Studying in Turkey (2/2)

Jean-Baptiste Roncari, Translated by Ben Littledyke
3 Mars 2016

After a fanatic of Daech launched an attack in Istanbul on January 12th 2016, Le Journal International decided to learn more about Turkey, and particularly about its education system. To do so, we interviewed Çağrı Bozkurt, who is Turkish and studies International Relations. He spent his previous year in the Czech Republic on Erasmus. This is the transcript of our meeting.

Credit Karadeniz Teknik Üniversitesi
Credit Karadeniz Teknik Üniversitesi
Le Journal International (JI): Since 2012, Erdoğan’s government has been criticised by a large fringe group of students and professors, who consider these education reforms to be an attack on secularism. What is your opinion of these reforms?

Çağrı Bozkurt (ÇB): In reality, this has nothing to do with a large number of these students. In general, they are simply professors and students who always oppose the reforms of the Justice and Development Party (AK). I have a hard time understanding this kind of people. In fact, when I read anything or do any research about them, I get the impression that they only carry out protests so they can be anti-government. I’m not saying that they’re totally wrong; I sometimes agree with their thoughts, and their opposition to some of the choices the government makes. 

The reforms initiated by Erdoğan’s government include, among other things; the reorganisation of schools with 12 compulsory years of education (4 years in the first cycle, 4 in the second cycle, and 4 in the third), the reopening of the Imam-Hatip schools, compulsory education at 66 months (5 and a half years old), and the inclusion of new, free choice options, such as “The Life of The Prophet Muhammad”, “Koran Studies”, “Modern Languages” and “Dialects”. The fact that there are choices like this available fits in with democratic education. For me, the reopening of the Imam-Hatip schools is a good thing. These schools are not compulsory; no-one can be forced to go there, but the young people who choose to go to these schools general define themselves as conservatives. It’s their most important right in my opinion; people are free to go there or not. No-one is restricting this right: “the right to self-expression, the right to live freely for oneself.”

These colleges are controlled by the State, in order to reduce the risks of radicalisation.

JI: Let’s talk now about the recent terrorist attack on one of Istanbul’s tourist areas, not far from the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii). Is the threat of terrorism a real subconscious fear in people’s minds?

ÇB: Before the attack, the police and security services made some announcements on their websites, recommending people to be more careful in busy places, and not to travel if not necessary. After the attack, the media and politicians have talked about it a lot, especially about the fact that tourists were affected. Germany has been cooperating with Turkey to investigate the attack, and some officials have come. This shows the world that we need to work together to destroy the terrorist threat.

It’s possible that the trouble will start again, which is discouraging people from travelling to particularly high-risk areas. I’m in Ankara at the moment, in the capital, and I’m a little scared to go to busy places. We are aware of the situation, but we carry on with our lives, hoping that all this will never come back.

Caricature by Ala El-Lakata, Palestinian artist, in reaction to Istanbul bomb attack
Caricature by Ala El-Lakata, Palestinian artist, in reaction to Istanbul bomb attack
JI: Going back to your life as a student in Turkey; you’re at an international school which welcomes many foreign students. Do you talk about the terrorist threat in class, or with the other students?

ÇB: Yes, we talk about the terrorist threat in class, with the teachers and students. The schools are on holiday at the moment, so we haven’t had the chance to talk about the attack in Istanbul, but we talked about the attack on Paris when that happened. We were discussing which terrorist organisation could do that, what was their goal, what the consequences of the attack could be, how France and French people had been affected, and of course how we could put an end to such things; for example, by working together against terrorism.

JI: On this subject, since the Islamic State’s attack on France, a new word has entered the debate in the French political media; “radicalisation”. Were you already aware of the dangers of radicalisation? Is the word “radicalisation” also a feature of the political debate in the Turkish media?

ÇB: This word is a part of the political debate in the media, especially after terrorist attacks such as in Istanbul and Paris... We are made aware of the dangers of radicalisation by the media, and especially on the internet. For example, they run stories about people who joined Islamic State for Jihad, while emphasising what happened to them – bad things, as you would imagine – over their regrets.

JI: Do you debate the idea of secularism in class? 

ÇB: We talk about the definition of secularism in college, but we don’t speak about it as much as other things. It’s more of a widespread debate on the internet, in the media, on the television by politicians, professors, journalists...

JI: You have made plans to go to Istanbul during the next holidays, for about two weeks. What is your state of mind after the terrorist attack on the city on the 12th January?

ÇB: I’m not scared of going there. I go there a lot, and it will always be like that. Terrorism feeds on people’s fear. I won’t give them that chance. But at the same time, I will be more careful. If I want to go to any particular places, I won’t go during peak times, and I will keep an ear out for any police announcements on the situation.

JI: Thank you, Çağrı Bozkurt, we wish you all the best for the future!