Your Excellency Chairperson of the Mejlis Nurberdiyeva, fellow ambassadors, esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening! Thank you for joining us today. Thank you also to Presidents Donald Trump and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov for their commitment to U.S.-Turkmen friendship and a strong bilateral relationship. And, finally, thank you to the sponsors of today’s event. This simply would not be possible without your generosity. Your support means this is not only a U.S. Embassy event, but a community-wide celebration.
Today we mark the anniversary of America’s declaration of independence. 241 years ago, in 1776, our forefathers met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to outline their legitimate grievances against the King and alter their system of government. In so doing, they formed not only a new state, but imagined a form of governance based on consent of the governed and inalienable rights.
They declared that all men are created equal, and all are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For them, political independence also meant personal liberty.
The hunger for independence is not unique to the United States. For 26 years now, Turkmenistan has enjoyed its own status as an independent state and we understand how the people of Turkmenistan value their independence as well.
Indeed, the desire for freedom is written into our very landscapes. Stand at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, or atop the plateaus of Yangigala, and you will feel the spirit of freedom in the land itself. It is this spirit of independence which of our ancestors felt—and which also reminds us of the opportunities inherent in the land, and of our responsibilities for good stewardship.
This year, as you may have noticed, we are celebrating these freedoms as embodied in America’s National Parks. President Franklin Roosevelt once said, “There is nothing so American as our national parks. The fundamental idea behind the parks… is that the country belongs to the people.”
Hike through the Rocky Mountains or canoe through the lakes of Denali, and you will feel an independence as basic as the freedom of movement, to go where you want to go and pursue happiness as you choose to pursue it. Supreme Court Justice William Douglas recognized this universal urge, writing: “Freedom of movement across frontiers in either direction, and inside frontiers as well, was a part of our heritage… [it is] as close to the heart of the individual as the choice of what he eats, or wears, or reads.” If you have driven through the American West, you will understand. I’ve felt a similar feeling as I’ve traveled Turkmenistan. It is a feeling of freedom inspired by the awe of nature. The National Parks help safeguard that freedom for all Americans, guaranteeing democratic recreation for all citizens. As Justice Douglas recognized the need for freedom of movement across our frontier, Article 26 of the Turkmen constitution guarantees freedom of movement, which we hope citizens use to enjoy the beauty of their own country and ours.
As many of you may know from your own lives, visiting a National Park is a special experience; 13 million foreign travelers come to the U.S. every year just to visit our parks. The money they spend funds conservation and historical preservation efforts, a common interest of ours in Turkmenistan as well. As part of the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, we have worked alongside our Turkmen partners to restore numerous cultural heritage sites here, including Gyz Gala in ancient Merv, the Silk Road caravanserai at Dayahatyn, and the frescoes of ancient Nisa. These sites, too, highlight the beauty of the country. More people should see them. Let’s find new opportunities to increase tourism and cultural ties between Turkmenistan, America, and the world.
This leads me to another common interest. America’s National Parks represent our commitment to stewardship of our resources and of the environment. President Theodore Roosevelt, known for his commitment to conservation, used his authority as president to create the United States Forest Service and establish 150 national forests, 18 national monuments, and five national parks.
In this centennial year of the Park Service, America now has 59 protected areas, covering over 200,000 square kilometers, in the National Park system. As we contemplate our countries’ natural wealth, we should also consider ways to conserve it for the benefit of future generations.
So, tonight, as you make new acquaintances and greet old ones, please take a moment to read the banners and look at the posters throughout the room. There you will find even more information about the history of the National Parks.
At tonight’s reception, I invite you to sample American cuisine as varied as the National Parks themselves. As you may know, many of the Parks have lodges and visitor centers with fully-equipped restaurants. My wife, Ann, and our chef, Aylara, have collaborated with the hotel to provide a menu worthy of the National Parks. You’ll find clam chowder, a staple in New England, and a black bean salad typical of the Southwest. Tonight, please join us for dinner at the lodge, an American tradition.
Once again, thank you all for joining us to celebrate our national day. On behalf of President Trump and the people of the United States of America, I wish you a very happy Independence Day. May freedom ring throughout not only our land, but the entire world.