There is the Cervantes Institute for Spanish, the Goethe-Institute for German, the Institut Francais for French, and now the Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Center in Beirut.
According to center’s director, Faruk Ozturk, over 100 Lebanese and foreign students have already signed up for Turkish language courses at the center, which opened its door last month.
In addition to language courses, the two-story center in Downtown Beirut, which was established by the Turkish Embassy in Lebanon and the Turkish Education Ministry, plans to hold seminars and Turkish food festivals.
“We have a lot in common, both in terms of food and language. Students attending the classes will have a chance to participate in such activities,” said Ozturk.
The center, located in the Lazarieh Building, is named after a medieval poet who is considered among the first to write in the Turkish language. Turkey’s ambassador, Inan Ozyildiz, called the center’s establishment a firm step toward strengthening bilateral cultural cooperation.
“Our countries have lacked cultural cooperation in the past, but today the presence of the center will serve as a move toward strengthening this cooperation,” said Ozyildiz.
According to Ozturk, there are currently almost 20 Yunus Emre Cultural Centers in 16 countries worldwide. “Our cultural centers are active from London to Cairo and from Japan to Beirut,” said Ozturk, adding that efforts are under way to establish centers in Tripoli and Sidon as well.
The Beirut center is open to visitors throughout the week and is equipped with a reading lounge and a library of 4,000 Turkish-language books. There is also audiovisual material for students to become more familiar with Turkish culture and language.
“It is very interesting and surprising how a great number of Lebanese love watching Turkish shows on Turkish channels and their Arabic-dubbed versions,” said Ozturk.
Echoing Lebanon’s Education Minister Hasan Diab’s recent call for adding an optional Turkish language courses in schools, Ozturk said Turkish should be among the foreign languages offered at schools and universities in the country.
“Why not teach the Turkish language in universities?” asked Ozturk.
Some politicians have criticized the proposal, saying that adding the Turkish language in schools would only serve to further Ankara’s foreign policy goals in the region, at a time in which Istanbul’s stance against the Syrian regime has receivedvocal criticism.
Asked whether the proposal serves Turkish regional influence, Ozturk said a decision to add language classes in schools and universities would only be made through a formal agreement between Ankara and Beirut.
“Any decision to start Turkish classes in schools would only happen through a protocol signed between the Lebanese and Turkish governments.”