Noontime Scholars Lecture: Karol Kujawa, “Migration Crisis: Implications for Turkish-EU Relations”

On February 14th, REEEC Visiting Scholar Karol Kujawa gave a Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled “Migration Crisis: Implications for Turkish-EU Relations.”  Kujawa is a Kosciuszko Foundation Fellow and Assistant Professor at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University. His lecture was co-sponsored by the European Union Center.


Karol Kujawa

For the past several years, the EU has been facing a refugee crisis. Turkey, traditionally a “gateway to Europe,” plays a key role in this migration process.  As a result of the Syrian Civil War, Turkey has become the site of political asylum for over 2.8 million Syrians.  Turkey currently hosts more refugees than any other country on Earth.

According to Kujawa, Turkey decided to host these refugees for several reasons.  First, Turkish authorities initially believed that Bashar al-Assad’s regime would fall—and their “guests” (as the Turkish prime minister called Syrian refugees) would return home—within a year.  Second, the Turkish people were in favor of helping refugees, due to a cultural tradition of “welcoming people from the Ottoman Empire, the Caucasus, Crimea… all of them are refugees, and the society is very cosmopolitan.”  Additionally, “Turkish people really love children,” and over 50% of Syrian refugees in Turkey are minors.

Since the migration crisis began, however, the number of terrorist attacks within Turkey has risen dramatically.  The crisis has led to an increase in “anti-European feelings” among the Turkish people, which is “one of the main purposes of this terrorism” (most of which is perpetrated by ISIS).  Since 2015-2016, popular support for Turkey’s potential accession to the EU has waned, and nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise within the country: “even the seculars are nationalists… there is currently no moderate movement in Turkey.”  On the European side, “we have seen almost the same process”—after an earlier more welcoming attitude toward migrants, “Europeans gradually started changing their minds about the refugees.” This has also coincided with a rise in nationalism throughout Europe.

An “EU-Turkey Statement” was released on March 18, 2016, outlining a new agreement between Turkey and the EU with regard to the migration crisis.  According to this statement, “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands… will be returned to Turkey,” but “For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU.” The EU also agreed to accept more refugees, liberalize the visa process, help improve conditions for refugees on Turkish soil, and to speed up the disbursement of 3 billion euros allocated under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey.  As a result of this agreement, the number of refugees coming to Greece decreased, although according to Kujawa, “that was mainly the result of stopping [migrant] smugglers on Turkish soil.”  Stronger borders have also been established in the Balkans.  However, Kujawa stressed that this is just a temporary solution: Syrian refugees will continue to migrate to Europe, and “there are still too many refugees in Syria, and too many coming to Turkey. To be honest, the only way to stop this problem is to stop the war in Syria.”

Kujawa noted that the EU and Turkey need each other, so they must try to cooperate. The EU needs Turkey’s help to stop the flow of refugees into Europe, and the Turkish economy relies on trade with the EU: over 50% of Turkish exports go to Europe.  However, many member states would oppose Turkey’s accession to the EU, due to human rights issues (“states like Austria and Luxembourg are very sensitive about the question of freedom and human rights, and will oppose integration with Turkey”), increasing levels of xenophobia (“anti-Islamic demonstrations… in Hungary especially”), and the rise of nationalist movements that threaten the integrity of the EU itself (“we don’t even know if the European Union will survive”).

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year for the study of Russian. 

After Gezi Park Protests: Rethinking Turkish Politics and Political Culture – 8th Annual Turkish Studies Symposium

Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, Turkey in summer 2013

Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, Turkey, during summer 2013 (Image source:

This year’s Turkish Studies Symposium, organized by the European Union Center, focused on reevaluating politics and society in Turkey after an event that shook Turkey and the rest of the world, and called for a change in the perceptions of this key U.S. ally. After Gezi, the paradigm of Turkey as a model Muslim democracy for the Middle Eastern region could not be used in the same manner anymore.

