The 50’s... Exciting Years
On June 29, 1949, eight men gathered in New York to announce the establishment of The American Turkish Society. Its founding members were Selim Sarper, Ernest Jackh, Asa Jennings, Lewis Owen, Charles Wylie and three Turkish representatives. At the time, none of them could have guessed that it would last nearly seven decades. The organization came to life at the end of a long and tumultuous decade that saw the end of World War II. These eight men knew the world was on the verge of a new horizon. In 1947, they had seen the Marshall Plan begin; in 1949, it was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Mr. Sarper, the founder and the first president of ATS, and his friends accomplished the following in the 50's;
-Established the Center of Turkish Studies of Columbia University as a part of the new Near and Middle East Institute.
-Created a Turkish Arts Exhibition in cooperation with the Metropolitan Museum and the Turkish Government for five American cities.
-Conducted a blood drive for the troops in Korea.
-Aided the Turkish expellees from Bulgaria.
-Established a Washington branch of the American Turkish Society.
-Collaborated with the Turkish-American Women’s Cultural Society in Ankara.
The 60’s... From a Society to an Institution
On May 27, 1960, the military took control of the Turkish government. During the one and a half years of military control, a new, relatively democratic constitution was prepared by law experts for the country. Meanwhile, ATS became a more formal institution. In 1961, it was agreed that permanent office space with a secretary and manager should be found. The Society held its first board of directors’ meeting in its first office, on Madison Avenue and Betty R. Guyer became the first Assistant Secretary of The ATS.
In the 60’s ATS ran several membership campaigns, in an effort to expand. Soon the number of members had doubled to 263. From May 1966 to May 1967, dozens of activities were held. Some of them are:
-Cooperation with Turkish Women’s League in Children’s Day program for Darulsafaka School benefit. -Republic Day reception for members and guests.
-Business members conference with Faruk A. Sunter, President of Turkish Standards Institute, on the “Investment Climate in Turkey”.
-Lecture by J.V. McMullan, “The Wonderful Rugs of the Turks”.
-Donation to sponsor a library for the village school of Turkgozu, Kars (a city at the Northeast edge of Turkey).
-Cooperation with the Turkish Women’s League Bazaar to benefit for the ‘66 Earthquake Relief Fund. -An annual Luncheon of the Society at the Hotel Pierre with the guest speaker Ahmed Emin Yalman Ph.D.
The 70’s ... The Anti-American Years
Platform shoes, paisley shirts, wide ties... Disco, hard rock, crack...In the 70’s, people weren’t as naive as in the 60’s. No wonder that Prozac was developed in this decade!
The beginning of the 70’s were the anti-American years, especially among college students in Turkey. In 1971 Ambassador Parker T. Hart was a guest speaker at the ATS and talked about the relations between the two countries. He said that Turkey is still a loyal ally of America:
“ ... In brief, I find no basis for concern over Turkey or our relations with Turkey. Although the tenor of our relations has changed somewhat during recent years, the changes generally reflect welcome evolutionary forces within Turkey and adjustments in world power relationships. The substance of our relations has, I believe, changed very little. We can still count on the Turkish armed forces as the eastern “anchor” of NATO. Turkey will continue to play an invaluable role as a stabilizing factor in this troubled Middle East area.”
The ambassador was right. It didn’t take too much time for the relationship to become as friendly as before.
The total membership was the highest in the Society’s history up to that time: 263 with 47 corporate members. Philip Morris, the consumer brands giant, became a member of ATS in 1977.
The Society was pursuing a spectrum of events and activities:
-An annual luncheon was held at the Hotel Pierre on April 3, 1974, with leading Turkish industrialists, Dr. Nejat F. Eczacibasi and Vehbi Koc as speakers. Three hundred and fifty-one people attended.
In 1979, the organization restructured and Atlantic Records founder, Ahmet Ertegun, became chairman of the board of directors. He served as chairman until his death in 2006.
-Some of this support underwrote The ATS /Turkish Education Foundation joint project for graduate business administration students in American Universities supported by ATS. In the mid-seventies, ten graduate students from Turkey were studying in American universities.
-In 1974, the Cumhuriyet (Republic) Reception was held on October 28th and it celebrated the 51st anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey
The 80’s... Turkey Opens Its Doors
On September 12, 1980, Turkish military forces took control of the government again. The first three years of the decade were slow for both Turkey and ATS. The Society’s activities of the early 80’s were often related to Ataturk. Programs included: “Ataturk and the Visual Arts”, “Ataturk in the Eyes of his Contemporaries”, “Ataturk’s Turkey”, “Women’s Liberation in the Ataturk Period” are four headlines from the event calendar of 1981-1982. However, in 1983, everything was about to change yet again. Turgut Ozal, the Chairman of Motherland Party, became the Prime Minister. Ozal paid a lot of attention to the American-Turkish relationship. There were many meetings among American and Turkish businessmen. Ozal invited American investors to Turkey. ATS sponsored the Annual American Turkish Business Conferences which started in 1982. The April 1985 Business Newsletter of the Society reports significant increases in Turkish exports to the U.S. starting in the early 80’s. These were the years when Turkey converted to a liberal economy and opened its doors to the world. The Society aided the process through its conferences and programs.
