From historical roots to contemporary collaborations, Dr. Sayan highlights the Foundation’s significant role in linking two vibrant cultures.
Bridges: This year marks the centenary of the Republic of Turkey, a significant milestone. From the perspective of the Turkish-Japanese Foundation, how do you view the evolution of cultural and academic exchanges between Turkey and Japan over the years, especially considering the Foundation’s pivotal role in nurturing these ties?
Dr. Sayan: The relationship between Türkiye and Japan is built on friendship, cooperation, and solidarity. It all began back in 1890 when the Ertuğrul Frigate accident drew the two nations closer together. And 95 years later, in 1985, Turkish Airlines played a significant role in strengthening the bond when they evacuated Japanese citizens from Tehran. These ties, initially formed during the days of the Ottoman Empire, have persevered into the Republican Era. Humanitarian collaboration, economic partnership, scientific and cultural exchange, along with the signing of the Joint Declaration for the establishment of a Strategic Partnership between Türkiye and Japan in 2013, have paved the way for extensive dialogues between the two nations in various domains. In this declaration, the significance of our Foundation in cultural exchanges was underscored, emphasizing the need for robust support. Founded in 1993, the Turkish Japanese Foundation, along with the Turkish Japanese Foundation Cultural Centre established in 1998, has played an instrumental role in this progression and has evolved into a cornerstone of cultural promotion. The inaugural events of both the “2003 Turkish Year in Japan” and the “2010 Japanese Year in Türkiye” took place in our Cultural Centre, drawing distinguished guests and the general public alike. We are immensely proud to have received the Japan Foundation award in recognition of our significant contributions to Turkish-Japanese relations. We firmly believe that this award has significantly contributed to the growth of our Foundation. Empowered and inspired by the recognition bestowed upon us by the Japan Foundation, we aspire to assertively state that we stand among the most esteemed Cultural Centers in Türkiye. Our commitment remains unwavering as we continue to dedicate our utmost efforts to fostering Turkish-Japanese relations.
Strengthening the relations established at the government level depends on bringing people and cultures closer together. As a Foundation, we shoulder this responsibility with determination. Our ongoing efforts are geared towards fostering a deeper understanding between two geographically distant nations. We aim to elucidate the shared facets of our cultures, the unique beauties they encompass, as well as the nuances of language and perspectives, all with the objective of facilitating closer ties. Our Cultural Centre hosts a variety of events, including panels, cultural days, Japanese language courses, concerts, and numerous other activities. It’s widely acknowledged that one of the most effective means of promoting mutual understanding between people from different countries is through language learning. The establishment of Japanese Language and Literature departments in prominent universities in our country has significantly increased the number of people proficient in the Japanese language. This development has not only reinforced educational ties but also holds the promise of a growing number of Turkish academicians as we look forward to the establishment of the Turkish-Japanese Science and Technology University.
Furthermore, as part of the projects conducted through the Hyogo-Türkiye Friendship Fund in collaboration with Hyogo Prefecture, we are actively working on initiatives designed to share Japan’s expertise in handling disasters, particularly earthquakes. Our primary objective is to establish a disaster-prepared society. To achieve this, we establish platforms where experts from both nations can come together and provide disaster preparedness training to our youth and educators.
I want to highlight the significance of cultural exchange in bringing people closer. Nevertheless, it’s essential to recognize that we also have much to gain and adopt from Japan, a globally advanced nation excelling in numerous domains, including science, technology, healthcare, and education. The Kyushu University J-MENA office, situated in our foundation’s premises, offers counseling services to our students who aspire to study, conduct research, or pursue postgraduate degrees in Japan. Our objective is to boost the number of individuals pursuing education in Japan.
2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Türkiye, and 2024 commemorates the 100th anniversary of Turkish-Japanese Diplomatic Relations. We have, and will continue to, exert our utmost efforts to enhance the relations built on the bonds of friendship and brotherhood.
The Turkish-Japanese Foundation Cultural Center brings together various Turkish-Japanese friendship associations under one roof. Could you share some of the most impactful collaborations or initiatives that have emerged from this synergy?
The Turkish-Japanese Foundation was established with the aim of fostering and enhancing Turkish-Japanese Friendship. We greatly value all the institutions, organizations, associations, as well as friendships and cultural communities that have been formed for this very purpose. As previously mentioned, we have brought together the offices of several organizations—namely, the Turkish-Japanese Culture Research and Solidarity Association, the Turkish-Japanese University Students Association, the JICA Association, and the Japanese Music and Arts Association—all of which were originally established in Ankara. Our objective is to extend our reach beyond a handful of provinces and encompass cities throughout Turkey by uniting the associations that are dedicated to fostering Turkish-Japanese relations and are currently active in the country. As part of the 2010 Japanese Year in Türkiye initiative, numerous events were held in various Anatolian provinces in collaboration with the Embassy of Japan. Throughout this year, we joined forces with our affiliated associations located in cities like Adana, Mersin, Izmir, and more, contributing to the successful execution of these events.
All the events organized by associations in Ankara are carried out in collaboration with our Foundation. We proudly host the majority of the events organized by the Embassy of Japan throughout the year. The Japanese Speaking Competition, held annually, is overseen by our committee and receives support from Friendship Associations, Japanese companies, and Japanese institutions/organizations.
In a way, we can describe our Cultural Centre as the hub of Ankara and the neighboring provinces for promoting Japanese culture. Through the cooperation and support of various associations, institutions, organizations, and universities, we are able to connect with a wider audience.
