Dedicated to promoting Turkey, its cultural heritage and language overseas, the foundation will open and coordinate cultural institutes around the world and will be the equivalent of Germany's Goethe Institute, Spain's Cervantes Institute and the United Kingdom's British Council.
Professor Ali Fuat Bilkan, the general manager of the Yunus Emre Foundation, talks about the foundation, its mission, goals and future plans in an interview with Today's Zaman.
Germany has Goethe Institutes, Spain has Cervantes Institutes and the UK has British Councils to promote their cultures and languages around the world. Why has it taken so long for Turkey to set up the Yunus Emre Foundation?
Although the Yunus Emre Foundation opened recently, the Foreign Ministry, the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA), the Culture and Tourism Ministry, the Education Ministry and nongovernmental organizations have been holding cultural and promotional activities [abroad] for many years. The main problem was that these activities weren't organized on a regular basis or did not always maintain certain standards. I believe the timing of opening the Yunus Emre Foundation is based on current events. The important role Turkey has assumed both in the region and around the world, as well as its economic and political position, proves that the opening of the Yunus Emre Foundation was timely and appropriate.
What is the goal of the Yunus Emre Foundation?
The foundation's statute defines its goal as the following: promoting Turkey, its cultural heritage, the Turkish language, its culture and art; fostering friendly relations with other countries; enhancing cultural exchange; offering domestic and international information and documents for public use; providing services to people abroad who would like to learn about the Turkish language culture and arts; and opening Yunus Emre research institutes across Turkey and Yunus Emre Culture Centers around the world.
The Yunus Emre Turkish Culture Centers that are going to be established around the world will meet a wide range of needs in different fields. The foundation is currently working to take over culture centers operated abroad by the Foreign Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Culture and Tourism Ministry and TİKA. Initially, culture centers in Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Egypt, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Israel are to be placed under the authority of the foundation. New foundations are going to be set up in these countries, and the number of centers will increase over time according to demand. A Turkish library with basic resources from which researchers can benefit will be set up in Yunus Emre Turkish Culture Centers.
Turkish culture is known mainly in the West through Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, rather than Yunus Emre. How do you plan to change this association?
While the foundation is named after Yunus Emre, the real mission it's going to assume is offering resources to local and foreign researchers on the Turkish language and literature as well as on Turkey's history, culture and arts. Our goal is to build awareness, not just about Yunus Emre, but about all great figures that have contributed to Turkey with their literary works. Since Yunus Emre was a poet who was able to truly describe our civilization, naming the foundation after him was appropriate. The culture centers the foundation will open abroad are going to be named the Yunus Emre Turkish Culture Centers. I believe this name explains what the institution is about without having to provide a detailed explanation.
Which shortcomings do you aim to fill?
Beyond filling a gap, ensuring coordination between public institutions that provide similar services is important. It's important that Turks living overseas, foreign Turkologists and people that would like to learn the Turkish language, culture and art find a healthy and permanent institution that provides continuous, reliable services. While teaching Turkish with modern educational tools and methods, our goal will be to carry out an inventory of the current resources on the Turkish language, contribute to the works in this area and ensure that studies on Turkey conducted abroad are based on correct data. For foreign researchers to be able to understand us correctly, it's important that they get to know our real identity and traits. We will engage in various activities to develop relations with other countries, promote our country properly to the world and develop our social, political, economic and cultural relations both in our own region and on the world stage.
What kinds of activities will you do in Turkey and abroad? What do you plan to do first? What have you done so far?
In the short term we will focus on setting up Yunus Emre Turkish Culture Centers in countries such as Kosovo, Russia, Syria and Georgia. Among our chief aims is to set up a library on Turkey which researchers can benefit from. A Turkish placement test that complies with international standards and that can be taken over the Internet is being prepared, and a Turkish language test similar to the universal English language test TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language] is also being prepared. The Yunus Emre centers will provide project support for cultural and artistic events held by Turkish associations and nongovernmental organizations in relevant countries and contribute to developing cultural relations between Turkey and these countries.