President Ateş was the guest of TRT Avaz Live Broadcast
Yunus Emre Enstitüsü President Prof. Dr. Şeref Ateş was the guest of show Balkan Agenda, produced and hosted by Feridun Erdoğral, and broadcast live on TRT Avaz.
In Balkan Agenda show broadcast live on TRT Avaz, Yunus Emre Enstitüsü President Prof. Dr. Şeref Ateş answered questions of Feridun Erdoğral and gave information on the process from Enstitü's establishment to date. Prof. Dr. Şeref Ateş stated that institutions operate according to the strategies of countries they are affiliated with, and said that neither Yunus Emre Enstitüsü nor the Republic of Turkey it is affiliated with, has secret agendas, and YEE introduces Turkish culture in countries it operates in as well as the culture of the respective country.
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: Yunus Emre Enstitüsü operates under the symbol name of Anatolian wisdom, and introduces Turkey, Turkish language, art and cultural heritage since 2009. Enstitü that operates in 50 centres in 40 countries, receives intense interest in the Balkans that is a beloved region for us. Today in the show, we will interview Enstitü President Prof. Dr. Şeref Ateş on the activities and mission of Yunus Emre Enstitüsü. First let us begin with a general overview. Many countries in the world operate globally through their institutions. Why are cultural institutes important for countries?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: Particularly diplomacy was once held behind closed doors all over the world. Agreements were revealed later. But as time passed, and as people became more and more interested in diplomacy and especially in international relations, diplomacy became slightly softer. For this reason, cultural diplomacy defined as soft power in the literature, is usually carried out by the cultural institutes. Cultural institutes allow countries to present how they are right in many respects, their truth and arguments in other countries willingly and by making them popular. In this sense cultural diplomacy is a very difficult job because it is more civil, more diplomatic, but it also involves culture. Because ambassadors and statesmen carry out standard diplomacy. Cultural diplomats tell that a country has merits in all its parts. For this reason, activities we call cultural instruments that appeal to human emotional intelligence such as art and literature events, interviews, panels, books and music performances are carried out, and a sense of familiarity emerges in these countries. Our cultural diplomacy approach is very different from that of British Council, Goethe Institute or Cervantes Institute. They sought to create similar societies by using this instrument in countries they operate in, entirely in line with their foreign political objectives. We are a much younger institution within our sixth year. Yunus Emre Enstitüsü is an institute established to meet with people and societies as can be understood from its name. Yunus said, "Let's meet / Let's make work easy / Let's love and be loved / The earth shall be left to no one." So if we possess something positive, we will bring it to you, and if you have something positive for humanity, we will receive it. Because real intentions behind activities are usually not disclosed and the same goes for relations with other states, however analysts read the motives of those countries afterwards. In countries where we have been operational for the past 6 years, the peoples see that we do not have another agenda. Only what can we bring to those countries to benefit humanity and people? How do we share the styles known as added value with other societies by introducing Turkish language and culture? Our Enstitü was established for such a dialogue and relationship. In this sense we have a fundamental difference from similar Western institutions in terms of philosophy. In many countries, they follow the policies of their respective countries and they form a basis for conflict between countries, often by scratching the weak spots.
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: Can we show the British Council as an example to the subject you mentioned? English is a language used all over the world. What do you think is its role at this point?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: It is not right to make direct accusations. However you can read the intentions of a country through activities it carries out. For example, at the end of the statement made by Can Dündar who visited Germany last, there were three things: "Women, Alawites and Kurds, rise now." If you look at the projects underway in Turkey -European Union projects- they are usually aimed at women or ethnic groups. If you look at long-term, then the outcome is not in favour of Turkey. But there is culture and art in view. However while introducing Turkish culture in countries we operate, we also introduce the culture of that country. We invite a group from Romania to Turkey. Or we support a cinema workshop in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Or we sponsor another activity in Macedonia. We do not carry out secret or covert activities in this sense. This is in fact about strategies of countries. Because Turkey does not follow such a strategy. It is a relationship based entirely on sharing, and sharing with other countries the positive assets possessed.