Professor Fatma Müge Göçek from the University of Michigan discussed the increased role of market forces and consumerism in contemporary Turkey, especially visible during the almost twelve-year rule  of the AKP. Dr. Göçek emphasized that the prioritization of business affected various areas of life, including human rights and democracy, and, in particular, groups that do not have as many stakes in business and consumerism, such as the youth and women. These two groups were quite active in the protests in Istanbul; the government called them “çapulcu,” meaning “plunderers” in Turkish, a label young people accepted and wore with pride ever since, in a sense changing the very meaning of the word. The speaker also stressed the importance of the spaces where the protests took place and where they found support: the cities and the Turkish diaspora, which generally strongly supported the protest movement. On the other hand, she argued that the two most important spaces for the AKP government have been mosques, the places of worship, and shopping malls. The name of the party translates to Justice and Development Party, where justice is not the justice that relates directly to human rights or an independent judicial system, but justice as seen through a religious lens. At the same time, according to the AKP, increased consumption signals that society as a whole has developed. Dr. Göçek pointed out that the shopping malls have remained sanitized and secured spaces, largely unaffected by the mass protests. She concluded that life has become increasingly hard for anyone who is not a consumer or a believer, but she hopes that it is precisely in the two spaces mentioned earlier, cities and the diaspora, that we will see the “seeds of change” for Turkey.

Ph.D. Candidate Avital Livny from Stanford University gave an extremely interesting  presentation on a number of surveys done with the participants in the Gezi protests, which focused on determining what is the state of political participation in Turkey and where the protests fall in terms of this important question. In general, prior to the Gezi events, Turkish citizens have not been particularly active in the country’s political life. Turkey was the country with the 23rd least active public in terms of politics, much less active, especially considering that other countries with similar results in the larger Middle Eastern region are much less democratic. About 48% of the participants in the Gezi protests have not participated in a similar protest. Out of these newly politically active people, a large portion are women, along with religious people with traditionalist views. It is also interesting to look at people’s motivations for taking part in the protests: 50% of the people came to protest because they were aggravated by the disproportional violence used against the initial, green protest; 19% said they were protesting because of the destruction of trees and nature, while 14% had been motivated by Prime Minister Erdoğan’s divisive rhetoric and speeches. While the very active participation of young and educated people can be seen as a continuation of an existing trend, the exceptionally high participation rate of women and the more active participation of religious people can be seen as a new trend directly tied to Gezi.

Dr. Sinan Ciddi’s presentation focused on an overview of Turkish political life, in particular with regard to the recent local elections and the upcoming presidential elections. The speaker underlined the fact that religion has also played a central role in formulating AKP policies, noting the fact that the party has only recently been one vote away from being banned as a political movement because of its religiously oriented agenda. Mr. Ciddi also touched upon the theme of increased consumption and a growing number of shopping centers being seen as proof of intense development. He stressed that perhaps the main reason for the consistent support for the current government is the perception that it has largely performed rather well in terms of: a significant growth of the economy; the large and well maintained highways; and large construction projects, including the project for a third bridge across the Bosphorus, something that, as the speaker in jest noted, would hardly be noticed in a country like the U.S.  Additionally, Dr. Ciddi observed that one major reason for the limited costs for the government and the relatively low decrease in support is the fact that Turkey is a country where it is extremely difficult to establish a new, grass-roots political movement. Even if the registration and monetary problems are overcome, it would be a formidable challenge to rise up against an established political force like the AKP, which is currently in power.

Turkish Studies Symposium

Dr. Bill Park discussing Turkey and its Kurdish population

Dr. Bill Park from Kings College London closed the symposium with some aspects of Turkey’s engagement in the Middle East and the Kurdish issue, expressing his concerns that the recent opening towards Turkey’s Kurds may not end in bringing the desired peace, but rather further complications in the issue. While Dr. Park expressed a general pessimism with regard to the future and possible results of the domestic opening towards the Kurds, he also stressed that Turkey and the surrounding region are really in the midst of a period of very potent developments, and there is no way to tell for sure what the near future holds. His feeling is that dramatic changes may be in store.

Overall, this was a wonderful symposium dealing with current events in Turkey and offering different points of view on the significant changes that have happened over the course of recent years. The Gezi Park protests that took over the entire country last June apparently signal many upcoming changes not only in Turkish politics but, quite likely, Turkish society as a whole. They definitely call for a reevaluation of the dynamic developments that we have seen with modern Turkey during the almost twelve year- long AKP rule.

