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A Welcome Message from the Executive Director

April 16, 2014

Greetings enthusiasts of Turkey!

Sinan CiddiThe 2013-14 academic year has been a busy year for ITS in particular and Turkish Studies in general. Over the course of the year, our organization has continued to grow in the number of activities it has partaken in. Among its many program activities, ITS' grants program has continued to provide funding for US-based students, scholars and universities with the aim of developing greater interest in Turkish Studies.

In particular, I would like to draw your attention to what we consider to be one of our signature achievements: As close observers of our activities know, one of our core aims is to support the development of new faculty positions in US universities, which focus on developing Turkish Studies programs. This is mainly achieved by awarding seed fund grants for the creation of new university positions. During the 2013-14 academic year, ITS was proud to extend a three year "Seed Fund Grant for New University Positions in Turkish Studies" to San Francisco State University (SF State).

Following ITS's award, SF State conducted an international search for the new faculty line, resulting in the hire of Dr. David Selim Sayers. Since his appointment, Dr. Sayers has enthusiastically taken on the role of building the Turkish Studies program within the university's Middle East and Islamic Studies Program. Below is a short interview recently conducted with Dr. Sayers, outlining his hopes for the new program, and the challenges he intends to overcome.

Please join me in wishing SF State and Dr. Sayers the very best!

Sinan Ciddi
Executive Director

Turkish Studies at San Francisco State University!

Sinan Ciddi (SC) interviews David Selim Sayers (DSS).


When (and how) was the Turkish Studies program established at SFSU?


The Turkish Studies Program (TURK) at San Francisco State University was established in Fall 2013, with the generous help of an ITS Seed Fund Grant for New University Positions in Turkish Studies. At that point, the university was already home to a Middle East and Islamic Studies Minor, a Department of Jewish Studies, a Persian Studies Minor, and extensive offerings in Arabic. Turkish Studies enhanced and strengthened SF State in the field of Middle East and Islamic Studies, in line with the university's mandate to internationalize its curriculum.


Institutionally, which college is the Turkish Studies program housed in at SFSU and what type of relationship does it have with other programs?


The Turkish Studies Program is housed in the College of Liberal and Creative Arts. It is conceived as part of the broader Middle East and Islamic Studies Minor at SF State. MEIS is an interdisciplinary minor bringing together faculty and students from departments as diverse as Foreign Languages and Literatures, International Relations, Political Science, History, Philosophy, Women and Gender Studies, Comparative and World Literature, Cinema, and Music. The minor aims to convey the diversity as well as the connections throughout the Islamicate world from the seventh century to the present.


What is your role and position within the Turkish program?


I am the Founding Director of the Turkish Studies Program, and currently serve as a Lecturer in the College of Liberal and Creative Arts. I am responsible for designing and teaching Turkish Studies courses, raising awareness of Turkish Studies throughout the university and Bay Area communities, and expanding both Turkish and Middle East and Islamic Studies at SF State.

So far, I have offered, through the Turkish Studies Program, courses on the Turkish language, late Ottoman and modern Turkish political history, twentieth-century Turkish literature, and the history of the city of Istanbul. A new course on Turkish cinema has been approved for Fall 2014.

In addition, I have given a public lecture at SF State and participated in two panels, organized by the Turkish American Gezi Platform and UC Davis, alongside noted scholars such as Ayça Alemdaroğlu (Stanford University), Ersin Kalaycıoğlu (Sabancı University), Cihan Tugal (UC Berkeley), and Heghnar Watenpaugh (UC Davis).


What are some of your immediate goals?


Our most immediate goal is to develop Turkish Studies into a minor at SF State, a goal we hope to accomplish in the coming academic year. At that point, we hope that students will be able to draw on TURK courses and related courses offered by other programs and departments in order to graduate from SF State with a minor in Turkish Studies, having acquired an in-depth knowledge of the Turkish language, Turkish and Ottoman history, and contemporary Turkish culture.

Another goal is to develop ties between Turkish Studies at SF State and institutions in Turkey. SF State already has a thriving year-long student exchange program with Koç University in Istanbul. Further, a member of our first cohort of Turkish language students, Manizha Nazari, has just won a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS), sponsored by the US Department of State, to attend a fully-funded summer language institute in Turkey from June to August 2014.

Finally, we aim to establish Turkish Studies at SF State as a hub for communities and academic activities connected to Turkey throughout the Bay Area. To this end, we are working on establishing a network of Turkish Studies-related scholars from universities such as UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and Stanford; and establishing Turkish Studies at SF State as a presence among Turkish-speaking communities in the Bay Area through cooperation with community-based organizations such as the Turkish American Gezi Platform.


Finally, what are the challenges of building a new program and how do you envisage overcoming them?


Building a new program is an extraordinarily rewarding experience. Designing individual courses, developing a minor program, and fostering an intellectual milieu within which students of Turkish Studies will thrive are all unique experiences which I cherish highly.

The novelty and institutional independence of the Turkish Studies Program brings certain challenges with it. Since Turkish Studies cannot draw on the student pool of an already-established department, a special effort is required to reach out to the student body. We have been conducting this outreach mainly through guest lectures and cross-listed courses that introduce the program to students from other departments. So far, I have given guest lectures in the International Relations and Political Science departments, as well as offering courses through the Humanities and Cinema departments.

Nonetheless, the general issue remains that Turkish language courses, like courses in other less commonly taught languages, often fail to satisfy university-wide enrollment quotas. Therefore, unless universities shift away from counting courses only by the number of students enrolled, programs like ours will continue to depend on outside funding for their sustainability. As a result, we are very interested in securing additional external grants in order to support the program in the long run.

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