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: So the institutes are guided by countries strategies', right?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: Of course. As British Council is an institution of UK and funded by the UK, as Goethe Institute is supported by German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yunus Emre Enstitüsü is a public foundation just the same. It was established by the government in 2009. Since 2009, it has established its own centres in many countries and carries out civilian, more neutral activities, in a sense above politics but these are in line with interests of Turkey. This is natural. However there is no secret agenda. In this sense, each world country that aspires to be strong in international relations and wants to relay its arguments to other countries, establishes cultural institutes, and maybe the best example to this is the Confucian Institutes founded by the Chinese. They realized the importance of these institutions especially after the Olympics. Because there was a lot of negative propaganda in the West -in issues such as human rights – and they establish Confucius Institutes in universities following a different strategy: Let's go to these countries and explain ourselves.
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: Why the name Yunus Emre?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: Yunus Emre Enstitüsü is of course a shared value and a figure for Turkey. When the bill was brought to table in 2007, the name Yunus Emre was decided by unanimous vote. Mevlana's name also came to the fore but because Mevlana wrote in Persian, and Yunus Emre read poetry in Turkish although he lived in a period when Turkish language was neglected, so the decision was to name the Enstitü after Yunus Emre. And since that day, from Eastern Turkey to the west, it is a name accepted by all when you view various cultural belongings. People often get confused and ask if it is an institution that makes research on Yunus Emre and his works. However Yunus Emre exclusively represents Turkey and thus can be defined as the name father, just as Cervantes, Goethe are the prominent intellectuals, poets, etc. of their countries. Yunus Emre Enstitüsü rapidly established an intense network, especially in the Balkans since its foundation. Because it is not a region we are unfamiliar with in terms of cultural geography. There are great similarities. We have a common past, a common heritage. There have been migrations from Balkans to Turkey. There have been migrations from Turkey to the Balkans therefore we can say that it is a re-acquaintance and encounter of two or more different societies that lived side by side throughout history and separated due to various political reasons. This is why we got organized very quickly in the Balkans. We opened the first centre in Sarajevo in 2009. Our second centre was opened in Tirana. We currently continue our activities with more than 10 Enstitü centres.
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: A rule of 550 years in the Balkans is in question. So there are Ottoman traces and works there. Turkey's view of Balkans and Balkans' view of Turkey are of major importance at this point. We discussed your mission as YEE but can you explain your activities?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: We carry out intense activities because it is a delayed operation and it is a long-awaited structure. This is why it has greatly echoed. In Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary and even in Serbia there is intense interest, especially towards Turkish instruction. The courses we open fill up quickly. We do not only teach Turkish but we also support people there in all kinds of projects related to Turkey such as handicrafts as our mission requires. This is a major contribution for them. We have implemented a project called My Preference Turkish. We have established collaborations with secondary schools to teach Turkish as a second foreign language, and we do not only teach Turkish in those schools but we also make them sister schools with schools in Turkey thanks to the support of Turkish Ministry of National Education. As a result, there is interest especially in Istanbul in all Balkan countries, mainly in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Albania. For that reason, numerous non-governmental organizations, provincial directorates of national education, and government agencies support these relations.
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: How does this interest develop compared to the past?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: There is a rapid development trend. Only in Sarajevo, nearly 10 thousand students in secondary schools learn Turkish as a second language. This of course creates a serious competition against languages as German and English which have been more common and instructed for centuries. The reason behind it is the interest and sympathy people have especially for Turkey. Because we undertake a unifying role in those countries rather than separating them. We are in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, also in Macedonia. We have a beautiful example we can show, where people live together: Istanbul, the whole Turkey. The culture of East and West living together, has been survived for centuries. Often as an obstacle, there has been a propaganda against the Ottoman Empire and hostility against Turks in the Balkans in textbooks and civil movements in the period we lived apart. We show that this was not the case at all, they sense it through donations and contributions made, and this is why Yunus Emre Enstitüsü centres have become the most visited centres In a sense Yunus Emre Enstitüsü centres, a second address where people can visit as civilian outside of Turkish embassies, have been transformed into centres with which to carry out business in connection with Turkey.
