When it comes to Turkey and Turkish politics, Michael Gunter is one of America’s leading scholars.
The political science professor at Tennessee Tech University has been quoted in scores of newspapers and has published dozens of books and articles. But, according to him, his chance to affect policy changes in Turkey is growing.
Gunter will be one of only a small handful of Americans to present at a conference about Turkey, hosted by the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies and the Institute for Turkish Studies at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., this month. More than 650 people are expected to attend. Gunter will talk about the Kurdish Opening, or Turkey’s efforts to better integrate the ethnic minority.
His remarks will follow Sen. John McCain’s keynote address.
“It’s my opportunity to make a modest contribution to this situation in Turkey, which redounds all across the region, including into Syria which is currently a very serious problem for everybody, including the United States,” Gunter said. “I have to have the right balance between praising Turkey and offering constructive criticism.”
Over the years, Gunter has worked to promote the efforts of the Kurds, an ethnic minority in Turkey. More than 7,000 Kurds are imprisoned in Turkey for peacefully demanding democratic rights. Gunter’s position has earned him a reputation as a strong critic among some of the nation’s policymakers.
“The Kurds have been denied rights and freedoms in Turkey and other nations in the Middle East,” he said. “Satisfying the Kurds, I believe, will make Turkey a stronger country.”
He serves as secretary-general of the EU-Turkey Civic Commission, a private organization that is lobbying for Turkey’s admission into the European Union.
“If Turkey were to join the EU, the nation would have to deal with the human rights violations taking place against the Kurds as a condition of membership,” Gunter said.
At the National Press Club, Gunter says he will offer constructive criticism about Turkey.
“Turkey has a very bright future and with the second largest army in NATO and the 16th largest economy in the world, it is an increasingly important U.S. ally,” Gunter said. “For all these reasons, President Obama perceives Turkey as extremely important and I agree with that, but what kind of nation doesn't deal with these kinds of human rights problems?”
Gunter will be part of a panel of American and Turkish government officials, including some former ambassadors, that will discuss the nation’s politics and economy after McCain’s speech. Gunter and a former U.S. ambassador working at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government will be the only two speakers from American universities at the conference.