The Kurdish administration in northern Iraq has initiated the establishment of a Turkish language department at Salahaddin University in Arbil, in an apparent gesture to Turkey.
The Turkish language department is being headed by Assistant Professor Ramazan Çakır of Turkey, and three of the total staff of six are Turks. The department, which is expected to become a bridge of dialogue between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey, will begin offering courses in the 2008-2009 school year.
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. The document did not mention the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) based in Iraqi territory but called for stronger cooperation on border security.
Following clear statements showing Ankara's will for dialogue, the largely autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Iraq took a step for improving relations with Turkey and ordered its Ministry for Higher Education to open a department of Turkish language. The ministry had discussions with Salahaddin University, and eventually the department of Turkish language was opened as part of the university's school of foreign languages.
Mohammad Sadik, president of Salahaddin University, told the Cihan news agency that he believes the new department will serve as a bridge between the region and Turkey as well as Turkish universities. Salahaddin University cooperates with 70 universities in a number of countries; however, it has no partnership with any university in Turkey, Sadik said.
"Our sole contact with Turkey at the moment is the Turkish schools here. Our children are learning Turkish although education is in English at these schools. This connects us to Turkey. We hope these kinds of contacts improve with the new Turkish language department," Sadik said. He also explained that 35 students will be able to attend Turkish courses at the university in the 2008-2009 school year; however, he said this number is to increase during the next school term.
TODAY'S ZAMAN, 23 September 2008, Tuesday
ALİHAN HASANOĞLU ARBIL