The visit of Mrs. Hillary Clinton to Turkey about two weeks ago lasted less than 24 hours. Yet, it was the first by a high representative of the new Obama administration and generated enormous interest. Mrs. Clinton announced the visit to Turkey by president Obama in the beginning of April and flattered the Islamic-rooted Erdogan government for the importance of their country; yet she chose an anti-government, secularist popular all-woman TV show to appear before the Turkish public. The well known writer Pinar Kür, and one of the hostesses of the NTV show, “Haydi Gel Bizimle Ol” (Come and Join Us) reveals that the offer for Hillary Clinton to appear at their show came from the Americans, that Mrs. Clinton was not informed in advance about the questions put to her by the four women hostesses, and that she was quite comfortable when talking about her personal life. Kür believes that by choosing their program, the Obama leadership wanted to send a political message to the Erdogan government that they would not define Turkey as a “moderate Islamic country” any longer. Also Kür points out that Mrs. Clinton was a rival of Obama during the race for the Democratic presidential candidacy, but the fact that she is now serving as the US Secretary of State is a sign of “democratic culture”. “It does not happen with us,” she says. “Ecevit was the same. Demirel was the same, Baykal is the same. Of course, Erdogan is the same. Everyone who opposes them is thrown out.”
The initial approach came from an official of the American Consulate in Istanbul, says Pinar Kür. “She approached Cigdem Anad, our moderator and asked whether we would like to interview Mrs. Clinton. I think, they wanted a women’s program and ours was both the most serious one with the highest ratings. I think the reason why the consulate chose us or chose a few and then it was decided in America that they would pick us was that the present American administration -as opposed to the Bush administration- is not so keen on “Moslem Turkey.” They would like to have contact with a more “western Turkey,” Kür says. So, once the initial choice was made, then “somebody from the American Consulate came to our show one week before she came and watched it and after the show it was decided that Hillary was going to appear on our show,” reveals Pinar Kür.
Cigdem Anad who is the moderator of the show is an experienced television anchor woman while the other hostesses are Mujde Ar who is a famous Turkish film star, Aysun Kayaci is a 30-year-old model who also plays parts in television serials and Pinar Kür is a well-known Turkish novelist, story writer and an academician at Istanbul Bilgi University.
Once the decision was made and the program was chosen, the four hostesses had to go through a thorough clearance procedure which Kür describes as, “They asked for the photocopies of our birth certificates and our citizenship numbers, our police records, CVs,- all of that happened about a week before she came.”
State Department did not impose ‘no-go’ topics
Contrary to what the Turkish press reported, apparently the new chief of the State Department did not put forward conditions on “no-go” areas about her private life. “We could talk about her private life, we were told, but not in an obvious way, like “what do you think of Monica Lewinski? Anyway that was old news and not really necessary. We could talk about women’s issues –“that was what she wanted in the first place”- and generally about the women’s outlook in Turkey and issues about the society.”
Also, unlike what was reported, the American side did not ask for the questions in advance: “Some Turkish newspapers wrote that she had our questions in advance-that is not true. What we decided was that we would not follow the usual format of our program but that we would ask questions and she would answer.”
So, the agreement was that each one of the four hostesses would have the option to ask four questions to Hillary. Unfortunately as it turned out in the end, the 55-minute program had to be shortened because the appointments of Mrs.. Clinton with the Turkish leadership took longer than anticipated. “Before coming to us, she had seen Erdogan, then she went to Anitkabir (Kemal Ataturk’s Mausoleum), then she saw (Foreign Minister) Babacan, then she came to us and from us she went to the President and after the President she gave an interview to Mehmet Ali Birand of CNNTurk. That interview was added to her program later” says Pinar Kür.
The arrangements between the producer of the show and the Americans were secret. “They had told us not to talk about it because they would be bothered by other media asking for interviews. So we did not say anything,” reveals Pinar Kür. But the secret was leaked to the Ankara correspondent of Hurriyet newspaper. That generated a “media war” among the two main news channels, NTV and CNNTurk. “On Tuesday morning (Secretary Clinton arrived the following Saturday), Hurriyet came out with the news that Hillary was going to appear in our program. So Mehmet Ali Birand of CNNTurk asked for an interview for himself. And he managed to get it! He had about twenty minutes. Probably that is why we got a bit squeezed in time. He talked to her after she talked to us, but our program was recorded while his was live. So he came out before us. That was a scoop for him!” says Kür, smiling.
“A woman with a lot of stamina”
Hillary Clinton arrived in Ankara in the early hours of Saturday, 7th of March. She looked in great form dressed in a bright yellow jacket and black trousers and had a packed schedule of meetings. Pinar Kür was amazed with her stamina. “She has fantastic energy. I do not know how she ate, when she ate, what she ate. She had the same clothes, same yellow jacket for everybody. She landed at 2.30 in the morning and started her rounds at 9 o’clock. So did she sleep, did she eat, I really don’t know!”
