EDITOR’S NOTE: Protestors have occupied a park next to Istanbul’s Taksim Square as part of recent mass protests against the government. As of Friday, June 14, Mercyhurst University professor Keiko Miller was still planning to visit Istanbul and other Turkish cities as a representative of the Turkish Cultural Center.
Despite a long history of high tensions between the United States and the Middle East, Mercyhurst University faculty member Keiko Takioto Miller will journey to Turkey this Sunday, June 16, for a 10-day grassroots initiative to help foster new relationships between diverse cultural groups.
Sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Center of Erie, Miller, an assistant professor of Japanese, will join a group of about a dozen Erie residents — made up of religious leaders, educators, nonprofit advocates and businessmen — all of whom will meet with several Turkish families to learn and share different belief systems, ideas and cultural experiences.
“This trip is both an educational trip and a grassroots movement to help dispel the myth about Middle Easterners,” said Miller, who will be visiting the Muslim and Democratic republic of Turkey for the first time. “Turkey is a crossroad between the East and West. We are going to find some common ground among culturally diverse populations; define these rumors and stereotypes; and connect on a basic human level.”
While in Turkey, the Erie group will visit six families from Istanbul; the coastal city Izmir; Konya, known for its Neolithic settlement, Catal Huyuk (Çatal Hüyük); and Cappadocia, famous for its Fairy Chimney Rocks and underground cities used by early Christians in hiding.
As a professor of world languages and culture, as well as a native of Japan who has spent more than half of her life in the United States, Miller anticipates the opportunity to bring a unique perspective in conversation while overseas. In addition, she hopes to learn more about the misunderstandings between Middle Easterners and Americans and the dynamics of opposite cultures so that she can integrate these experiences into her teaching.
“I’m going to Turkey with an open mind,” said Miller. “I want to see how their government works and, as an environmentalist, I’m very interested to see what sustainability challenges these people are up against. It’s an opportunity to get feedback and opinions straight from the residents.”
Though not possible on this trip, Miller hopes for the opportunity to one day return to Turkey to visit Gobekli Tepe, the world’s oldest archaeological site predating Stonehenge by 6,000 years, which is located in the southeastern region near Urfa, Turkey.
The Turkish Cultural Center has sponsored a few other trips of this kind to Turkey in the past. It is the mission of both the national and local centers to “promote harmony in diverse cultural settings in the United States” while also “promoting a better understanding that is based on mutual respect between the individuals of the U.S. and those of Turkish background and/or origin.”