Multiculturalism, interfaith dialogue, and mutual understanding are some of the terms that are frequently debated both by the media sources and the members of the society. Some find these terms as a threat to U.S. society; others see them as a foundation for a better society. Obviously, the second group makes it a more welcoming environment for other cultures, faiths and countries compared to those who find them to be posing a threat.
As a Turkish-Oklahoman, it is an interesting experience to be exposed to both views in Oklahoma on a daily basis. Even though Oklahoma is known as a state that is in the Bible Belt, it is also true that the majority of the people in Oklahoma are respectful for the other religions, has institution to raise awareness for diversity and inclusive of Turkish community together with their belief and culture traditions. Therefore, the Turkish community appreciates this characteristic of Oklahoma people.
On the other hand, the existence of negative, separatist and intolerant comments made by Oklahoma politicians displays an opposite view for those who don't know Oklahomans really well. This causes a negative impact on those who are planning to settle or set up a business in Oklahoma.
The existence of actively performing cultural centers and dedicated interfaith dialogue groups in our great state — such as Raindrop Turkish House and Institute of Interfaith Dialog — makes me hopeful for the future. I believe that the attempts of these kinds of institutions will not be fruitless and will help Oklahoma to become a more inclusive and a gratifying place for other cultures, faiths and countries.
No matter what the factor is, it is true that intolerance might affect the decision and the judgment of a person or a community about a certain place. That includes businesses as well. In an environment that is not inclusive of other countries and cultures, especially in this global era, businesses will not stay for a long time. Business is based on a simple rule of supply and demand. If there is no demand for the product of the business, businesses will withdraw themselves from the area.
Having Turkish businessmen here in Oklahoma is something that might benefit both the Turkish people and the people of Oklahoma. Just like any other business owner, Turkish businessmen hope to be successful in their business and make profit. There is a well-known Turkish expression that says ‘The homeland of one is not where you are born but where you get fed.' So by being successful in a foreign land, Oklahoma, business owners will consider this land as their second homeland.
Moreover, Turkish businessmen are hoping to establish a free-trade agreement between Turkey and the U.S. Turkey has that agreement with the European Union and it has been in effect since 1996. The agreement allows trade between Turkey and other countries without any customs restrictions. Turkey has Free Trade Agreements with 20 countries. That helps countries eliminate tariffs, quotas and preferences on most goods and services traded between them. Their goal is as simple as to contribute to society by creating jobs for fellow Oklahomans.
Bridge for trade
Turkish businessmen here in Oklahoma are aiming to establish a bridge for the trade, to contribute in the improvement of trading volume and in the betterment of the relationship between Oklahoma and Turkey. Although Turkish businessmen are not so many in Oklahoma, they are pretty active. In 2011, Turkish-Oklahoman businessmen established a Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce and made a first step with aforementioned goals. That chamber communicates with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce to bring Turkish businessmen here. It also assists U.S. businessmen who would like to set up business in Turkey.
We believe that there is no reason for Oklahoma not to become a global competitor over the years. As a state, Oklahoma has numerous advantages to make her a nationwide competitor such as being centrally located, holding invaluable expertise in oil and gas drilling and the existence of vocational schools that produce a qualified labor force. If these advantages are utilized and improved, the path to become a global competitor will be open.
Certainly this is not an easy task. It just requires taking a variety of action in several areas. First of all, the nationwide trips that are arranged by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce can be improved to establish cooperation with the overseas chambers of commerce. In that sense, we need to give more importance to our state's advertising. Another item is that, currently, we don't have any substantial and large scale international business fair held in Oklahoma. We believe that it is crucial to determine effective business sectors and motivate them to organize these kinds of international business fairs. In order to do that, we can determine countries, get in touch with their chamber of commerce, invite businessmen over and have them meet with Oklahoma businessmen.
Orhan Kucukosman is executive director of Raindrop Turkish House, Oklahoma chapter. He can be reached at Osman@turkishhouse.org.