Hristo Alexiev is an M.A. student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. A native of Sofia, Bulgaria, he has pursued Balkan Studies and East European and Eurasian Studies at the Sofia University, North Harris College, University of Houston and the University of Texas at Austin. He is also a graduate of the Music Department of Sofia University. Before being accepted into the MA program at REEEC on a FLAS fellowship in 2012, Hristo worked in Kosovo for five months in 2011, providing linguistic support to the US troops in KFOR. A recipient of the FLAS 2012 Summer Fellowship and the Boren Fellowship, Hristo studied in Turkey at Boğaziçi University during the 2012-2013 academic year. His acceptance of the Boren Fellowship includes an obligation to work for one year for the federal government. He hopes to pursue a career in the foreign service.

Modern Greek Studies to screen “Twice a Stranger” documentary

This is a re-posting of an article from the May 7, 2014, issue of The Daily Illini. To view the original article, please see Featured in the article is Dr. Sebnem Ozkan, Outreach Coordinator  at the European Union Center, who is a colleague of REEEC.


Her name was Eleni, and she was just a toddler when she and her siblings fled Turkey barefoot with everything they could carry during the forced migration of the early 1920s.

With her brother at her side, disguised as a girl so the Turks wouldn’t take him, they set off toward boats that were sent to help evacuate her coastline town, Smyrna, and headed to their new life in Greece.

“My grandfather — her husband — was also from there, and he was about 11 when this was happening,” said Hellen McDonald, clinical assistant professor in Social Work. “Her mother dressed him up as a monk so the Turks would not keep him.”

They arrived at Pirea, the main port of Greece and began their new life in a country that saw them as dirty and not Greek. Returning home, where they were also viewed as outsiders, wasn’t an option.

She married at 16 and moved to a makeshift home that the community built for all of the migrants.

“The community built these huge apartment complexes for them and that’s where a lot of the refugees — they don’t like to be called refugees — a lot of the individuals that came from Smyrna settled in,” McDonald said.

She lived in a town called Peristeri until her death in 1999. In English, Peristeri means dove, the symbol for peace.

The Greek-Turkish exchange, German-Polish exchange, Partition of India and Cyprus Crisis are all events of forced migration in the 20th century, when millions of people were forced to leave their homelands, largely never returning.

The documentary “Twice a Stranger” combines video testimonies, rare film archives and photos from survivors to bring their stories to light. The film will be shown by Modern Greek Studies at 6 p.m. on May 8 in the Lucy Ellis Lounge of the Foreign Languages Building.

Dr. Stefanos Katsikas, director of Modern Greek Studies, will begin the screening with a short introduction to provide background on the historical events being highlighted.

“Twice a Stranger” premiered at an exhibition in the Benaki Museum in Athens and was highly successful, Katsikas said. He had to receive permission from the museum to show the documentary, making this the first time it will be screened in the Midwest.

A conflict between Greece and the Ottoman Empire in 1919 led to a war over control of the region around Smyrna. The Greek army was granted a mandate after World War I to exercise control of the region for five years followed by a referendum which would determine the future status of the area, Katsikas said.

Greek authorities took advantage of a strong presence of ethnic Greeks in the area. The outcome of the referendum would be in Greece’s favor and the region would become Greek territory. This was not seen favorably by Turks who wanted this region to be part of the Ottoman Empire or any succeeding Turkish nation state.

Greece lost the war, and its troops withdrew, which sparked a negotiation between the two sides over the territorial status of Greece and Turkey, ending the signing of the Lausanne Peace Treaty. Part of this treaty was a protocol which provided for the compulsory exchange of populations so that all Muslims living in Greece moved to Turkey and all Greek-Orthodox people in Turkey would head to Greece. It was believed that a population exchange would guarantee peace and security between the two states.

A conflict between Greece and the Ottoman Empire in 1919 led to a war over occupying territory in Turkey. While Greece was granted a mandate after World War I to occupy the region, Greek authorities in Smyrna were working on a five-year referendum that would determine the fate of the same area.

