Although it has been running for only 10 years, the International Turkish Olympiads, which is organized by the International Turkish Education Association (TÜRKÇEDER), has taken its place among the leaders of such events around the world. Considering this, the question has to be asked: How has the organization achieved this success in such a short period of time? Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Tuncay Öztürk, secretary-general of TÜRKÇEDER, said that the Turkish Olympiads, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is predominantly organized by TÜRKÇEDER, but that the success of the event could not be achieved by TÜRKÇEDER alone.
There are many other state and non-governmental institutions and organizations contributing to its success -- the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Turkish Language Association (TDK), Turkish cultural centers, the Turkey Representative Office for UNESCO and the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) to name a few. “The organization of the Turkish Olympiads is a project in which the state and nation work hand in hand,” Öztürk noted.
Giving details of how the Turkish Olympiads are organized from inception to conclusion, Öztürk said: “We prepare a protocol with the Ministry of Education and send this protocol to all International Turkish schools in October each year. Those schools then enter a phase of selection. Each school determines its team after conducting various elimination rounds. An elimination round is held nation-wide to form the national team which will attend the main Turkish Olympiads in Turkey. After national teams are selected the students start to study for the Turkish Olympiads.”
Öztürk went on to say that the national teams send their applications to TÜRKÇEDER for the Olympiads, and following acceptance TÜRKÇEDER, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism hold meetings to determine the calendar for the event.
Recounting that the Turkish Olympiads is a large program, with thousands of students from 135 countries and 65 stage shows in 41 provinces of Turkey, Öztürk added: “We are working in cooperation with metropolitan municipalities, associations and non-governmental or state organizations. Taking the organization in İstanbul as an example, we [TÜRKÇEDER] asked the İstanbul World Trade Center for use of the Istanbul Expo Center where the culture festival was held from June 1-3 as part of this year’s Olympiads. We asked the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality to allocate Sinan Erdem Sports Hall, where various activities were conducted as part of the Olympiads this year. The İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality also allocated advertisement board areas for the Olympiads, as well as providing financial and transportation support to Olympiad students. The same thing applies to the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality. The TÜRKÇEDER is only the association that directs the event.”
Concerning media relations for the event, Öztürk stated that they are conducted by a media coordination unit, and added that the Turkish Olympiads are regarded as newsworthy by media outlets because there are foreign students from various parts of the world speaking in Turkish, singing Turkish songs and reciting Turkish poems, besides promoting culture and clothing of their home nations. “The media coordinator provides opportunities for media outlets that wish to cover the Turkish Olympiads and provide infrastructure services for them,” Öztürk explains. In response to questioning about whether any advertising campaign is conducted abroad to promote the Turkish Olympiads globally, Öztürk responded that a comprehensive campaign is not conducted overseas. “The TÜRKÇEDER generally uses official channels to promote the organization abroad. The Ministry of Education sends an official notice to education ministries, foreign ministries and other related institutions and organizations in order to inform countries about the Olympiads. The TÜRKÇEDER also releases announcements on its official website and sends e-mails to institutions and organizations abroad. But we don’t put ads in foreign newspapers or TV stations.” TÜRKÇEDER Chairman Dr. Ali Ursavaş, speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, drew attention to the changing function of the Turkish Olympiads. Ursavaş stated that although the Turkish Olympiads was launched as the Turkish language Olympiads at its inception in 2003, the function of the event was transformed into the Turkish cultural Olympiads, a multicultural festival and meeting of civilizations. “All decisions regarding the organization of the Olympiads are taken jointly. We consult the planning team, specialists in the Turkish language and teachers training students when making decisions.” Ursavaş noted.
How are stage performances of students organized?
Ersin Yıldız, one of the music coordinators of the Turkish Olympiads, told Sunday’s Zaman that there is an executive committee for the Olympiads, including an art department, dealing with technical issues regarding stages and performances.
