|Head of Yunus Emre Institute: Turkish becoming language that provides job opportunities|
|With Turkey emerging as a regional power in recent years, Turkish is on its way to becoming a language that can improve the employment prospects of job seekers in the former Ottoman-ruled region surrounding Turkey.|
“Turkish has started to become a language that provides job opportunities,” Professor Ali Fuat Bilkan, the general director of the Yunus Emre Institute, a center that aims to promote the Turkish language and culture around the world, said in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman.
Noting that Turkish companies have substantial investments in neighboring countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Romania and Georgia -- all of which were, for centuries, part of the Ottoman Empire, he remarked that “this highlights the economic aspect of Turkish as a tool for providing job opportunities.”
Bilkan’s words make sense: Seven of the 10 largest foreign investors in Kosovo are Turkish firms. Turkey’s state-owned Ziraat Bankası has more than 20 branches in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Another state-owned Turkish bank, Halk Bankası, is preparing to increase the number of branches in Macedonia to about 20 in total. Turkish Airlines (THY) is also a major player in this region. With so many Turkish employers, it is thus understandable that knowledge of Turkish would be a considerable asset for job seekers in these countries.
In addition, the existence of long-standing historical and cultural ties dating back from the Ottoman period, which are reinforced by the large number of Turkish investments and the presence of Turkish universities and schools, reinforces the influence that Turkey has in some of these countries. The Yunus Emre Institute, which establishes Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centers around the world in an effort to promote Turkey, its language and history, has also been making efforts for Turkish to be adopted as an elective course at primary and high schools in these countries.
Noting that one of the areas which the institution focuses its efforts on is promoting Turkish as a widely spoken language, Bilkan stated, “We have been endeavoring for Turkish to be included in the curriculum as an elective course, particularly in countries which, having been part of our common cultural geography in the past, possess strong cultural ties to Turkey and have substantial Turkish investments.”
The institute seems to have covered some ground in this aspect -- Turkish is currently offered as an elective course in five out of the 10 cantons in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while nearly 1,200 primary school students are studying Turkish in Sarajevo.
The institute offers assistance in the form of providing teaching materials and training teachers for schools where Turkish is an elective course. Almost 50 Bosnian Turkish teachers were trained at the Turkish Learning Center (TÖMER) in Turkey for a few months to teach Turkish to non-native speakers. Albania, Macedonia, Romania and Georgia are expected to be part of the program as well.
According to Bilkan, “Turkish will probably be added to the curriculum in Georgia within a year.” Tunisia is yet another country that is expected to join the club in the near future, while talks with Egypt are under way.
The Yunus Emre Institute has several other projects on the agenda. With the financial support of Ziraat Bankası, it is planning to establish libraries about Turkey in approximately 100 cities around the world, each with about 3,000 books. As a first step, thousands of books in various categories such as Turkish history, literature and children’s books that are believed to best represent the country have been selected.
The institute has determined the types of books that will be included in the libraries. The institute will send a collection of 3,000 books for institutions that request a moderate-sized library. “But for places like London and Egypt, it would be more appropriate to set up a library with 5,000 books,” Bilkan commented. Even before the start of this project, the institute had successfully set up a library on Turkey in Tbilisi, Georgia, though there were already two libraries, one at the Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Center -- which was inaugurated fairly recently, and the other at the department of Turkish language and literature of Tbilisi State University.
Another major project which the institute aims to work on, in cooperation with the arts and crafts training courses of the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İSMEK), is the revival of Turkish handicraft work in the Balkans. The project, which will receive financial support from Halk Bankası, aims to teach housewives in Balkan countries courses on handicrafts such as needlework and other handwork techniques that are about to fade into oblivion, in a bid to equip them with the skills to contribute to their family income. The project will begin in Macedonia.
In a third project, the institute will help nongovernmental organizations in Balkan countries improve their project-developing capacities. In Macedonia, for example, the institute offers advice to organizations to better equip them to apply for project funding from the EU.
One of the biggest projects that the institute has embarked on is Turkology. For the first time in April, it brought together the heads of Turkology departments from 46 countries for a workshop in İstanbul to discuss problems, curricula and the areas in which they require more support.
This year, the institute will also host 30 Turkologists from various countries for further education in Turkey. The Turkologists will be given the opportunity to do their master’s or doctorate degrees in Turkish language and literature in order to increase their proficiency in the language. They will subsequently be able to lead the Turkology departments in their respective universities back home. This ensures that Turkology departments abroad will be more self-sufficient and Turkey will no longer have to send scholars overseas.