Greece lost the war and its troops were forced to leave, which sparked a negotiation: the two states would exchange populations so that all Muslims living in Greece moved to Turkey and all Greek-Orthodox people in Turkey would head to Greece.

“In order to be a Greek, you need to speak a Greek language and be Greek-Orthodox. In Turkey, the established view was to be a Turk, you had to speak Turkish but also be a Muslim,” Katsikas said. “This resulted in one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the beginning of the 20th century – 1.5 million Greek-Orthodox and half a million Muslims leaving their homelands.”

Katsikas said one of the problems with this was many Muslims couldn’t speak Turkish and many of the Greek-Orthodox couldn’t speak Greek, causing them to be viewed as outcasts.

Today, McDonald’s extended family still lives in the suburbs of Athens. Eleni and her husband were able to move out after buying land and building a new home.

“My grandfather was able to put aside money – he did all sorts of jobs that weren’t originally accepted. They were considered dirty and like not real Greeks,” McDonald said. “They really struggled with assimilating, but through the years, I think they proved them wrong.”

McDonald remembers her grandmother as quiet and not very talkative, but she was strong in her values.

“Now that I’m in social work, I have a better understanding of why,” she said. “It might have been too traumatic to talk about it.”

On the other side of the conflict stood Esma, a Turkish woman who was forced to flee Greece with her five children. The hardships they encountered took the life of one of her twins. Sebnem Ozkan, outreach coordinator at the European Union Center, said her great-grandmother remembered packing all of their belongings and taking the trip to Turkey.

“She always remembered Greece as a nice place,” Ozkan said. “She always talked about her neighbors there, both Turks and Greeks, and she would tell stories about how everybody got along really well, there wasn’t really tension or any fighting … it was the politics and the government who were really messing up things.”

Esma and her family migrated to Sakarya, Turkey, where they ran an olive business to support themselves. Economic hardship after migrating was common because not all belongings could be taken with them, Ozkan said.

The migration didn’t happen in a single day. Political tensions had been brewing and the people knew they would have to leave, but they kept a separate identity, Ozkan said, although that identity has been withering away with each generation.

Like Eleni, Esma and her family also had trouble assimilating and were not welcomed. Even though they spoke Turkish, a difference in customs made them look suspicious. She never returned home but also never expressed the desire to.

“She was still sharp,” Ozkan said. “If somebody told her there were people from this town in Greece from Vodena where she was from, she would insist to go and find them. She was still very committed to her birthplace and she just kept talking about it until she died.”

Esma lived to be more than 100 years old despite facing so many challenges in life, including losing her husband in the war.

“It is quite a lot to deal with, but she never complained,” Ozkan said. “She just thought, ‘This is life,’ and you do the best you can do under the circumstances and you just move forward, stay positive, and I think that was one of the reasons why she lived such a long life.”

Partition of India

As the British left India, the question of whom to transfer power to was imminent. South Asian Muslims worried that if power transferred to the Congress party, there would be a Hindu majoritarian rule, leaving Muslims no say in politics.

“Around 1946, I think the British decided enough is enough,” said Tariq Ali, assistant history professor. “They wanted to cut their losses and run, which meant they needed a quick solution.”

The quickest solution was partition: dividing the country into one Muslim state and one Hindu state.

“This was a solution that no one really liked,” Ali said. “But it’s the solution the British were willing to give.”

Ali said hardly anyone foresaw the enormous violence that would ensue after 20 million people were forced to move. An English lawyer then drew abstract lines on a map and India and Pakistan were born.      When Pakistan gained independence in 1957, the new borders had still not been announced. People celebrated without knowing what country they were in, Ali said.

“What happens is we have Hindus and Sikh militias and Muslim militias going on killing rampages against the other religion,” Ali said. “The death toll was horrific.”

A large number of people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have family across borders today and still have memories of the homes they left behind, Ali said.

Nishant Makhijani, senior in Engineering, remembers his grandparents sharing stories from when they were forced to leave Pakistan during the partition.

Once they heard the news, they packed up their belongings and precious metals, mostly gold jewelry, and left.

When they arrived in India, they stayed in refugee camps until his grandfather’s brother found a job as a police inspector in a small town five hours outside of Mumbai.

