2374) Turkish Studies At Yerevan State University Makes Way For Warmer Ties

Founded by Istanbul-born philologist Professor Hrachya Acharyan in 1943, the Department of Turkish Studies at Yerevan State University (YSU) is home to outstanding studies in Turkish language and literature. Presently, a total of 100 undergraduate students, 25 master’s students and four Ph.D. students are enrolled in Turkish Studies at YSU . .

Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic relations and the border between them remains closed, but their cultural and academic relations have no such borders. Despite the sour relations between the two countries, the undergraduate and graduate programs in Yerevan State University's Department of Turkish Studies attract tremendous interest from Armenian youth. The number of undergraduate students is 100, 25 students are enrolled to the Master's program while the number of PhD students is four.

Istanbul-born philologist Professor Hrachya Acharyan founded the Department of Turkish Studies in 1943. In 1968, the Faculty of Oriental Studies was founded as a separate body where currently not only modern Turkish but also Ottoman, Azerbaijani, Persian and Arabic studies are taught.

Department of Turkish Studies Chair Professor Alexander Safaryan, who has been teaching at the Department of Turkish Studies at YSU since 1986, told the Turkish Daily News that he believed both Turkish and Armenian linguists should undertake joint studies at the university level. Citing past collaborations of Armenian academics with the Middle East Technical University and the Ankara University in 2002, Safaryan said though exchange of both Armenian and Turkish academics between Ankara and Yerevan took place at that time, such cooperation has been impeded for some time due to political conditions and the closed borders between the two countries. But in the event that Turkish universities show any interest in renewing ties, Armenian academics are ready to conduct joint studies with them, said Safaryan.

Safaryan, who studied linguistics at the University of Moscow and the University of Damascus. He was awarded a gold medal by YSU in 2000 for his successful studies in linguistics.

Borders not obstacles to academic relations

Safaryan's studies are not only limited to classes he gives at the Department of Turkish Studies at YSU. He is the author of comprehensive books on Turkish language and literature. His latest work is a textbook written both in Armenian and Turkish for beginners to Armenian language. Safaryan worked with faculty colleagues Aşod Soğomonyan and Istanbul-born artist Diran Lokmagözyan during preparation of his 316-page book first published in 2007. “There are Armenian textbooks written in Russian but the textbook we prepared is a pioneering work. It includes explanatory grammar and teaches Armenian directly in Armenian not through another language. In this way, it is easier to learn Armenian,” said Safaryan. He noted that it was journalist Hrant Dink, the slain founder editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian bilingual weekly Agos based in Istanbul, who first suggested in 2005 the idea of preparing such a textbook.

‘Literary works should be translated mutually'

Safaryan said translated works both from Armenian and Turkish literature play a major role in development of friendly relations between Armenians and Turks. He said he had exchanged ideas three years ago with well-known Turkish intellectual and academic Murat Belge and Osman Kavala, a co-founder of Turkey's prominent publication company İletişim Publications, about forming a joint commission and translating works both from Armenian and Turkish literatures. But the project failed due to financial problems, he added.

Nobel laureate Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk's works have generated great interest in Armenia, said Safaryan. When the necessary budget is formed, the first Turkish works to be translated into Armenian would be those of Pamuk's, he said.

The last translations from Turkish literature were made under the former Soviet Union. Most of those Turkish works translated into Armenian during that period were those belonging to Yaşar Kemal, Sabahattin Ali, Aziz Nesin, and Nazım Hikmet, who are all leftists.

But because no further editions were published it is currently not possible to find those works in Armenia. “There is a big lack of works of Turkish literature in bookstore shelves in Armenia,” said Safaryan.

Safaryan said that Turkish state television introduced him as a supporter of the genocide claims on the killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-16 in the documentary film “Fair Bride” produced in 2003. That made him quite sad, he added.

“I am a linguist, not a historian. My area of specialization is Turkish language and culture. I have never ever conducted any studies on the 1915 killings and therefore it is not my area of specialization,” he said.

‘Contemporary Turkish literature has quests for some time'

Dr. Rupen Hovhannesi Melkonyan, a Yerevan State University (YSU) graduate and a student of Safaryan, has been teaching at the Department of Turkish Studies at YSU since 2005. His area of specialization is Modern Turkish Language and Literature and specifically the Village Literature in the realm of modern literary realism that dominated Turkish literature between 1930 and 1950. Melkonyan, noting masters of Turkish literature Yaşar Kemal, Fakir Baykurt and Orhan Kemal who produced outstanding works during that period, said that all the works produced at that time indeed reflect the political and social atmosphere dominant in Turkey in those years.

For Melkonyan, contemporary Turkish literature has for some time been in search of many things. Nobel laureate Pamuk's novels contain deep touches of postmodernism, he said. Another Turkish novelist that attracts Melkonyan's attention most is Elif Şafak, author of “The Bastard of Istanbul”.

Şuşanik Zakaryan (21) – Master's student at the Department of Turkish Studies at Yerevan State University (YSU):

Last year, I visited Istanbul and stayed there for 14 days. It was the first time I met with Turkish university students. Turkish youth do not have information about Armenians and are ultra-nationalists. Learning Turkish is highly important for me. In this way, I would like to get to know Turks, with whom we experienced so many big events in history, more closely.

Diana Hayrabedyan (22)- Master's student at the Department of Turkish Studies at Yerevan State University (YSU): We have to leave aside all hostilities and try to find rational solutions to problems between the two countries. Communication with Turkish university students is what we have to do. That's why I want to learn Turkish and specialize in that. As we all see, fights never work out.

Nareg Zulalyan (19), Master's student at the Department of Turkish Studies at Yerevan State University (YSU):

Tense relations between Turkey and Armenia are the main reason why I chose to study Turkology. Past incidents represent the biggest problems between the two countries. No diplomatic relations have existed yet, but once they are established, speaking Turkish will play a key role.

Lia Evoyan (19), Master's student at the Department of Turkish Studies at Yerevan State University (YSU): International relations is my area of expertise. I have chosen to attend the Department of Turkish Studies because of political problems Armenia has with Turkey and Azerbaijan. I have been learning Azerbaijani and Turkish for some time. We, as young people of Armenia, can look at the problems from a different perspective.

Anna Boğosyan (19), Master's student at the Department of Turkish Studies at Yerevan State University (YSU): Learning Turkey's history, social life and literature in all aspects is highly important for me since Turkey and Armenia have quite serious political and diplomatic problems with each other. Turkey perpetually claims that problems are caused by Armenia but this is unfair. We have to try to solve our problems through modeling Germany and Israel. Dialogue between the two nations is quite important.
March 4, 2008
Vercihan Ziflioğlu
YEREVAN - Turkish Daily News