Cultural and social activities were not forgotten either. In 1986, ATS sponsored “Educating Disadvantaged Women & Children: A Program in Istanbul” by Cigdem Kagitcibasi. Several similar events were organized by The Society.
The 90’s... To A Non-Governmental World
At the beginning of the 90’s, Turkey discovered the power of non-governmental organizations (NGOS). Therefore, ATS had the fortune to cooperate with other NGOs in Turkey when the 1999 earthquakes took place. The experience has become a good example of the importance of partnership. The Life Project, The Sister School Project, the construction of the Yalova Elementary School, the Yeni Mahalle Day Care Center and the Earthquake Trauma Mental Health Service Program all emerged out of partnerships with NGOs in Turkey.
In the 90’s, we see a lot of bright names on ATS’s list of events. In 1992, Suleyman Demirel, then the Prime Minister of Turkey and Tansu Çiller, then the Minister of State in Charge of Economic Affairs came as guest speakers for ATS’s luncheons. In the next two years, Mrs. Tansu Ciller came again, but this time as the Prime Minister of Turkey. Another impressive name is that of Turgut Ozal the President of Turkey, was an early and enthusiastic adherent of “globalization.” He visited ATS and was a guest speaker, only two months before his death, April 1993. Mesut Yılmaz, then the Prime Minister of Turkey, and Bulent Ecevit, Prime Minister came in the second half of the 90’s as speakers to ATS’s traditional luncheon events.
The 2000’s... A Foundation Reborn
Energized by the success of The Earthquake Relief Fund Projects, ATS has committed itself to expand and diversify its programs with a special emphasis on philanthropy. The Cultural Expansion Initiative, ATS Institutes, The Foundations for Success: Education and Health Initiative, and Humanitarian Aid were among its many initiatives. In response to the crisis in Turkey in 2001, Kemal Dervis, the Turkish Minister of the Economy, formerly of the World Bank spoke before 300 members and businessmen on May 1, 2001.
During the first decade, The Life Project, Sister School Project, Earthquake Trauma Mental Health Service which grew out of the Earthquake Relief Fund became active programs. In addition, we also had the First Aid Training Pilot Project, a Teacher Exchange Program—in Partnership with the American Field Service (AFS), Women’s Community Project and Youth Project.
ATS inaugurated its annual gala dinner in 2006 to celebrate successful joint ventures between American and Turkish corporations, starting with the 50-year partnership of Ford Motor Company and Koç Holding in Turkey.
Towards the end of the first decade of the millennium, The Society experienced a huge loss with the death of its long-standing vice chairman, Arif Mardin on June 25, 2006 and chairman, Ahmet Ertegun on December 14, 2006. In memoriam, the following year, in 2007, ATS launched the Arif Mardin Fellowship at Berklee College of Music and Ahmet Ertegun Memorial Scholarship at The Juilliard School. Both scholarship programs benefit Turkish musicians to study in each of these prestigious schools.
The 2010’s…..Steering The Focus to Arts, Culture and Educational Programs
The second decade marked the beginning of vigorous programming. In addition to the Ahmet Ertegun Memorial Scholarship and Arif Mardin Fellowship, In 2010, The Society added another scholarship program by partnering with The School of Visual Arts Summer Residency. Each year, since 2010, The Society funds a Turkish artist, to participate in SVA’s program and gain valuable experience in New York’s art world.
In 2011, The Society acquired the Moon and Stars (MASP) Project Grants and took ownership of the grants program and its renowned, New York Turkish Film Festival. Each year, through its MASP grants, The Society provides funding to various projects that promote, educate and introduce the Turkish culture in the U.S.
In 2013, The Society celebrated 65 years on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with special remarks made by the CEO of Turkcell, Sureyya Ciliv, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and Finance Minister of Turkey, Mehmet Simsek.
In 2018, ATS added another program to its series of scholarships and grants by partnering with the SEV Schools in Turkey. It launched the virtual exchange program; a program that internationalizes schools in the US and Turkey with the professional assistance and digital resources of The International Education and Resource Network (iEARN). This addition solidified the importance of educational initiatives for The Society.
Since 2006, The Society's gala dinners recognized the important contributions of the founders, executives and entrepreneurs of major U.S. and Turkish companies and organizations including Ford Motor Company, Koc Holding, Citi, Sabanci Holding, GE, Dogus Group, The Coca-Cola Company, Anadolu Group, The New York Stock Exchange, Turkcell, Chobani, FIBA Holding, The Endometriosis Foundation of America and Yemeksepeti as well as this year’s honoree, Dr. Mehmet Oz for their remarkable achievements.
We look forward to many more decades of success and can only continue to do so with your support! If you feel like placing a donation, we would appreciate it.