence, current trend, and growth of neo-Orientalism within Turkish Studies in the United States since the 1950s.



Organizational Interpretations of Belonging and Identity - Politics of Incorporation among Turkish American Associations in New York

Zeynep Kılıç, University of Alaska, Anchorage


This paper explores organizational perspectives on belonging and immigrant incorporation among Turkish associations in the New York metropolitan area. The data comes from 21 in-depth interviews with active community organization leaders, politicians and other discourse setters (consulate officials, writers, journalists) in addition to participant observations in the community events. Immigrant belonging, gauged by migrant organizational strategies that are put forward, is shaped in large part by the receiving state’s legal framework, especially as it relates to formal citizenship as well as social and racial hierarchies present in the host country. Migrant organizations have to engage the institutional framework on a regular basis for policy concerns, financial reasons or for representational reasons within popular discourses. This paper reveals how organizational strategies are shaped by the US discourse, as reflected in associations’ mission, activities and projects, and the role of Turkey in matters of representation. Migrant organizations respond to the host society’s understanding of immigrants, to the socio-economic status of these in the host society as well as to historical and contemporary issues surrounding the immigrant group in question. Hence Turkish organizations attempt o create a desirable public image by responding to US discourses on migration, belonging and cultural membership, through assertions that they make and through participation in spectacles such as the Turkish Day Parade.

A Study of ATAA (Assembly of Turkish American Associations)

Alice Leri, University of South Carolina


There is no precise convergence between the discourses the subject creates about one´s self and the ones which produce collective identities. Identification, in fact, is always imperfect and constantly subject to changes.

In the United States today, the making of Turkish American identities is mainly concentrated in the hands of two hegemonic factions represented by ATAA (Assembly of Turkish American Associations)and FTAA (Federation of Turkish American Associations) on the one hand and TAA (Turkic American Assembly) on the other.


Focusing on belonging and identity policies specifically promoted by ATAA, the aim of this study is to reflect on the relationship between the making of hegemonic identities and identification strategies confronting official discourses and individual narratives about Turkish Americanness.


For this purpose I will present different kinds of data, the majority of which consists of qualitative interviews and field notes I collected in Washington, DC among ATAA members during ethnographic fieldwork. Further data have been collected through a multimodal analysis of relevant materials published on the websites of the association.


The study contributes to the field of Turkish American studies, introducing a new perspective and presenting original data about relevant issues that are investigated here for the first time.



İlhan Mimaroğlu and Bülent Arel: Two Turkish Pioneers of Electronic Music Tuning the USA to the New World of Sounds

H. Alper Maral, Yıldız University


One of the first pictures documenting the “birth” of electronic music in the United States reflects a remarkable and unique adversity: beside two female composers—still quite rare at the time,—and an American, can be found an Argentinian, a Manchurian, a German, and a Turkish composer, Bülent Arel—all pioneers in the field. Not in the same picture, but having a larger impact and broader influence, another Turkish composer, İlhan Mimaroğlu, was, however, fueling the new engine of roaring sounds from America. He built up a brand new musical culture of sounds never heard before, in a quite distinct epoch, in the middle of a period of tricky and dirty politics.



A Palazzo on the Bosphorus: The American Embassy in Beyoğlu

Louis Mazzari, Boğaziçi University


Throughout the era of Great Power diplomacy, from 1906 to 1937, the United States embassy to the Sublime Porte of the Ottoman Empire, and then to the Republic of Turkey represented the United States from an opulent palace that crowned the crowded hilltop of Pera in the heart of the foreigner’s district of old Constantinople. The old empire was dying and being rebuilt, while a global power was emerging, and the two danced a strange and delicate pas de deux across the first third of the twentieth century through the grand hallway and oversized rooms of Palazzo Corpi, an ornate Italian mansion, under high-ceilinged, exuberant frescoes of mythological intrigue and romance.


While the Cold War was the era of closest alliance between Turkey and the United States, the years between the two world wars was a crucial period for the two nations’ relations. This paper will examine aspects of that growing relationship by looking at the setting in which the American approach was conducted and at some of the personalities involved in relations during years and events equally as dramatic as the embassy’s operatic and rococo setting. Near the start of WW II, when the American delegation decamped for Ankara, the nations were firmly set on the path toward the alliance that would reach its apogee at the war’s conclusion.



The Turkish Diaspora in the United States: Immigration and Identity Formation

Fazia Meberbeche, Abu Bakr Belkaid University of Tlemcen-Algeria


People of Turkish origin from different national, ethnic, religious, and geographical backgrounds have been living in the United States since the 1820s, and are still integrating today. These Turkish migrations may be classified in three distinctive immigration waves: 1820-1921, 1950-70, and post-1970s. The motives behind each phase are rather complex and were led by economic, training, and educational considerations. Yet, very little is known about the history of these migrations as the Turkish-American community in the United States has largely remained unknown and undocumented. Very few studies have been undertaken about the historical integration patterns and cultural backgrounds of Turkish immigrants in the United States until recently.


In this light, the present paper examines Turkish-American identity formation across generations. As the past always shapes the present, the paper begins with an overview of the history of Turkish immigration to the United States by analyzing the main differences that existed between the three migration waves with regard to their acceptance and assertion of American and Turkish identities. The paper then asks whether Turkish people of different historical, ethnic, geographical, and religious groups could give way to a shared cultural experience that would help construct the Turkish-American identities.



