Turkey steps up to preserve academic heritage in the Middle East

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Aiming to preserve and highlight the academic heritage of the region, Turkey’s Council of Higher Education (YOK) has come up with a project that aims to record, preserve and promote the riches of the Middle East.

The Preservation of the Academic Heritage in the Middle East project is being led by YOK Executive Board Member Zeliha Kocak Tufan.
The Preservation of the Academic Heritage in the Middle East project is being led by YOK Executive Board Member Zeliha Kocak Tufan. (Courtesy of YOK / TRTWorld)

Turkey’s Council of Higher Education (YOK) has started a project, with the full support of the Turkish Presidency, called the Preservation of the Academic Heritage in the Middle East. Sponsors include Turkish Airlines, Turkish Radio and Television (TRT), and Turkey’s first news agency Anadolu Agency (AA).

The Preservation of the Academic Heritage in the Middle East project is a threefold project: It aims to dispel the negative associations of the Middle East with war and sorrow; to highlight academics who have come to Turkey and continued their studies interrupted in their home countries; and to increase awareness of the academic prowess of the Middle East by organising panels internationally in cities such as New York, Berlin, Brussels and Moscow.

“When you mention the Middle East, what do people think of? They think only of war. They think of death. Nobody thinks of a library, or an antique handmade book,” says Kagan Ozdemir, head of the International Affairs Department at YOK.

The primary aim of the Academic Heritage project is to overcome such prejudices by changing preconceived ideas about the Middle East. “[We would like to point out] that this geography is the cradle of civilisation, to create awareness,” Ozdemir adds.

Vice President of Turkey Fuat Oktay inspects infographics prepared by YOK for the Preservation of the Academic Heritage in the Middle East project on October 25, 2018.
Vice President of Turkey Fuat Oktay inspects infographics prepared by YOK for the Preservation of the Academic Heritage in the Middle East project on October 25, 2018. (Courtesy of YOK / TRTWorld)

To this end project coordinator Zeliha Kocak Tufan, member of YOK’s executive board, and her team have been working for over two years documenting academic buildings and works that have been damaged or destroyed as a result of conflicts in the Middle East, as well as what still remains.

Turkey is host to the largest community of Syrian refugees in the world, with three and a half million calling the country their new home. The second aspect of the Academic Heritage project focuses on academic refugees, be they instructors or students.

Project Coordinator Zeliha Kocak Tufan has said that by “academic heritage” Turkey refers to the literature, libraries, madrassas and ancient works the Middle East’s thousands of years  of history has provided us, as well as academics, scientists, researchers and students who would carry this past knowledge into the future via universities and study centers.
Project Coordinator Zeliha Kocak Tufan has said that by “academic heritage” Turkey refers to the literature, libraries, madrassas and ancient works the Middle East’s thousands of years of history has provided us, as well as academics, scientists, researchers and students who would carry this past knowledge into the future via universities and study centers. (Courtesy of YOK / TRTWorld)

An arrangement with Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) allows the Academic Heritage project to document the plight of academics whose studies were cut short in their own country and who were given the chance to continue their research and development in Turkey. These refugees have nothing but praise for Turkey. Turkey, for these refugees, represents a new beginning and represents hope.

As for the panels, they will focus on the role Turkey plays for academics in the Middle East, including the academic life of refugees in Turkey, what Turkey is doing to integrate them into the higher education system and how their contribution to higher education can best be utilised. The Academic Heritage project would also like to help develop new policies in shaping the legacy of education in the Middle East.

Source: TRT World
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