Courses in Turkish are offered in various Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centers around the world, but as Bilkan stressed, teaching Turkish is not the main aim of the centers. “It’s actually more reasonable to leave the teaching, as much as possible, to the Turkish language and literature departments in local universities or courses and act simply as a quality controller,” he stated. But because the standard of teaching Turkish abroad has been found lacking, Yunus Emre centers are attempting to fill the void.
Since last year, the cultural centers have also started to promote Turkish universities by displaying brochures of these institutions in the London, Tirana and Tehran centers. In fact, at a higher education fair in Amman, the Yunus Emre Cultural Center displayed brochures of various Turkish universities at its stand.
You might think the institute requires a huge sum of money to carry out all these activities. But according to Bilkan, they receive a modest sum from the state budget. “We haven’t received any money from Turkey’s Promotion Fund this year. We receive just as much funds from our sponsors as we do from public resources,” he stated.
In some big cities such as London, Tokyo and Cairo, the annual cost for running a cultural center, which is in some cases an entire building, is as high as TL 1 million. But some of the centers have also started to generate sufficient funds that allow them to meet the costs of running the center. For a recent show on whirling dervishes of the Mevlevi order in Tokyo for example, the local director of the Yunus Emre Center received almost $20,000 in donations from various Japanese firms. In Cairo and Tehran, there are approximately 500 students learning Turkish in each center, which allows the centers to pay their own way.
300 to participate in summer schools
The Yunus Emre Institute organizes summer schools for students of Turkology at foreign universities and for those who have successfully completed a Turkish course at a Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Center. The number of attendees last year was a little over 200, but this year the figure is expected to be 300, given that the number of cultural centers has also increased.
Four different summer camps will be organized. Some guests will be accommodated at a youth camp managed by the Ministry of Youth and Sports while another group will travel across Turkey by train, stopping at various cities along the way. Some guests will be housed by Turkish universities affiliated with the institute. During the final five days of the summer camp, which lasts for 15 days, everyone will come together in İstanbul for a guided tour of the city.
5,000 have attended Turkish courses
The Yunus Emre Institute is a public foundation established by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, but it is the minister of foreign affairs who is the director of the board of trustees. The Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centers overseas function under the direction of the institute in Ankara, which started its activities in May 2009. At the moment, there are 21 cultural centers around the world, and the number is rapidly growing. Berlin, Paris, Rome, Budapest and Sao Paulo are just a few of the cities where new centers are expected to be established very soon. The institute has also taken steps to set up a cultural center in countries such as China, Russia, the US, India, Croatia and Spain.
“We aim to open up at least one center in all of the major capital cities, as well as in the cultural capitals, by 2023,” Professor Ali Fuat Bilkan, the general director of the Yunus Emre Institute, told Today’s Zaman in an exclusive interview.
Around 5,000 people have attended Turkish courses in Yunus Emre centers thus far, while the number of students taking Turkish right now stands at 2,405.
In addition to promoting the Turkish language and culture, one of the major functions of the cultural centers is to promote Turkey and its people in a truthful light. Noting that one of Turkey’s problems is a lack of accurate and effective promotion throughout the world, Bilkan said, “If we could promote ourselves in a correct way, then there is no need to do much else.”
Catalogs for manuscripts in Balkan countries and Vatican being prepared
One of the major projects the Yunus Emre Institute is embarking on is classifying and digitizing precious manuscripts and documents related to the Ottomans from the seven Balkan countries it has a center in. A copy of each item is sent back to the home country while another is sent to the Süleymaniye Library in İstanbul. A catalog will also be prepared, if none is available. The project, which is sponsored by the Turkish Central Bank, has been completed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Serbia and is currently under way in Croatia. The next stage of the project will be manuscripts in Cairo.
A joint publication of several priceless manuscripts with the Vatican might also be on the agenda, something that the institute will undertake together with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Cultural centers cultivate diversity
The Yunus Emre Cultural Centers encourage diversity in the countries they are established in. For example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the staff is of Serb ethnicity, while in Cairo the center employs a Copt. “We are trying to bring people from different ethnic or religious backgrounds together,” Professor Ali Fuat Bilkan, the general director of the Yunus Emre Institute, said.
In May the institute brought together Turkologists from seven Balkan states, most of whom were unfamiliar with each other and their countries, and an Association of Balkan Turkologists was subsequently established. “The flags of the [members’] countries stood there on the table, and the people joked that this was a formal recognition [of each other’s countries],” Bilkan said.
The institute derives its name from a Turkish dervish and folk poet, Yunus Emre, who is believed to have lived in the late 13th to the early 14th century in Anatolia and was renowned for preaching love and tolerance.
|Aydın Albayrak Ankara|