Humphrey Alumnus Elected Twice to Turkish Parliament
Utku Cakirozer was already an accomplished journalist when he embarked on the Humphrey Program in August 2008 to expand his skills in online and multimedia journalism. After ten months of non-degree study at the University of Maryland, College Park, Cakirozer returned home to Turkey to several promotions. First he was made Bureau Chief for Aksam, a prominent daily Turkish newspaper. Then he was appointed as editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, the oldest up-market Turkish daily newspaper. After his time at Cumhuriyet, he successfully ran for a seat as a Member of Parliament.
Dr. Serap Deniz Rada, Cakirozer’s university coordinator, says, “He was very ambitious, resourceful, and goal oriented. He was a visionary and [knew] that [the] future of journalism would involve mobile devices where one would write a story, take photos and videos, edit them, and submit…all done on a smart phone.” Rada explains that Cakirozer was the first Fellow she knows of that invested in an iPhone when he arrived and used it to assist his focus in online and photojournalism. Cakirozer also enjoyed the experience of spending 10 months with professionals from around the world saying of his university cohort, “Being together for a year with several people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds has contributed to my dialogue and consensus skills.”
Cakirozer’s professional activities while he was here included many conferences and workshops intended to hone his multimedia skills, visits to various think tanks and news outlets, academic courses in online journalism and photojournalism, and a 6-week Professional Affiliation (a type of internship that is intended to give Humphrey Fellows exposure to American work environments) at TheWashingtonPost.com, the online edition of the Washington Post.
During his time with the Washington Post, Cakirozer published several articles online, including posts about President Obama’s 2009 visit to Turkey. Cakirozer says of his time at the Washington Post, “It has broadened my vision on the new frontiers of journalism. It also increased my knowledge on the current crisis of print journalism facing the digital challenge.” Rada believes that the skills Cakirozer gained while at the University of Maryland and the Washington Post added to his ability to reach very top positions at two of the most respected newspapers in Turkey.
After leaving Cumhuriyet, Cakirozer decided to enter politics. He ran for elections in his home town of Eskisehir, a city in Northwestern Turkey. Cakirozer ran from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) platform, which is the main opposition to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After a 2-month campaign, Cakirozer won a seat in parliament. The CHP won the highest percentage of seats in Eskisehir in the country’s democratic history. In September of 2015, Turkish President Erdogan called for another election after attempts to form a coalition government failed. Cakirozer successfully retained his seat, even though the AKP regained a large majority. Cakirozer says that his Humphrey experience has contributed to his continued professional success, saying, “I still use many of the skills and knowledge that [I] learned there [during my] Humphrey Year.” Cakirozer says that the interpersonal communication skills he learned on the program greatly benefited both is journalism and political careers.
As a first time Member of Parliament, Cakirozer’s priorities will focus on stopping violations of freedom of the press in Turkey and on bettering Turkey’s relations with allies such as the United States, the European Union and NATO. In addition to being a member of the Turkish Parliament, Cakirozer was also elected as a European Council Parliamentary Assembly member in Strasbourg, France.
When asked what he remembers most from his Humphrey Fellowship year, Cakirozer says, “The wonderful friendship! We built up a very strong friendship among the Humphrey Fellows of 2008-2009. I cannot forget how we had enjoyed our Humphrey Year with our wonderful mentors Lucinda and Serap. I sincerely believe that my Humphrey year there in the States [has] contributed a lot to my understanding of the international affairs and the importance of inter-cultural dialogue.”
Photo: Cakirozer (far left) with his Hubert H. Humphrey cohort in 2009