“They didn’t know that they were leaving Pakistan for good,” Makhijani said. “They didn’t know that they were never going to see their houses again.”

German-Polish migration

During World War II, Germany had the intention of wiping Poland off the map, said history professor Peter Fritzsche.

What was left of Poland was turned into a military region occupied by Germany. Germany pursued three policies: to move in German settlers, to get rid of all the Jews and to move Polish people out.

“There was an ethnic cleansing,” Fritzsche said. “There would not be any German communities left in Eastern Europe, and so whoever didn’t flee in 1945 was basically kicked out in 1945 to 1947.”

Roughly one third of Germans were on the road without a home, but resentment and bitterness remained moderate, Fritzsche said.

“People made new lives,” he said. “Most Germans realized they started World War II, and they didn’t necessarily say they deserved their fate, but they understood their fate.”

While there were some groups that wished to return home, it was not possible, and as more generations were born, that desire vanished. Today, Europe is more homogenous than it was 100 years ago, Fritzsche said.

Miranda Wickham Feels at Home in Istanbul, Turkey

For the past three months, I have been studying abroad in the beautiful city of Istanbul, Turkey.  I study at Bogazici University, which is located in a residential area of Istanbul, and overlooks the Bosphorus.  As a political science major at Bogazici, I am taking a variety of courses.  My schedule includes Introduction to European Integration, which is very interesting to learn about in Turkey, as the pending addition of Turkey to the European Union is a main theme of the class. I am also enrolled in Turkish Literature in English Translation.  In this class, we are reading everything from classical and modern Turkish poetry to The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk, and A Mind at Peace by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar.  In the course, we learn about Turkish history and also modern Turkey through literature.  Additionally, I am taking two language courses, Intermediate Turkish and Advanced German Literature.

The two main campuses are North and South Campus.  The South Campus has a beautiful view of the Bosphorus, which is called the overlook.  Turkish and international students spend many hours at the overlook, just talking or doing homework, and enjoying the Bosphorus.  Additionally, the university has its own beach campus, with a free shuttle that leaves from the main campuses.

At Bogazici, I have met students from all around the world.  I live with three Turkish girls, which has been a great way to practice my Turkish.  Through classes and different events held by the university, I have had the opportunity to get to know the Turkish students.  There are also around 500 international students studying at Bogazici.

It is especially interesting to be in Istanbul, during Turkey’s current political situation.  Experiencing what is happening in Turkey, though the eyes of university students has been very enlightening.  I have talked for hours with different Turkish friends, all of whom have different opinions about what is taking place in their country.  There are demonstrations at the University, and the main set of stairs is painted in rainbow colors as a sign of protest, because many students believe that Erdogan only sees things in black and white.

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Two very important parts of Turkish culture include Chi (tea) and Kahvalti (breakfast).  In Turkey, people drink many cups of Turkish tea a day.  There are many small café’s that just serve tea, where people spend hours, and drink cup after cup of tea.  Turkish breakfast or brunch is also a very important part of the day.  On the weekends, people will spend hours enjoying a delicious Turkish breakfast by the Bosphorus.  A Turkish breakfast usually includes olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, boiled eggs, white and yellow cheese, menemen (Turkish scrambled eggs), and different types of Turkish bread.  The cafeteria at Bogazici offers a traditional Turkish breakfast for only 75 cents.

I have also been able to travel a lot throughout Turkey.  During Bayram (a religious vacation), I traveled with a group of friends to Izmir, Ephesus, Pamukkale, and Konya.  Izmir is one of the largest cities in Turkey and is along the coast.  We spent two days in Izmir enjoying the large shopping Bazaar and castle ruins, and took a day trip to Cesme, a small seaside town.  Then we went to see Ephesus, which is the ruins of  an ancient Greek city.

Next, we traveled to Pamukkale.  Pamukkale is a national park, located just outside of a city called Denizli.  Pamukkale means,“cotton castle.” Pamukkale formed from travertine, which was deposited by water from hot springs.  The terraces of Pamukkale look like snow, but are actually hard, with many hot springs.  At the top of Pamukkale, there are ancient ruins, including an amphitheater.

