As World Arabic Language Day is celebrated annually on December 18, Turkey has seen a growing interest in learning the Arabic language.
Abdus Samet Kocak, a research assistant at Istanbul’s Fatih Sultan Mehmet University, said the Arabic language is “part of Turkish culture” as it is spoken by Turks in the south of the country.
“Arabic is heard everywhere in Turkey because it is the language of the Koran. It is also the language that brought us Islamic civilization and knowledge,” he told Anadolu Agency on Saturday.
Kocak said interest in learning the Arabic language has increased in Turkey in recent years due to the rapprochement between Turkey and Arab countries.
He said that there are a large number of schools that teach Arabic as a second language, in addition to “the opening of faculties of Islamic sciences and Arabic literature in many Turkish universities which also offer a preparatory year in Arab”.
December 18 coincides with the day in 1973 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted Arabic as the sixth official language of the organization.
– Growing interest
Turkey has witnessed several events in commemoration of this day. On Friday, the Department of Foreign Languages at Ankara-based Gazi University held a program featuring skits, songs and poems recited in Arabic.
Kocak said several events were held at various universities, Imam Hatip schools and other civil institutions to celebrate the Arabic language.
“Students prepare for these celebrations with pride, just for the chance to deliver a speech in classical Arabic,” he said.
“Turkey has also opened the doors for Arab professors to work in public universities, which is unprecedented in the history of Turkish universities,” Kocak said.
“No foreign language has ever received the same attention as the Arabic language in Turkey, which makes me think that the government does not consider Arabic as a foreign language in Turkey.”
The theme of this year’s World Arabic Language Day: “The Arabic language, a bridge between civilizations” was defined by UNESCO as a call to reaffirm the important role of the Arabic language in connecting people to through culture, science, literature and many other fields.
– Arabic debate
On December 7, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Fatih Sultan Mehmet University and Doha-based Qatar Debate, a member of the Qatar Foundation, to establish an “Arab Debate Center” in Turkey.
Kocak said the agreement also includes the organization of the first Arab National Universities Debating Championship in Turkey, which will be held from December 20 to 28 in Istanbul.
“This championship attracted 20 teams from different universities in Turkey, which shows how much universities and students are interested in the Arabic language,” he said.
The aim of the event is “to spread the culture of dialogue, debate, constructive criticism and to spread the arts of debate in Arabic as a tool to help students improve their Arabic language skills”, said Kocak.
Over the past five years, Turkey’s various Arabic debating teams have won three international school debating competitions held in Qatar.
The last victory dates back to April 2021, when Istanbul-based Beyoglu Anadolu Imam Hatip High School won first place in the 5th International School Debating Championship, held online due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Emir Maruf Satir, 18, a member of the winning team, told Anadolu Agency that participating in the Arab debates had “opened up wide horizons for him” and benefited him in many ways.
“The Arabic debate gave me the opportunity to learn and improve my Arabic language skills and taught me group discussion methods, listening skills and collective thinking skills. This experience made me an open-minded person, paying more attention to the problems of the world and the Islamic nation,” he said.
Satir, who also received the best speaker award in the debate competition, said that although he is still in the early stages of learning Arabic, he is still looking to participate in various programs related to the Arabic, such as debates, activities and seminars.
He also participated in the OIC Model Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum (ICYF), which was organized in April 2019 in Istanbul.
Model OIC is an academic simulation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which aims to educate participants on current trends in the theory and practice of international relations, effective communication and multilateral diplomacy.
“During the pre-school year, I went to Jordan for nine weeks on an intensive program to improve my Arabic language skills and practice it with native speakers,” Maruf said.
However, with the large presence of Arabs in Turkey, especially in Istanbul, “I can now practice the Arabic language on a daily basis, especially in places where the Arab population is large,” he added.
The Arabic language is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, used daily by more than 400 million people.