The actual recording of the “Haydi” show took place in a venue in Ankara chosen by the Americans. Probably because “of security reasons” thinks Kür who, though, thinks that it was “a very bad choice as the decor was very muddled and the viewers could not distinguish the hosts from the live audience of a few students who were allowed in. There was incredible amount of useless furniture, bad tablecloths and everything, but that was their choice.”
For somebody like Hillary Clinton security must have been a top priority, yet Pinar Kür points to the difference between the Americans and the Turks. “Yes, there was a lot of security but it was not like here. When our prime minister goes somewhere there is a whole army of people pushing everybody around. The security men of Mrs.. Clinton were very quiet, very discreet, there had also a lot of sharpshooters around the place, you could see them, too, from where we were, but all was done very quietly and discreetly,” she underlines.
When the “big” moment came, everybody, hosts, studio audience, technical staff, were all in place waiting for the “Lady”. “Somebody said she is going to run late, and then somebody else said “15 minutes”!” describes Pinar Kür. And then fifteen minutes later, Mrs.. Clinton walks into the studio. “Cigdem had started the presentation and someone said “Ah, here she is!” and she just walks in without any ceremony, which was I think different from our ministers and our prime minister when they move around,” says Kür. Mrs.. Clinton did not have any warming up talk with the presenters. “Not at all! We did not have a pre-talk or an after-talk, because she did not really have time. She ran to see the President. What you saw on TV is was we saw, too!” she says.
What we saw was a middle-aged smiling blue eyed woman with a capacity to appear genuine and sincere. “She is a very intelligent woman, very sophisticated woman. I mean everybody said that she had to have the questions in advance. No she did not need to. She is a lawyer by profession, she has been a senator, besides being the First Lady, so she thinks very fast,” says Pinar Kür who was quite impressed by the way the US Secretary of State managed to adapt herself swiftly to answer the hosts’ questions: “Obviously there are things that she wanted to say- after all she chose to be there to say those things. But when the question came she adapted herself to the question. With our politicians, when you ask a question, they ditch it and the answer they give has nothing to do with the question! But she, although she said what she wanted to say, she fit it so well as if it was an answer to the question.”
So Clinton passed the test among four well-known Turkish women, although at some point she either did not understand or preferred to bypass a question. Aysun (one of the hostesses of the program) asked about the Orientalist approach that the Americans have who put Turkey in the same category as the Arabs. “She did not understand that. She went on about the differences and the similarities between America and Turkey She did not talk about the Arabs at all. Maybe she did not catch it maybe she did not want to,” thinks Kür.
In a chat show where the hosts are four women from all walks of life, a guest such as Mrs. Hillary Clinton could not have gone without a question about “good and bad memories”. Clinton “confessed” that she managed to overcome bad memories with “love”. Pinar Kür thought she seemed very sincere: “When she was asked “is it the power of politics or the power of love,” she said “love” right away and then she went into forgiveness which meant that “I know what you are talking about, I understand and I forgave this man and I went on living with him. Like the saying in Turkish, that a woman might forgive but she never forgets.”
“She handled it very well”
The general impression was that Mrs. Clinton handled everything very well. Although, Pinar Kür says, there were some instances when political interests were seen to be her priority: “For example when she said that “Turkey has made a big progress in human rights I would have challenged her asking ‘give me specific examples of this progress’ and I would have given her examples of how it is not so. But in that sort of format the challenge was not possible,” says Kür. Whether Clinton is aware of the realities of Turkey, it was difficult to say, adds Kür.
Besides the announcement of President Obama’s visit to Turkey, the visit of Mrs.. Hillary Clinton contained little major news. But it did give important signals on how the Obama presidency is going to deal with Turkey. The appearance of Mrs.. Clinton in the show was one of those signals: “The American Consulate or Information Bureau who chose us knew that we are a secular group and that we criticize the government a lot, that we are not pleased with the way Turkey is going. In one of my questions to her I said that Turkish women are more backward today than they were fifty years ago. Although they knew our opinions they chose us, that meant that this was a message for the government, too,” says Pinar Kür who also points out that Hillary Clinton was not pictured with any of the covered wives of the president or the prime minister. “She was photographed with the President, the prime minister, the foreign minister but not with their wives. Her picture with us became a front page picture for many Turkish papers,” Kür observes.
At the end of our interview Pinar Kür could not resist making a comparison with the style of politics in Turkey: “What I appreciate very much is that she was competing with Obama for the presidency but at the end of this race which she lost she supported him and he took her on his side. This is what I call ‘democratic culture’-it does not happen in our country. A political leader would not accept somebody in his party who is against him. Ecevit was the same. Demirel was the same. Baykal is the same. Of course, Erdogan is the same. Everyone who opposes them is thrown out. Whereas there, they can get together and work for something; this is a sign of democratic culture.”