After Pamukkale, we headed south to the city of Konya.  Konya is a much more traditional, conservative, and religious Turkish city.  The renowned poet and philosopher, Rumi, is buried in Konya.  Konya is also very famous for the Mevlevi Sufi order of Islam, now known as the whirling dervishes.  The whirling dervishes perform a religious ceremony, which people travel from around the world to see.

Throughout my time in Turkey, what stands out to me most is the hospitability of the Turkish people.  If you ask someone for directions and they are not sure about where something is, they immediately pull out their phones to find out or look it up on the internet.  Meeting a new friend at a café can turn into an evening at his or her house, learning about Turkish culture and drinking tea.  My efforts at speaking Turkish are always rewarded with excitement, as I try to have conversations and learn the language.  Istanbul really has welcomed me, and become my home.

Miranda Wickham is a  junior in Political Science and German at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She is very interested in the political situation within the Middle East, especially in Turkey, and also Turkey’s relationship with Germany.  

Turks increasingly divided on alcohol restrictions

This is a re-posting of an article by Medina Spiodic, an undergraduate and future REEEC student, who spent part of her summer in Istanbul working for the newspaper Today’s Zaman.  To see the original article, follow this link – Turks increasingly divided on alcohol restrictions.


Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation with a secular constitution. Critics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) say it is responsible for religiously-motivated regulations taking root in Turkey. Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol. In response to the alcohol bill, Leyla Levi, an İstanbul resident, predicts that what “lies ahead is more alienation and more polarization, not democratization. If this is an attempt to make certain groups feel silenced and robbed of their agency, my hope is that it will prove useless”.

The government response to such criticisms is that implementing restrictive alcohol policies shields the youth of Turkey from the ills and dangers of alcohol. Since the main justification of the bill is youth protection, those most affected by the law should primarily be young people. However, the reality presents a different scenario, wherein those most affected are secular groups and tourists. Mazhar Bağlı, Central Decision and Administration Board (MKYK) member of the ruling AK Party and a professor at Yıldırım Beyazıt University, stated that alcohol use is thought to be a “fundamental ritual of modernization” only in third world countries and that it is not right to evaluate drinking alcohol as a reflection of a reaction against a religious belief, referring to the fact that the debate is drifting toward a more ideological discussion. There are certain restrictions and regulations all across the world regarding the use of alcohol, Bağlı said, adding that it is becoming hard to enforce restrictions and regulations because of the ideological meaning people attach to drinking alcohol. Bağlı also stated that the “government’s alcohol law is absolutely limited to regulating the promotion and spread of alcohol. The regulation is aimed at regulating and restricting the use of alcohol, which destroys the “will of individuals,” he said.

The ruling party was targeted by critics when it came into power in 2002 for some of the reforms it proposed such as the law on adultery (which was later withdrawn). But charges against the government for promoting an Islamic agenda have ebbed in recent years as other concerns surfaced regarding government policies increasingly restricting some freedoms. Esra İpek Uçar, a columnist with the Bugün daily, argues that there is a reason why alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs are being described as “harmful habits.” “In legal and public regulations, the issue is not really about a couple cigarettes, a handful of drugs or a drink. The goal is to reduce to a minimum the physical and societal problems resulting from lengthy and excessive consumption of drugs or alcohol,” she said. Esra focuses more on the limits and boundaries of these “bad habits” which are more complicated than most think because they can lead to more serious problems.

Observers, however, believe that if the government’s purpose was to protect the youth, as they claim, then there could be many alternative solutions that don’t require the restriction of freedom. They point to regulation and stricter enforcement of a national drinking age as an effective way to ensure the safety of youth by restricting access to alcohol to an age where it can be responsibly handled. In the US, the sale and consumption of alcohol to and by minors is strictly enforced with fines among other penalties, but they educate those that have committed an alcohol-related offense. Experts believe that better education on the dangers involved with alcohol consumption would help address the issue.

