Turkish language department at Salahaddin University in Arbil, which was established by the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq in an apparent goodwill gesture toward Turkey, has recently launched its courses.
Currently 62 students from various ethnic backgrounds -- Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen -- are attending courses at the Turkish language department, which is headed by Assistant Professor Ramazan Çakır of Turkey. Four out of a total staff of six are Turks, with two non-Turkish academics currently being trained in Turkey.
Academics at the department, which is expected to become a bridge of dialogue between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey, had actually planned to teach 25 students during the 2008-2009 school year. However, this quota was first increased to 35 and then to 62 due to heightened interest in the courses.
Also due to this high interest, the requirements for acceptance into the department have been raised for the next school year and construction of a new building for the department has been launched.
Bilateral relations between Iraq and Turkey took a landmark turn in July with an official visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Baghdad, making Erdoğan the first senior Turkish leader to visit neighboring Iraq since the US-led war in 2003.
Erdoğan and his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, signed a document during their meeting committing the two countries to maintaining a high-level strategic dialogue in the areas of trade, energy and security. Accordingly, the ministers for security, energy, trade, investment and water resources will meet three times a year, and the prime ministers will meet at least once a year to review progress on issues under discussion.
Following clear statements showing Ankara's will for dialogue, the largely autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Iraq took a step to improve relations with Turkey and ordered its Ministry for Higher Education to open a Turkish language department. The ministry had discussions with Salahaddin University, and eventually the Turkish language department was opened in early autumn as part of the university's school of foreign languages.
Nevzat Hoşnav, dean of the foreign languages faculty at the Salahaddin University, told the Cihan news agency that the department would serve as an occasion for strengthening friendly relations between the regional Kurdish administration and Turkey, while also making a contribution to relations in the fields of economy and education.
"Turkey is our neighbor and friend. We believe that this department will unite everyone. We want more and more dialogue," Hoşnav said. "We have contacts with many universities abroad. We also want to have contacts with universities in Turkey," he added, calling for coordination of exchange programs with Turkish universities.
Salahaddin University cooperates with 70 universities in a number of countries; however, it has no partnership with any university in Turkey, Mohammad Sadik, the president of Salahaddin University, told Cihan.
26 December 2008, Friday - Today's Zaman
M. ALİHAN HASANOĞLU ARBIL