Being of Turkish heritage I have studied and visited Turkey extensively since I was young. This developed my interest in Middle East affairs, as Turkey is a unique country that straddles East and West, and serves as an effective broker between the two. During my visits to Turkey, my relatives always instilled in me a sense of Turkish pride – most importantly, pride in Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who established a secular, democratic republic from the ruins of a defeated Islamic empire. Turkey’s ability to democratize and sustain its path towards liberalization has been applauded by the United States and other liberal democracies around the world who see Turkey as a successful model for emerging democracies in the Middle East, including Iraq.
My name is Ayhan Üçok and I am the Spring 2013 Research and Projects intern at EPIC. Please feel free to read more about me here. Though my academic background and work experience have been focused on Turkish domestic politics and U.S.-Turkey relations, I am excited for the opportunity to expand on my regional knowledge and learn more about Iraq! Since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, it has been at the center of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East yet it is a greatly misunderstood country that many Americans know very little about. Admittedly, I too have much to learn about the people, history, and culture of Iraq.
I am currently pursuing an MA at American University’s School of International Service in International Affairs with a concentration on democracy and governance in the Middle East. In my graduate work I intend to compare democratization patterns across various countries in the region. As a fledgling democracy with a vibrant and active youth population, I believe Iraq has the potential to develop into a thriving democratic nation like Turkey. A big part of promoting democracy abroad has to do with educating and empowering the youth populations, which is what EPIC works towards in Iraq through advocacy and fieldwork, and the reason I became interested in interning here. If we look at historical examples, even in the U.S., social movements and change have often been galvanized by the younger generations, who are unsatisfied with the status quo. In Iraq, however, the youth lack the education, resources and support needed to feel empowered and able to effectively create change. In light of this sobering reality, I am excited to be a part of EPIC’s mission of educating and empowering the youth in Iraq!