Student Dispatch: Fall in Boğaziçi

Fall rainbow over the Bosphorus

After the hot summer days of the intensive language summer program, I came back to Istanbul to embark on a full academic year linguistic immersion program in Boğaziçi University on a Boren Fellowship. Apparently there are approximately 600 exchange and Erasmus students currently studying in this prestigious Turkish university with one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. As opposed to the Summer program where nearly 90% of my fellow students were from the US, in the first days of pre-registration for Fall 2012 I met new friends from France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Bosnia, Croatia, Great Britain, Spain and even Australia, China, and Japan. Student life is accordingly more intense than during the summer months with a lot of events, club activities, and social life.

Boğaziçi has a rather original registration system where all students are let to log in the system at the same time on a Monday morning which results in the fact that the interface program often blocks. It may take a considerable amount of time to be let in the system and try to grab the classes you need. However, after some valuable help from my Boğaziçi advisor, Professor Ceyda Arslan Kechriotis, as well as some diplomatic efforts on my part in order to convince a Political Science professor that Turkish Language and Literature (the department I was placed in) is not my only field of study in terms of my major in East European Studies, I was able to get in all the classes I had planned on taking. Out of five classes, four are taught in Turkish and only one in English, namely Issues in Turkish Foreign Policy, taught my Professor Gün Kut. Professor Kut is a Foreign Policy analyst and current Member of the Interim Management Board of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. The Ottoman course taught in Turkish is an introduction to one of the most important languages in terms of Balkan history, the language of the empire of Osman that ruled over the entire Peninsula for centuries and left a deep mark on the cultures, languages, and historic memories of the peoples who live in the region. Being able to read and understand Ottoman allows access to a sea of historical sources that are often only partially studied (for instance, the Ottoman archive in the Bulgarian National Library in Sofia). As language studying is on top of the priorities list in terms of my fellowship, getting into the classes I am in is more than a satisfactory result.


Nevertheless, mastering a language like Turkish remains a challenge. While its grammar may indeed seem straight forward most of the time, literary Turkish, as well as the language of the press are rather rich in thousands of terms and synonyms, a sea of words arranged in a manner which does not bear resemblance with any European language. A Turkish sentence may go on for a solid paragraph and still leave you desperately looking for its core or main thought. Nevertheless, such difficulties can be overcome with practice and exposure to the language and I am grateful for the unique opportunity of complete immersion in Turkish linguistic environment. I am happy to notice that I now understand most of the news stories I hear on Turkish TV, as well as articles on different matters in the local press.

Istanbul has a different but again charming face in this season. It is now experiencing the softest fall in a hundred year period with a lot of sunny days and temperatures in the mid and high 60s. Add the beautiful sight of the Bosphorus and one can safely say that this is arguably one of the most beautiful places to study in the world.

Taking a course on Turkish foreign politics from a senior foreign policy analyst like Professor Kut is a unique chance to get an insight into the dynamics of foreign relations of Turkey and the topic of my thesis, Turkey’s new role in Balkan politics and its historical background.

While US students may be but a small minority in the pool of exchange students, I still have a few friends from America with whom I am proud because we were able to organize a true Thanksgiving feast with roasted turkey and other wonderful traditional American food. Some of our Turkish and Greek friends experienced Thanksgiving for the first time in their lives.

Hristo Alexiev is a MA candidate at the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center at UIUC, and a FLAS recipient for the 2011-2012 Academic year and Summer 2013. His focus of studies is Balkan languages and history, with a particular emphasis on modern Turkey and the significance of the Ottoman legacy in modern day relations between the nations of the Balkans. Hristo was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. After graduating from the French Lyceum in Varna, he studied Romanian, Modern Greek, Spanish, and Turkish, in addition to a limited knowledge of Serbo-Croatian. He is currently continuing his study abroad in Istanbul under a Boren Fellowship until June 2013. After completing his studies he hopes to pursue a career in foreign relations. 

Student Dispatch: A Note from Istanbul

One of the panoramas visible from Boğaziçi University

Coming to Istanbul is always a special experience, even if it is not the first time you’ve set foot in this former capital of three empires. The city is now estimated to have a population of over 15 million people.  It has a thriving economy, as well as a vibrant cultural life with many faces, both Asian and European, each one having multiple districts hosting very different cultures and life styles: from the ultra-modern Istinye neighborhood to the traditionalistic Fatih District.

