November 12, 2013 - DUKE Magazine
About a month before students were slated to land in Turkey last summer, the capital of Istanbul erupted in a fury of protests. What began as a peaceful sit-in to oppose the demolition of Gezi Park soon morphed into large-scale demonstrations and indiscriminate police violence. After careful evaluation, Duke administrators opted to go forward with the Duke in Turkey program as planned, according to Amanda Kelso of the Duke Global Education Office for Undergraduates.
By the time students arrived, the protests had died down, but the aftermath was still tangible. “The protests then became this great opportunity to study the politics,” says Erdag Göknar, assistant professor of Turkish and Middle Eastern studies and leader of Duke in Turkey since 2011. “So we put it on the syllabus. That was a great opportunity to turn politics on the ground into a learning experience.”
“We don’t want students to participate in the protests on the ground,” explains Göknar, recalling safety concerns voiced by parents. “We’re trying to take a step back and say, why is this protest happening now, and what are the forces at play?”
Students studied graffiti and memorials generated during the unrest, followed news reports of the injured, and analyzed the public’s reaction. “I was excited to be in Istanbul at such a historic moment and turning point for politics,” wrote Arielle Brackett ’15 in an e-mail message. Jeremy Clift ’15 expressed similar thoughts in a blog post: “Living in Istanbul during this period of civil unrest undoubtedly influenced my perception of the Turkish government and the associated political system.”
Great beauty: The Haghia Sophia museum in Istanbul. Erdag Göknar
“The city of Istanbul, which is so interesting in its contradictions, becomes a text that students explore when they’re abroad,” says Göknar. Located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East, Turkey holds a unique mix of European and Islamic culture. The program coincided with the month of Ramadan, and though she was raised Methodist, Brackett decided to attempt the fast for a few days. “I feel that while I was abroad and in this different hemisphere, I began to use the other hemisphere of my brain,” she wrote.
Students lived and studied at Bogaziçi University, located on the scenic shores of the Bosphorus, a strait that divides Asia and Europe.
They spent six weeks taking courses on Istanbul’s history and culture as well as gender in the Middle East. The group also visited what Göknar terms Turkey’s “greatest hits,” including sites in ancient Byzantine, the otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia, and the Greco-Roman ruins of Ephesus.