Nonetheless, we are aware that there are numerous individuals who, through their voluntary and individual efforts, work towards this objective. Those we have not yet connected with, or those who have not yet reached us, might include our Turkish friends who are passionate about Japanese culture and our Japanese friends who hold a deep appreciation for Turkish culture. We would like to convey, through your platform, that our doors are open to all of them. We extend a warm welcome to everyone at our Cultural Centre in Ankara.
You have had the privilege of studying and conducting research in Japan and have received notable honors from the Japanese government. How have these experiences shaped your perspective on Turkey-Japan relations, and how do they manifest in the Foundation’s endeavors?
As I’ve stated in numerous previous interviews, my journey to Japan began back in 1989 and it continues to this day at a consistent pace. I embarked on this journey with the aim of addressing my academic shortcomings, yet I also had the opportunity to immerse myself in the society, culture, and history of the country during my stay there. It was founded on principles of respect and love, and everything operated on merit. Witnessing this left an indelible mark on me. Upon my return, I contemplated how to implement what I had witnessed in Turkey. One might say that luck was on my side. From 1994 to 2000, I held the positions of Vice Dean and Chief Physician at Ankara University Faculty of Dentistry. Throughout this time, I worked diligently to introduce elements of the education system I had observed in Japan.
After the year 2000, I assumed the role of dean at the Faculty of Dentistry at a relatively young age. I facilitated and encouraged many of my colleagues to pursue education in Japan. While I was deeply involved in these endeavors, I remained unaware of any awards or honors that were bestowed upon me. Receiving the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs award and later the Japanese Imperial Order was a tremendous honor and a source of motivation for me. It affirmed that I was on the right path, especially considering that such awards and accolades are not commonly heard of or seen in Türkiye.
As I mentioned initially, my primary aim in embarking on this journey was to enhance my professional knowledge and skills. However, as time went on, this endeavor evolved into something greater than just professional development.
I became part of the Turkish-Japanese Foundation, founded with the aim of fostering social, cultural, and economic ties between Türkiye and Japan. Since my first day, I have been collaborating with my colleagues with the same enthusiasm to strengthen the relationship between these two nations.
While collaborating with the Japanese, I’ve had the privilege of leveraging my understanding of Japanese people, their culture, and, most notably, their strong work ethic. Initiating tasks punctually, demonstrating meticulousness and significance in collaborative efforts, paying attention to every detail, and conducting ourselves with correctness, honesty, impartiality, and sincerity are of utmost importance for upholding the reputation of our Foundation and fostering strong bilateral relations. It’s through this approach that we have maintained our activities for 30 years.
As the President of the Turkish-Japanese Foundation, what visions or future initiatives do you anticipate in the coming years? Especially as we move beyond the centenary of the Republic of Turkey and approach the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Japan in 2024?
Since its inception, the Turkish-Japanese Foundation has been committed to enhancing collaboration between our two nations across all domains and nurturing stronger ties by facilitating cultural, economic, and educational interactions among our societies. Throughout my time at the Foundation, I had the privilege to collaborate with numerous distinguished Japanese Ambassadors, and I held onto the words of Mr. Yamaguchi, who served in Turkey in 1993, as my guiding principle. Mr. Yamaguchi’s statement from exactly 30 years ago was:
“The 19th century was characterized as the century of England, the 20th century was the century of America. Why should the next century not be the century of Türkiye-Japan?” If the new Turkish Republics, which emerged with the collapse of the Soviet Union, can unite under the banner of a robust Türkiye, Mr. Yamaguchi’s vision may indeed become a reality.
In the upcoming year, which marks the 100th anniversary of our Republic and the 100th anniversary of Turkish-Japanese Diplomatic Relations, we intend to arrange numerous cultural, artistic events, and educational gatherings with the aim of fortifying the ties between our nations and fostering mutual understanding between our communities.
Since its inception, the Turkish-Japanese Foundation has acted as a bridge fostering friendship and collaboration. What message would you like to convey to the younger generation in both countries about the significance and potential of this enduring relationship?
Established in 1993, our Foundation has taken on the crucial role of bridging the gap between our two nations and has consistently strived to expand its efforts in this direction. We firmly believe that in the process of strengthening the bonds between countries, it is essential for individuals to become acquainted with one another. Keeping this principle in mind, we place significant emphasis on Japanese Language Education within our Foundation. We organize courses and summer schools that not only teach the Japanese language but also introduce various aspects of Japanese Culture, including origami, anime, ikebana, calligraphy, and sushi. Our goal is to provide young individuals who have an interest in Japan with a deeper understanding of the Japanese language and culture. We aim to equip them with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to contribute to the strengthening of relations between our two countries, not only within the Turkish Japanese Foundation but also in various other spheres in the future. As mentioned earlier, language plays a crucial role in fostering relationships between nations. Within our foundation, we are dedicated to expanding the number of young individuals who will play a pivotal role in bolstering future relations between our two countries. This is achieved through our Japanese language courses, which are open to all children and young people starting from the age of 9.
As individuals who have actively contributed to the progress of the longstanding Turkish-Japanese Relations, founded on cooperation and goodwill, we aspire to pass down these enduring bonds to the upcoming generations. This transfer will encompass all the wisdom and knowledge we have gathered along the way.
I trust that they will tap into Japan’s potential in education, science, technology, medicine, and various other domains, enabling them to foster their own growth and make unwavering efforts to bolster both our nation and bilateral relations. It is through enduring friendships and steadfast companions that we will continue to advance.