The two months of intensive language training were obviously not enough to see everything that Istanbul holds, but we did get a glimpse of what this magical city is all about. The program included four to five hours of Turkish language instruction and lab each day, with plenty of homework, as well as regular screenings of Turkish movies each Monday afternoon. There were many things that had the potential to distract students from their studies, among which, the fact that Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University has one of the most beautiful and picturesque campuses in the world, directly overseeing the Bosphorus. Perhaps the most distracting, and actually painful, thing was the extremely hot weather combined with high levels of humidity, literally making you melt while trying to reach the classroom, follow lectures, learn hundreds of new words, and do grammar exercises. The Monday Turkish film screenings were a nice break from this routine, as the hall where most movies were shown was one of the few places on campus to have a working A.C. I also thought that all the movies had been picked with a lot of taste, and showed different aspects of Turkish culture: some absolutely hilarious, others covering historical events and carrying deep spiritual messages.

In addition, the program included cultural trips to different parts of the city, like the trip to the Fatih District of Istanbul, a place where one gets the feeling that time has stopped, and that in a way, little has changed since the times of the Ottoman Empire. Alongside its numerous cultural monuments, such as old mosques, churches, and religious and secular schools that relate to the various religious and ethnic communities who lived in the Ottoman Empire, one can sense the traditionalist spirit of the people who live in this district. A significant portion of the population in the Fatih district, both men and women, dress in a fashion reminiscent of the Islamic empire that ruled most of the Mediterranean in the times of Süleyman the Magnificent.

During the first day of classes, one of our professors had remarked that it is very often the case that their assistants end up becoming our best friends. This was definitely the case with Büşra and Seda who assisted the professors

Süleyman and Hristo in a restaurant on the Galata Bridge. In the background the New Mosque (completed 1665).

for the advanced level class, as well as many of their friends and fellow assistants. It was Seda’s and Büşra’s idea to organize a trip to Eyüp outside of the official program. Eyüp is another municipality of Istanbul with a very distinct character. Ramadan, an event that changes the character of the metropolitan by bringing it closer to its cultural and religious traditions, had started a couple of weeks prior to that. Besides hosting one of Istanbul’s most remarkable monuments, the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, this area traditionally becomes particularly vibrant during the long nights of feasting after the Iftar (the breaking of fast during Ramadan). Crowds of families, friends, and company get together to drink tea, eat, and have fun after the long days of fasting in patience. Quite a few classmates and I had a marvelous time exploring this beautiful area of Istanbul during such a special time. I believe this is the first time I had the chance to understand and fully experience what stands behind the expression Ramadan’ın keyfi (‘the good times of Ramadan’).

The sea is an essential part of the city’s vibrant life. Many people commute between the Asian and European parts of Istanbul. Usually the reason for this is the more affordable housing on the Asian side. While this can be time-consuming, it is also a beautiful experience, especially in the hot summer months. There is no place as refreshing and beautiful as the Bosphorus when the rest of the city is troubled by traffic and burning heat. While traffic is actually a serious concern for the fast-growing metropolis, it is comforting that one can ride one of the “Marine buses” every day, to and from work at the price of a regular bus trip. This is also the case if one decides to embark on visiting one of the Prince’s Islands.

The Eyüp Sultan Mosque on a Ramadan night

The intensive summer course on a FLAS fellowship was a wonderful experience that helped me strengthen and further develop not only my prior knowledge of the language, but also better understand the culture from which this language springs. Two months are not enough to explore fully such a city as Istanbul, but I am certainly looking forward to seeing more of its many faces and understanding it better as I embark on a full year of academic study on a Boren Fellowship.

Hristo Alexiev is a MA candidate at the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center at UIUC, and a FLAS recipient for the 2011-2012 Academic year and Summer 2013. His focus of studies is Balkan languages and history, with a particular emphasis on modern Turkey and the significance of the Ottoman legacy in modern day relations between the nations of the Balkans. Hristo was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. After graduating from the French Lyceum in Varna, he studied Romanian, Modern Greek, Spanish, and Turkish, in addition to a limited knowledge of Serbo-Croatian. He is currently continuing his study abroad in Istanbul under a Boren Fellowship until June 2013. After completing his studies he hopes to pursue a career in foreign relations.