Eyes Wide Shut: Images of İstanbul in Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad

Erin Hyde Nolan, Boston University


The first edition of Mark Twain’s travelogue, Innocents Abroad: The New Pilgrims Progress (1869), juxtaposes the imagined and actual Ottoman worlds. Through word and image, Twain introduced America to an Istanbul that failed to fulfill his vision of the fantastical East. His Istanbul chapter illustrates a narrative of difference, for which he relied upon photographs from Ottoman firms. However, these images engender an explicitly local vision, and materialize imperial domains empty of exotica. Twain’s caustic account of Ottoman barbarism codes these documentary-style photographs, positioning them, instead, as proof of otherness. Their appropriation demonstrates a dynamic of pictorial translation between East and West, and their journey from Istanbul to New York imitates the way in which they entered the suitcases of sightseers and, later, saturated the American visual economy. That Twain sought out for a portrait the studio of Abdullah Frères, the official court photographers, further underscores the manner in which photographs produced by Ottoman ateliers circulated back to the West. Innocents Abroad evinces photographic codification of the East, transforming an Ottoman reality into an American fantasy. My paper demonstrates how Twain’s visualization of Istanbul lodged in the American imagination, inverted Ottoman visual idioms, and fueled Eastern fantasies in the nineteenth century.



Ottoman Participation in the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition

Cafer Sarıkaya, Boğaziçi University


My paper examines Ottoman participation in the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Methodologically, the research adopts two primary sources, the Turkish Theatre: Souvenir Programme, and Musavver Şikago Sergisi, and also published memoirs of observers who witnessed the Exposition. The paper attempts to provide an overview of recent research on the analysis of the world’s fairs, where both theatricality of the overall event, and the accompanying Orientalist gaze have been analyzed. Given the fact that international exhibitions provided a certain architectural and theatrical representation capacity for the Orient, the paper attempts to understand how “Turkish Theatre” had been conceptualized for this event. Architecture provided an authentic setting and a visual summary of the represented culture displaying mosques, baths, caravanserais, cafés, houses and shops in a compact “pavilion,” where the presentation of everyday life was shown through theatricality, dramatization of artisanship, display of regional and national costumes and performances of theater, ethnic music and local dances. The “Turkish Theatre” was directed by Pierre Butros Antonius, a Christian Arab from Mount Lebanon. There were 65 actors and actresses in total and 20 stockholders in the Ottoman theater, gathered by agents sent to different parts of the Empire to study the customs, manners and costumes and engage these players from different cities of the Ottoman lands. Based on published reviews and memoirs, the paper attempts also to visualize this unique Ottoman experience at the turn of the nineteenth century.



Terrible Turk Beaten: Fighting the Turkish Athletes during the Progressive Era

Emrah Şahin, University of Florida


On April 15, 1909, a Chicago Tribune article claimed that the Turks, “once called terrible,” lost “that mere pseudonym” last night when Frank Gotch, a native American giant killer, retained the wrestling championship title by easily downing Yusuf Mahmud, the “Terrified Turk.” From the 1880s to the 1910s, the US media wrote extensively on scores of Turkish wrestlers in the United States. Their depiction of Turkish athletes was strikingly diplomatic, registering an ethno-cultural transformation of Turkish athletes from the “terrible” to the “terrified.” Using Ottoman journals along with American newspapers to construct a detailed historical narrative of Turkish sports activity across the United States, this presentation hopes to offer a glimpse of the complexity and contingency of the stereotypical world Turkish athletes inhabited. It shall challenge certain findings of Justin McCarthy’s The Turk in America by providing alternative on ways the “Turkish Image” is constructed and consumed in the American context.



We’re Still Living the Journey”: Media in the Daily Lives of Immigrants from Turkey

İlke Şanlıer Yüksel, Koç University


This paper focuses on Turkish immigrants’ daily use of media in the United States. Immigrants from Turkey living in the United States may be characterized as a “transnational community.” As such, they construct a diasporic space in which they live with an imagined belonging, which is particularly advocated by media messages. At the same time, the dynamics and networks of this cultural space are considerably different from those in Turkey. Therefore, looking at different forms of media use and cultural practices provides a useful method for analyzing the changing dynamics of identity formation within the transnational Turkish community.


My research is based on the premise that changes in both traditional and new media use since the late 1990s have been one of the most important factors in the transformation of the cultural space of Turkish immigrants in the diaspora. Then I look at the implications of these new developments in media use for Turkish audiences in the United States. Based on in-depth interviews and ethnographic studies conducted in New York and New Jersey, I discuss how media consumption patterns and production activities (trans)form Turkish immigrants’ cultural space in the diaspora. My findings reveal that the immigrants negotiate their hybrid identities in line with their cosmopolitan lives.



List of Participants


Almas, Esra, Haliç University, (

Baskett, Belma, International Society for Theatre and Literature,(

Çağlar, Kenan, Assembly of Turkish-American Associations, (

Dost-Niyego, Pınar, Atlantic Council Istanbul Office, (

Edwards, Brian T., Northwestern University, (

Endres, Clifford, Kadir Has University, (

Endres, Selhan, Kadir Has University, (

Erman, Tahire, Bilkent University, (

Gök, Nejdet, Necmettin Erbakan University, (

Furlanetto, Elena, Duisburg-Essen University, (

Güler, Müzeyyen, Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, (

Huntürk, Elif, Bilkent University, (

İncirlioğlu, Emine O., Maltepe University, (

Keskin, Tuğrul, Portland State University, (

Kılıç, Zeynep, University of Alaska, (

Leri, Alice, University of South Carolina, (

Maral, Alper, Yıldız Technical University, (

Mazzari, Louis, Boğaziçi University, (

McCarthy, Justin, University of Louisville, (

Meberbeche, Faiza, Abu Bakr Belkaid University of Tlemcen-Algeria, (

Nolan, Erin Hyde, Boston University, (

Pultar, Gönül, Cultural Studies Association of Turkey, (

Sarıkaya, Cafer, Boğaziçi University, (

Sayarı, Sabri, Bahçeşehir University, (

Sılay, Kemal, Indiana University, (

Şahin, Emrah, University of Florida, (