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: Compared to similar institutes abroad, why was Yunus Emre Enstitüsü founded later?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: The economic situation and especially country's reconciliation with its history, the difficult years in the Republican period... We did not participate in the World War II but all the burden was on Turkey. Turkey also received Marshall aid although it did not go to war. Marshall aids were also very important elements with regard to cultural diplomacy. It is one of the greatest examples of cultural diplomacy. Milk powder was distributed in Turkey back then but it was completely unnecessary. Margarine etc. was introduced in Turkey. This way, Western culture industry contributed to Turkey's transformation into a market. There is now a concept in the world called culture industry. An industry with an annual budget of maybe 600-700 billion dollars. This may be more important than automotive industry, perhaps one of the most important sectors. It is a sector that has added value in itself. The main producer in this industry is usually the West or USA. It is distributed to the whole world through copyrights. Nobody can reproduce it. There is also such a commercial dimension to all these concerts and art events. This is why Turkey has always been of interest. In the second stage, of course, you always secretly feel that they are familiar.
Turkey has recovered itself in the past 10 years, reconciled with its own identity and began to solve the problems within. In the past there were always tensions due to definitions as right-left, secular-Islamist, people antagonized one another and created enemies however we have become a country in peace with itself and its past, and that takes firm steps forward. This naturally shows that we have a story to tell to the world. A success story, Turkey model ...
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: What difficulties do you face while organizing activities?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: There is propaganda against Turkey by the international media. We constantly face with prejudices. But our young staff raised as cultural diplomats or cultural envoys, go abroad, talk with people one on one and organise events in spite, to show people that the truth is far from the propaganda. We know that we are on the right track. As Turkish nation, I think we should be represented well abroad. In the countries where Yunus Emre Enstitüsü centres are located, Turkey and Turkish culture are represented and Turkey is introduced through true and correct sources.
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: What can be done in the future?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: Our pioneering organizations are TIKA and similar organizations. They have invariably reached out to countries in need. We have always brought help to countries in difficulty, to Africa, to the Balkans, to Far East. Of course after offering help, Yunus Emre Enstitüsü carries out the second stage so these instruments, hospitals and schools can be used. That is to say after we bring help there, we wish to raise generations in connection with Turkey and for them to bring these added values to Turkey, for them to study in Turkey and to contribute to development of their respective countries. In this sense, we go to countries like Somalia Western countries never go, and to Balkan villages. Because people there have needs. We go to difficult countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan. If there are people in need there, we can not discriminate. We are also in the West but first we go to the countries in need. One time we met with a country's Minister of Foreign Affairs, and he asked why we went to Somalia and that there will be further chaos in Somalia. People are important to us without regard to their race. Letting a human live is like keeping all humanity alive. So if there is need, we will go there as well. In this sense we are different from the Westerners.
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: Which activities are carried out for teaching Turkish to foreigners?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: Teaching Turkish to foreigners is a new field in Turkey and as Yunus Emre Enstitüsü we carry out intensive operations in this field. In order to encourage a more interactive and active use of Turkish, we produce teaching materials through scientific methods in global and Europe standards. The teachers we send, first receive a certification training in teaching Turkish as a foreign language. In this certification training, we do not only teach instruction techniques but also give training on how to enable cultural adaptation and communicate with other cultures. Apart from that, of course the materials such as visual and auditory materials, enriched books, smart boards are important because these are carriers of language culture and also the venue where you teach the language. These are very modern, well-equipped spaces with substructure. In this regard, we have established an infrastructure for teaching Turkish more widely in the world and I think it has been very efficient.
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: YEE operates in 10 regions across the Balkan geography but not in Greece and Bulgaria. What is the reason behind this?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: We have made diplomatic attempts to establish a cultural centre in Greece. We made a demand to open a centre in Bulgaria years ago. We organise activities in Bulgaria but we could not open an Enstitü centre because a cultural agreement must be made or a foundation-association must be established to open a centre. It is not possible at the moment but we wish to open centres in both countries soon.
FERİDUN ERDOĞRAL: The Cultural Diplomacy Academy affiliated with YEE is an organization that recently became operational. Could you briefly explain?
ŞEREF ATEŞ: Cultural Diplomacy Academy is in fact a part of our tradition. But we actively realized it in a scientific way. We give training on how an envoy and cultural diplomat on the field, or visiting another country should operate. The first activity of Cultural Diplomacy Academy took place in Istanbul with participation of Minister of Culture and Tourism Mr. Nabi Avcı. It is an academy in which theoretical and practical analyses are conducted, and trainings are given on what kind of personal traits to possess, how to act, what to avoid and what to do. We launched for our employees in the first place but in the second stage, we will carry out work meetings for other non-governmental organizations or the personnel of the government institutions which require such training.