ANKARA, TURKEY — President Obama told members of the Turkish Parliament today that his presence here is a signal that he sees Turkey as a key part of the European alliance and the economic and strategic decisions made on this trip. But given that this was the president’s first speech in a Muslim country he made sure to address not only this country but the Muslim world in general.
"Some people have asked me if I chose to continue my travels to Ankara and Istanbul to send a message," he said. "My answer is simple: Evet. Yes."
The president’s day began at the Atatürk Mausoleum where he lay a wreath at the grave of the Turkish Republic’s founder and first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and signed the guest book invoking Atatürk’s motto "’peace at home, peace in the world."
In his speech, the president pushed for the European Union to accept Turkey as a member despite its underdeveloped economy and urged the country to continue pushing for human rights for minority groups such as the Kurds.
"Democracies cannot be static – they must move forward," he said. "Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond."
Turkish authorities closed the Seminary, the primary theological school of the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople — in 1971.
Invoking American historical ugliness such as slavery and segregation, the president gently suggested the Turks need to acknowledge their slaughter of Armenians during and after World War I. Though Mr. Obama did not today use the word "genocide" — which he did as a senator, urging Turkey to acknowledge its past barbarism.
"History is often tragic, but unresolved, can be a heavy weight," he said. "Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future."
As he has been repeatedly doing throughout this trip, President Obama apologize for their tense relationship during the Bush administration, which resented Turk officials’ refusal to allow US troops to enter Iraq through their country.
"I know there have been difficulties these last few years," he said. "I know that the trust that binds us has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not at war with Islam.
With viewers of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya watching live, the president alluded to his Muslim father and his childhood in Indonesia, saying the "United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country – I know, because I am one of them."
The president also made a nod to his belief that his predecessor too narrowly defined the relationship with Turkey and other Muslim-majority allies in terms of counter-terrorism.
"America’s relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not be based on opposition to al Qaeda," he said. "Far from it. We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect."
The president praised Turkey as not the country "where East and West divide" but rather "where they come together."