A Challenging Year

Turkey has been going through a challenging year. The protests that began in May on Workers Day (May 1st) continued with the protests in Gezi Park in Taksim Square. With the occupation of the park and the eventual violent clearing of the people in the park, the protests moved to other parks in the forums that continued into the summer months.

Turkey has been going through a challenging year. The protests that began in May on Workers Day (May 1st) continued with the protests in Gezi Park in Taksim Square. With the occupation of the park and the eventual violent clearing of the people in the park, the protests moved to other parks in the forums that continued into the summer months. Tear gas and water canon intensified sporadically, especially in the Taksim area. I have had two heavy doses of tear gas and do not go out of my way to seek another. The second round of tear gas was far more intense and poisonous than the first and it makes me wonder how many respiratory problems have developed as a consequence of this. Now the corruption scandal that has erupted in the ruling government and party itself has brought 2013 to a tumultuous close. What is positive are the debates and discussions about the meaning of democracy by people who for many years were deemed not capable of ruling themselves by the secular elite and military.  What is ironic, though, is that the ruling Justice and Development Party is doing the exact same thing the military did by clamping down on personal freedom and expression and eliminating or controlling anything that challenges their authority. A maturation of democracy could be at hand, but this can only be achieved if those embedded in power are able to relinquish enough control to allow this maturation to occur. 2014 will be a pivotal year for Turkey.

February 17th will be the 2nd celebration of Founder’s Day.  This celebration brings together schools founded by the American Board in the Ottoman Empire.  These schools have all maintained a dedication to an excellence in education, a commitment to ethics and social service, multilingualism and a strong co-curricular program, all elements that work together helping each boy and girl realize their potential. I know my predecessors would be proud to see this new stage of the evolution of the institutions they dedicated their lives to. Last year, it touched me to be hearing Turkish, Greek, Arabic and English being spoken simultaneously. This year I hope to also hear Bulgarian! The potential of this expanded community of youth is incredible! I will definitely share photos and stories after the event.

We were to have had this year’s celebration at International College in Beirut, but after the abduction of two Turkish Airline’s pilots last summer, the American College of Greece offered their hospitality. We are hopeful that we will expand this year to include Anatolia College in Thessaloniki and the American College of Sofia.

At the end of this 2013-2014 school year, I will bring my career in schools to a close and graduate with the Class of 2014. When I think about it, I have been either a student or a teacher since 1954! That is 60 years of being governed by a school calendar and class periods. A Turkish politician once described the ruling political party as a train with a set course. He said that people get on the train and off the train, but the course continues. I could use that analogy for Uskudar American Academy. The school is on a very positive path towards the future. Like all institutions it will continue to face challenges, but I am confident that the course that has been embarked upon will produce a dynamic and successful school of the future. It is merely time for me to hop off the train at the next stop, to continue my own journey.

I will leave Turkey in July and join former colleagues and friends at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California. From September 2014 through February 2015, I will be scheduled to speak in UCC conferences and Disciple of Christ regions. Where I go depends on the requests submitted to Common Global Ministries.  I have not had a home leave since 2007 so I look forward to becoming (re)acquainted with the people of our churches.

I end this letter by asking for prayers for this region, in particular for Turkey and for our neighbor Syria. There are near to 1,000,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey alone. I am amazed at how much Arabic I now hear spoken in Istanbul. Refugee organizations are really stretched as they attempt to offer what they can. The other week I was speaking with a young man from Damascus. He dreams of being able to return home while asking himself, “How did we get to this point?” God walks with us through our darkest days, through our life’s transitions and life’s many challenges. I am truly thankful for this and comforted.

Selam / Shalom / Peace

Alison Stendahl serves with the Near East Mission, Istanbul, Turkey.  She is Academic Dean of and a math teacher at Uskudar American Academy in Istanbul Turkey.