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From the Bosphorus: Straight - Yunus Emre Institute a test of endurance

HDN | 8/10/2010 12:00:00 AM |

The logic of following up on Turkey’s new commercial and political self-confidence with cultural outreach is clearly needed although there is a long road ahead.

As we said in yesterday’s headline on the opening of the new Yunus Emre Institute in London to promote Turkish culture, “all the world now a stage for Turkey.” And we certainly hope it will be.

The logic of following up on Turkey’s new commercial and political self-confidence with cultural outreach clearly is an idea whose time has come. As we noted, Turkish Airlines has successfully become a true international airline. Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT now broadcasts in Arabic and other languages are expected to follow – including English. So this network of centers themed on the 13th-century poet and mystic makes sense to us. But we do have to keep in mind that this is a recurring idea and hopes have not always been fulfilled.

Probably the earliest such effort was clear back in 1926, when the Turkish Republic was just three years old. With the support of President Mustafa Atatürk, a steamship named the Karadeniz, or Black Sea, was outfitted with all the symbols of the new country and its aspirations. The ship, carrying 285 artists, journalists, politicians, musicians, teachers, musicians and navigators to tell the story of a “new Turkey” to friend and foe alike. Its ports-of-call included Trieste, Marseille, Amsterdam, Liverpool and even stops in Scandinavia to promote Turkish tiles, carpets and perhaps most importantly – Turkish men and women dressed in European fashion, an early attempt to counter stereotypes. But who remembers the Karadeniz?

We certainly remember the fanfare in the late 1970s when the Turkish Cultural Center opened in New York. This impressive office building on Manhattan’s 5th Avenue was going to revolutionize American perceptions of Turkey. Yes, today the center hosts admirable exhibits, it organizes an annual festival in New York and since 2006 it has offered Turkish classes. But do Americans – even those who live on 5th Avenue – think differently of Turkey in any significant way more than they did 30 years ago? We have our doubts.

Turkey’s oldest tradeshow, the İzmir International Fair, dates to 1931 and again was billed at the time as Turkey’s “gateway to the world.” Is it?

Our point here is not to be cynical or pessimistic. Enabling Turkey to be better understood globally is at the heart of our mission as a newspaper and we take the task seriously. But it is not a sprint, it is a marathon.

As Ali Fuat Bilhan, chairman of the new institute noted to us, the British Council is celebrating its 70th year in Turkey. Other comparable institutes are newer. But still the Goethe Institute has been at its work since 1951 and Spain’s Cervantes Institute was founded in 1990. That these are the examples cited by Turkey for emulation is a testament to their endurance. And that’s what the new Yunus Emre Institute will need.

We wish the project luck. We also wish it the power of endurance.

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