RECAP: Study Turkiye Workshop 2014

By: Alexis O’Connor, Intern at the Niagara Foundation and Student at Northwestern University

Niagara Foundation held its workshop for the Study Turkiye Program on February 28. The workshop offers information on Turkey’s culture and history to prepare faculty for an intensive summer trip.  The program is a curriculum development project for faculty of higher education facilities. Study Turkiye offers faculty an opportunity to explore Turkey for nine days and use their experiences to enhance their curriculum.

The program began with a lecture on the history of the Ottoman Empire by Azam Nizamuddin, adjunct professor in theology at Loyola University Chicago.  Turkey, originally referred to as Anatolia, was the center of the Ottoman Empire.  Nizamuddin explained that although the family in power was named Osman, the Venetian trading partners pronounced the name “Otman,” eventually turning the name of the empire into Ottoman.  The Ottoman Empire, which held power until 1922, was located in over 27 countries in Southeast Europe, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.  Nizamuddin used a number of maps in order to explain pivotal events geographically.

The second lecture began a discussion of the establishment of Turkish democracy.  Kadir Yilirim, assistant professor of political science at Furman University, presented how demographics influenced the politics of Turkey.  Originally an autocracy, the Turkish government made a number of steps toward democracy.  Kemal Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey in 1923 and used a number of laws to promote democracy, modernization and secularization.  Yilirim stressed that the model of secularism Turkey adopted was not of British or American origin, but rather the French version in which, when taken to its extreme, the state becomes actively hostile to religion rather than neutral.

After the second lecture, the audience broke for a panel discussion from Mark Torgerson and Ted Hazelgrove, who participated in the Study Turkiye program previously.  They shared the pictures and stories that resonated with them most from their trip to Turkey.  Although they described exquisite foods, remarkable landmarks and life-changing experiences, Hazelgrove believes that words can only go so far.

“As much as we read, hear lectures, and hear first-hand accounts, one has to be completely immersed to really understand,” Hazelgrove remarked.

The Study Turkiye trip piqued their interests in the area and introduced experiences neither had encountered before.  Both especially enjoyed the home visits to Turkish families because it revealed Turkish culture beyond what the regular tourist sees.

After a lunch provided by Sofra Turkish Kitchen, Yilirim furthered his discussion on democracy in Turkey.  As the nation began to establish itself, it faced not only the difficulties of modernization and secularization, but also the creation of a Turkish identity.  Yilirim discussed the transition to a Latin-based alphabet for the Turkish language and the move to a multi-party democracy politically.  According to Yilirim, the latter movement is necessary because a democracy needs both a strong government and strong opposing parties to allow an array of views for citizens to consider.  Yilirim also led a discussion on the current political situation in Turkey, emphasizing that Turkey presents a special case of democracy due to the demographics of its constituents.  He explained these demographics in terms of a secular elite and a religious poor that make up the majority of the country. The secular elite were firmly in control for much of the 20th century, imposing their values and ideals on the minority.

The final lecture provided by Zeki Saritoprak, associate professor of Islamic studies at John Carroll University, focused on the religions in Turkey and the Gulen movement.  According to Saritoprak, 99.8% of the population in Turkey is Muslim. Based on the French notion of secularism, Turkey’s secularism is anti-religion, rather than neutral.  Even so, religion is an integral part of individual life in Turkey.  The government realized this, and created a Directorate of Religious Affairs in order to organize and limit religious power.

Saritoprak also gave a brief biography on Fethullah Gulen, the honorary president of the Niagara Foundation.  Gulen is known for his moderate Islamic principles.  His movement is characterized as a civic movement with religious roots and focuses on bettering society through education, health, aid programs, media, finance, business organization and interfaith dialogue.

To conclude the workshop, Jaleh Sherbini, Shamili Sandiford and Marc Healy discussed how their previous Study Turkiye trip influenced their curriculum.  Sherbini integrated a module in her government class about Turkey and also began a field study trip for her students to experience Turkey for themselves.  Sandiford plans to use Turkey and the U.S. as a comparative case study of agricultural challenges and responses.  Healy, who teaches human geography, now uses examples from Turkey to clarify and solidify vast geographical terms for his students.  All faculty members who attend Study Turkiye are asked to use their trip to enhance their curriculum and expose their students to a broader and more cultured worldview.

This workshop is one of the requirements for faculty before attending the annual Study Turkiye Program.  The application is due in April, and faculty members are asked to present their experience at a presentation at Niagara in November.

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