A number of friends of the Dialogue Society were given opportunity to visit Turkey between 28 April and 2 May 2010. The trip took place during a critical juncture as important constitutional reforms are in the process of being introduced. It also coincided with the first Labour Day celebrations being allowed to take place on Istanbul’s Taksim Square in 33 years. These developments are indicative of the sea change that is currently taking place in Turkish society and which the participants were now in a position to experience firsthand.
The group of four educationists, scholar-activists and academics was composed of: Dr Jill Adam, an experienced university administrator and educational entrepreneur directing the Level Partnerships initiative, Shenaz Bunglawala, a PhD candidate at LSE specialising in Turkish affairs and actively involved in national and international Muslim politics, Frances Sleap, an aspiring teacher currently working as an intern with the Dialogue Society, and Dr Carool Kersten, lecturer in Islamic Studies at King’s College London. They were accompanied and looked after by Hakan Aydin, a volunteer active in Hull, Leeds and Manchester, and Taptuk Emre Erkoc, a PhD student at Keele University.
Three busy days in Istanbul were spent meeting with representatives of the media, interfaith and intercultural dialogue platforms and forums, school administrators, academics, political commentators and relief workers, as well as leading figures in the Istanbul metropolitan government and the ruling AK Party. Visits were made to the studios of Samanyolu TV, the editorial offices of leading English-language daily Today’s Zaman, the Journalists and Writers Foundation, Charity Organisation Kimse Yok Mu, and a number of schools, colleges and universities, including Fatih University – an ambitious higher education institution offering quality English-language programmes in law, medicine, natural and social sciences, and the humanities to both domestic and international students. There was also room for more personal encounters, as the group enjoyed the hospitality of the family of Mr. Mustafa Eyüboğlu, who graciously opened their home and hearts to the visitors from Britain.
Witnessing a wide variety of initiatives deployed by citizens using their entrepreneurial skills, intellectual prowess, and personal commitment to contribute to developing community cohesion and a better and more caring society, these intense encounters and exchanges in a spirit of openness and friendship have left the impression that Turkish civil society is vibrant.