Former US Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson visited the CoLab Monday afternoon to deliver a brief lecture on the recent history and current political climate of Turkey.
At the beginning of his lecture, Wilson made a point to forecast the importance of international affairs to the younger generation.
“The world around us in international affairs is going to have much more to do in our lives [as time goes on].” Wilson said.
From there, Wilson dove into the history of Turkey and the makeup of its population. Turkey, he said, is a nation made up of people of many nationalities who fall into many ethnic groups.
“A significant part of Turkey’s population is immigrants,” Wilson said. “They’re refugees.”
While the Turkish are very nationally and ethnically diverse, the vast majority of Turks fall under the umbrella of Islam. Wilson said 98-99 percent of Turkey’s population identifies as Muslim.
Despite this overwhelming prevalence of Islam, Wilson took special care to stress that Turkey has no official religion and has maintained a secular government since its inception in October of 1923. Though Turkey’s government is officially secular, religion has a clear role in the country’s political and economic hierarchy.
“Twenty percent of the population is regarded as heretics,” Wilson said.
The 20 percent Wilson referred to are those who belong to the Alevism sect of Islam, who may count for as many as 25 million of Turkey’s 80 million inhabitants. This sizeable portion of the population, Wilson said, is heavily marginalized both politically and economically.
Religious discrimination aside, Wilson said the Turkish populace is a very nationalistic one. On this note, he spoke about the controversial attempted military coup of 2016, which is considered by many to have been staged. Wilson stands in staunch disagreement with these claims.
“The coup was for real,” Wilson said. “It was absolutely a real coup.”
The coup, which saw a failed attempt to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, oft-criticized as fringing on authoritarianism, cost up to 350 Turks their lives and wounded nearly 2,200. Since the coup attempt, Wilson said, has been a period of time he likened to McCarthyism in the United States — those with dissenting opinions to those of the government have, in recent years, been persecuted arbitrarily.
To close his lecture, Wilson urged any and all in attendance who wish to influence political change to be active in doing so.
“[Something] more than a Tweet,” Wilson said.