Saturday, May 2, 2009

My Journey to Turkey Pt. IV

Saturday August 2, 2008

We began the day with a meeting with Dr. Ahmet Arabaci, Assistant Professor in the Department of International Relations at Fatih University. The university is a private institution founded in 1996. It is made up of 4 campuses, 7,300 students (427 foreign, 762 on scholarship), and 630 staff members.
Fatih University confers degrees in engineering, economics, business management, public policy, public administration, art and science, and language as well as 2 year vocational degrees in computers, tourism, child development, foreign trade and nursing. They have exchange programs with 53 universities in the European Union; also China, Russia and the United States. The university offers a 4 week summer course in Turkish language and culture for $1,500. Engineering is offered in Turkish and English, while International Relations is in English only. The cost per year per student is approximately 15,000 Turkish Lira.
Fatih University was founded in 1996. The school is governed by a private foundation’s board of trustees. The funding mix is 40% student fees and 60% foundation resources provided by movement’s health care, media, and shipping company interests.
One of the difficult challenges in its formation was passing the scrutiny of the government because the school was founded by their religious movement. Another challenge was matching the salaries of professors at the state universities in order to build a qualified faculty.
Questions to be satisfied before the college was approved for operation were: Is the education secular? Is there any foreign influence? Is the school a threat to the state?
What is the underlying ideology of the school? In fact, at one point, the government withheld funding and the university was forced to file a lawsuit in 2001 to win the state portion of their funding. The school is competing and recruiting the top Turkish high school graduates. It offers scholarships to foreign and domestic students in the areas of theatre, sports, and science. The university has a beautiful campus. We witnessed its expansion and new construction while we were on site. The delegation came away with the impression that the university presents a strategic opportunity for the exchange and training of our students in America. []
The delegation’s next stop was the Sema Hospital built by the Gulen movement. The three year old private hospital is a former hotel that was renovated and expanded. It is a five story, 22,000 square meters, 217 bed facility that employs 600 personnel. The first two floors consist of clinics and management offices. Floors three thru five are patient rooms, with the exception of the third floor conference and prayer rooms. The site was chosen for its sea side view and excellent air quality. Sema’s Assistant Manager, Mr. Mehmet Ciranoglu, gave us a tour of the hospital. We met with General Practitioner and Professor Dr. Umit Topaloglu, Cardiologist Dr. Mehet Ates, and Medical Chief of Staff, Dr. Ilyas Akdemir. Dr. Ates had lived in Houston as an “observer” of our medical system. Our hosts stated that Sema is the largest private hospital in Turkey. It takes both domestic and international patients. Their goal is to build 8 hospitals in Turkey in cities such as Bursa and Ankara.

They said they wanted an institution that was “fair and open to everyone.” They are in the process of building new hospitals in Iraq and Kazakhstan. Their biggest challenge is finance, along with recruiting high quality doctors and teaching professors. According to Dr. Ilyas Akdemir, auto accidents are the leading cause of death. They have an emergency room but not an American style trauma center. However, their ambulances are manned by a doctor and a nurse when they are dispatched. Infectious diseases in children and heart disease (smoking related), hypertension in adults are prevalent. Cancer rates vary and HIV/AIDS rates are very low. The life expectancy in Turkey is 72 years old. It is lower than in the United States because their higher child death statistics lowers the average, according to Dr. Akdemir. Sema accepts insurances and operates within European Union medical payment standards. They discussed the difficulty of getting Turkish doctors residency in the United States. The movement is presently working on 10-15 scholarships to support their doctors while they work on passing the three exams required to be licensed in the United States. Our hosts did not know much about the Cuban medical system or its educational process to produce medical professionals. In the delegation’s opinion, if the presence of modern equipment, design of the facility, compassion and competence of medical staff, and clear strategic vision are indices of the level of care afforded the patients, then elements of Sema hospital’s operation could serve as a model for health care in Turkey and the world. []

The delegation’s next stop was a visit to Samanyolu Broadcasting Corporation. We were hosted by Content Editor, Mr. Bayram Karci. According to Mr. Karci, the television station was founded in 1993 as a family oriented network. Private stations began broadcasting in Turkey in the 1980’s with no standards. Now, there is a “self imposed” responsible broadcast policy to meet general broadcasting standards set by Turkish regulators. Samanyolu’s policy is to take sex, violence, and drugs out of broadcast content. The station’s objective is community service, not profit, according to Mr. Karci. They provide education through entertainment. Their drama-action content is geared toward promoting ethics and religious values indirectly; whereas the discussion programs and documentaries are explicit in the presentation of ethical and religious values. The broadcast network has 6 channels and airs in 114 countries. They also have 3 radio stations. According to Mr. Karci, they are one of the top 5 stations in the Nielson rating system. Samanyolu channels are thematic. EBRU, their English language station, has news, documentaries, sports, music, discussion programs, and can be accessed via the internet. The news channel was created to present “objective news,” without the secular bias shown by their private competitors. In central Asia, they run local programs along with their international content. The network airs commercials that fit their broadcast standards and they also sell their programs to other channels.
Eighty percent of their content is original; however, they do purchase movies and cartoons from Hollywood and Japan. They have 650 employees, plus staff in Germany, New Jersey, and Azerbaijan. Their future plans are to create a documentary station and to expand their network in Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia. The delegation came away believing there was an avenue to provide the network with our own family oriented news, entertainment, documentary, and discussion programming for domestic and international broadcast. []
The delegation’s last institutional visit for the day was to the movement’s Tughra Books formerly the Light Publishing Company for a meeting with author and scholar M. Enes Ergene (left) and senior editor of The Fountain Magazine, Hakan Yesilova (center). Our scheduled one hour meeting resulted in a four hour dialogue. Tughra Books is a “kitchen of publications” in 16 languages. It was described as “[Islamic] tradition witnessing the modern age” and the place where the “role of the traditional scholar and the modern intellectual” is explored. The publishing house employs 200 workers, editors, and authors. Twelve authors are working on books related to Fethullah Gulen. Mr. Ergene has written 4 books on the movement that have been translated into Russian, Arabic, and English. Their publications are contributed to by scholars from around the world. The original purpose for the site of the publishing house was to serve as an independent Islamic research center whereby Islamic experts and intellectuals along with their families could be lodged for seminars and symposiums. This location is not suitable, so they are trying to find another site to meet their objective. They have a strong relationship with scholars in the Middle East. Each visits the other twice a year.
The notes from the four hour meeting are too voluminous to detail in this report. However, our meeting can be summarized as follows: The study and critique of Islamic movements worldwide; Islamic leaders and scholars; division as the biggest problem in the Islamic world and how being Muslim (not a sect in Islam) is the “superior identity;” how bigotry, intolerance, and not being open to dialogue hurts Islam; Mr. Ergene’s personal history and relationship with Fethullah Gulen and his movement; how dialogue should be put into practice; the common thread of Islamic movements, their strengths and weaknesses; the Islamic world’s view of America and prophecy; and the Nation of Islam in the West. Mr. Ergene ended our discussion by reminding us that the devil within is greater than the devil without and the threat is greater from within our movements than from without. We [Muslims] cannot be disassembled unless we disassemble ourselves. He referenced Surah 13 verse 11 for further study. The delegation felt this was a deeply spiritual and highly enlightening stop on our tour.
Finally, Mr. Ergene’s son implored with us before we departed to bring our children next time so that he would not have to play alone. []
The day concluded with a delicious late dinner at the home of businessman, Mr. Mete Atakul.

We were joined for tea afterward by two Gulen movement supporters. The shared their opinions of the movement and experiences performing missionary work in the Sudan and Egypt.