Passengers on this fully packed bus, a regular route heading further out, started to get off even before the driver’s warning and mixed in with the thousands of people of all ages, some still in strollers and the more elderly in wheelchairs -- but all enthusiastic audience members of the International Turkish Language Olympiads.
The Olympiads, a competition held annually since 2003 and currently in its eighth year, is not an event only for people living in Ankara but is the venue of a marvelous show involving 750 students of Turkish from 120 countries.
Intercity buses and minibuses that brought many people from towns near Ankara lined up in long queues on both sides of the road running past Altınpark.
The show, involving students singing in Turkish, reading poems in Turkish or dancing to Turkish songs, took place in a packed to capacity and very big tent. Attendees unable to find a seat inside eagerly and impatiently waited for a seat to free up so they could watch and listen to the show.
A 73-year-old man, Şevki Mut, was one of them. He was dressed up as if he were coming to an official ceremony, wearing a well-ironed suit, an extremely clean shirt and, despite the heat, a tie. While watching the students of Turkish on stage performing, a smile broke across his carefully shaved face.
When asked when he showed up, he said he came from Adapazarı to Ankara this morning with friends for the special event. He added that from Adapazarı alone two buses came carrying Turkish language Olympiads attendees.
“I want to see to what extent Turkish language is reflected in the world,” he told Today’s Zaman.
A little further down was a group of youngsters, standing and happily watching the students of Turkish take to the stage one by one. The group talked about the performances after the show. Burhan Ali Erol, 18, said he and his friends were from Konya, where they attend the same school, the Büyükkoyuncu Anatolian Science High School. Erol said they came to Ankara just for the event and plan to return in the afternoon.
“I am learning foreign languages, and it is nice to discover that students all over the world are learning Turkish. But I have to say their Turkish is better than my English,” he said, adding that the students have also obviously adopted aspects of Turkish culture, too.
The Olympiads are organized by the International Turkish Education Association (TÜRKÇEDER). The theme for last year, when 115 countries attended, was “We are meeting through the language of love.” This year’s theme is “We speak the same language.”
To speak the same language, and Turkish at that, makes Nurdan Abalı, a university student in Niğde, very happy. She said she travelled from Niğde this morning and is using this opportunity to also meet up with her older sister, Sema Tandoğan, a mother of two. They all attended the show.
“Turks have a tendency to look down on themselves. But this proves just the opposite, and I am here to enjoy this proud event,” Abalı said. Her sister, holding one of her babies, added: “Both the fact that there are teachers who have travelled to various parts of the world to teach Turkish to students over there and this show make me very proud.”
Visitors to an exhibition set up in Altınpark have the opportunity to make a brief tour of the world. Students manning stands bearing the names of their countries of origin inform visitors about these faraway lands. The area frequently lights up with camera flashes as people take photos next to students dressed in traditional clothing.
One of the stands belongs to Benin. A teenaged visitor asks his friend, “Where is Benin?” His friend told him, “I don’t know, but if we go there one day, we will find people speaking Turkish there, and that’s what matters.”
Gökçek: Great happiness is hearing Turkish spoken in every country
Ankara Mayor Gökçek participated in the opening ceremony of Ankara’s cultural festival with his wife, Nevin Gökçek. Speaking at the ceremony, Gökçek stated that Turkey is on its way to becoming a country that encourages peace for the entire world.
“As a Turkish citizen, I become very happy when I see a foreign student speaking Turkish at the International Turkish Language Olympiads. I believe that teachers who teach Turkish to foreign students play an important role for the International Turkish Language Olympiads, in addition to the Turkish philanthropists who have given financial aid for Turkish schools,” noted Gökçek. He also thanked Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has pioneered the establishment of Turkish schools in many countries to promote intercultural and interfaith activities around the world.
Minister Bağış: Turkish schools implementing what Atatürk desired
Speaking at the opening ceremony of Ankara’s cultural festival, Bağış said that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, wanted to establish dialogue between people around world and that people involved in Turkish schools established worldwide are doing what Atatürk desired. “Atatürk was searching for a way to found a bridge of dialogue between people in the 1930s. However, Atatürk’s desire became real in the 2000s thanks to the Turks who are working in Turkish schools. Thanks to the International Turkish Language Olympiads, international students studying at Turkish schools have come together to voice the message of peace to the world,” said Bağış.