Stating that the art department of the Olympiads starts to work as of September each year, Yıldız described periodic meetings in which the department determines the possible repertoire for the coming year. These repertoires are then finalized at the meetings and distributed to international Turkish schools whose students will be attending the Olympiads in that year. “The art department prepares the musical infrastructure of the possible songs determined by the department and sends them to the schools. Students choose from these songs according to their voices. However, besides songs determined by the art department the students can choose other songs. We don’t force students to sing the songs determined by the department, we only provide choices for the students. Each student competing in the singing category knows at least three Turkish songs when they come to Turkey,” Yıldız noted.
Yıldız went on to say that all songs are recorded at the studios 10 days prior to the commencement of the event. Following the recording, the students begin rehearsals for stage performances. “Apart from songs, there are also poems. What we do for the songs also applies to the poetry category. These poems are also determined by the executive committee in October and sent to the Turkish schools. Background music is planned for poem recitations in order to make them more enjoyable. Sometimes students reciting poems are accompanied by other students singing songs to hold the attention of audiences,” Yıldız explained.
Another music coordinator of the Olympiads, Bülent Kars, highlighted that students are not restricted to reciting the poems determined by the art department. “The art department only offers options for the students. Each student knows at least three poems when they come to Turkey. We assess students’ performances of each poem and select the best recited poem by each. The poetry program is constructed in that way. The singing program is constructed similarly. Students know more than three songs when they come to Turkey. It should not be thought each student prepares for only one song when they attend the Olympiads in Turkey,” Kars noted.
In response to why some students sing with playback during their performances, Kars said the Olympiads runs over an almost 30-day period, and some of the attending students may become sick due to the change in climate. “If this is the case these students cannot perform live, so they sing with playback as an alternative,” Kars stated.
Emphasizing that the Turkish Olympiads is a unique event during which performances are staged in 65 different theaters over a two-week period, General Art Director Cemil Özen told Sunday’s Zaman that the preparation process begins some nine months before the opening of the event. “The art department consists of 40 people, 20 of them serving actively during the preparation process. They visit international Turkish schools and follow the preparations of those schools first hand. The art department also directs thematic projects for the Olympiads. All these works are conducted sensitively because the Olympiads become the main topic on the Turkish agenda during the period they are held. We have a headquarters in which we discuss all aspects of the event, primarily while determining a theme for the Olympiads. After the theme for the event is determined, some activities are planned in order to promote it,” Özen noted. Özen went on to say that when stage shows are planned, the cultural aspects of the region where students will be performing are taken into consideration. “Which songs, folk dances or poems will be performed during the festival in each city is determined according the features of the region,” Özen said.
How students are selected for Turkish Olympiads at international schools
Ayşe İffet Samuk, a teacher at the Nilüfer Girls’ Secondary School in Arbil, Iraq, told Sunday’s Zaman that after a notice arrives from the Ministry of Education in October for the Turkish Olympiads teachers hang announcements on the schools’ walls, and the Olympiads are discussed in their classes. Samuk further stated that after students apply for the Turkish language Olympiads they undergo various language achievement tests.
“Students who get enough points start to study with teachers. In January, eliminations are held in order to determine the school team. Semi-finals for Iraq are generally held in February, and then a final to determine the students who will attend the Turkish Olympiads is held in March. The performances of the students are recorded and the records are sent to Turkey after March 20. Turkish officials assess the performances of the students and offer them advice in order to improve their performances, when necessary,” Samuk noted.
Ayşe Boztaş, a teacher at a Turkish school in Albania, told Sunday’s Zaman that because Turkish schools have prestige in Albania they don’t experience problems in finding students for the Olympiads. Boztaş further stated that because the number of students who apply to the Olympiads is high in the country, competitive Turkish proficiency examinations in the fields of vocabulary, reading, speaking, listening and grammar take place in the schools. After the examinations, Boztaş said, students undergo several elimination rounds and those who are successful in the finals attend the main Turkish Olympiads in Turkey.
Egyptian student Mennatallah Ahmed Mahdy, who won the poetry section of the 10th International Turkish Language Olympiads on Wednesday night, told Sunday’s Zaman that she applied for the Olympiads after one of her close friends told her about the event. She then underwent Turkish tests. “After I completed the tests I ranked first in the elimination round held at my school. Then I also ranked first in the final elimination round of Egypt,” Mahdy said.