The key to our cultural heritage: Ottoman Turkish

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Ercan Türk | General Director, General Directorate of Secondary Education, The Ministry of National Education of Turkey

Language, which is the most important means of people’s communicating with each other, is the common treasury of national memory, national emotions and thoughts, all material and moral values, the appearance of the world of thought and the cornerstone of culture. Communication of “the common emotions and thoughts of a nation’s individuals” is done through language. When the subject is culture, the first thing that comes to mind is language. For this reason, language is also a cultural transmitter and transporter. The history, geography, values, knowledge, folklore, literature, music, and every kind of common values are filtered through of centuries, symbolized with the words, poured into the treasury of language, and are kept there. Individuals, apart from learning the mother tongue of the society they live in today, should also retain the language that is characterized by their past culture. This is because the language is the spirit, essence and memory of a nation. To have this background adds a unique value to the individuals who maintain the language of their culture. Moreover, to keep this spirit alive, to protect the national memory must be the primary duty of the individuals of that nation. For this reason, learning Ottoman Turkish gains importance – it is actually essential – in order not to be alienated from our cultural values; not to cut our ties with our history.

It is apparent that as a Turkish nation we are attached to our cultural values and sensitive about the matter of being national. From this aspect, Ottoman Turkish, which the Turkish people developed as a unique language for centuries, is of vital importance to understand the cultural heritage, to transmit it to future generations and to make it live. Ottoman Turkish, which we can also call “Ottoman Period Turkish,” is the Turkish language written with the Arabic alphabet during the period of Ottoman Empire which ruled the world for seven centuries with its lands on three continents. It is not a foreign language of the past. It has a key position in the healthy development of historical thought, culture and the civilization of the generations of today and the future.

It is not an exaggeration to say that to build a strong bridge between the past and future and look confidently to the future is possible by reading and understanding Ottoman Turkish. Are not nearly all of the countless, distinguished works which our ancestors gave us as gifts taken from the honourable, glorious history of a thousand years which formed the bases of our national culture, written in Ottoman Turkish?

،خلق اچندە معتبر بر نسنە یوق دولت گبی

.اولمایە دولت جهاندە بر نفس صحّت گبی

Nothing is respected more than the state among the people,

There is no state [happiness] as a breath of health in the world.

Written by the Sultan of World, Kanuni Sultan Suleyman, with the pseudonym ‘Muhibbi,’ you need to know Ottoman Turkish to really understand and interpret this couplet which refers to “(the) state” as important for the people as the breathing in of our life. Moreover, to be able to build the future you need to be able to understand the past and explain it. To learn Ottoman Turkish is important to understand the profound content of the works written in the Ottoman Period. It is the key to our thousands of years old past, ancient civilization and great, cultural heritage.

I believe that as the cultural inheritors of a glorious thousands-years-old history our kids’ and youth’s ability to read and understand a book or a document from their ancestors, an inscription on a historical water fountain, a prayer written on a mosque dome or a text on a historical building, will contribute to their knowing the world of knowledge and thought of the past, to their feeling the pleasure of profoundness and aesthetic, to transmitting the religious and national values to future generations, and sustaining and protecting those values.

The passing down of the culture, its continuation and keeping it alive are achieved through education and teaching. With the intent of strengthening the ties of the new generation with their ancestors and aiming to train youth who adopt the national, moral, human, spiritual and cultural values, the Ministry of National Education, took the decision to teach Ottoman Turkish at the 10th, 11th and 12th grades of Social Sciences High Schools as a common course. At the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades of Anatolian High Schools, Science High Schools, Fine Arts High Schools and Imam Khatib High Schools Ottoman Turkish will be taught as an elective course. These courses in Ottoman Turkish started at education term of 2014-2015. Ottoman Turkish is taught for two hours per week.

The course syllabus includes the place and importance of Ottoman Turkish in the historical process of the Turkish language, that Ottoman Turkish is an element which ensures unity and solidarity, the importance of Ottoman Turkish in speaking the Turkish language in a true and beautiful way and the art of calligraphy and its related subjects. The syllabus also gives the opportunity of practical training by visiting the archives, libraries, graveyards, museums, mosques and water fountains where the students can see Ottoman Turkish works close to their schools.

With great interest from the students in 2014-2015 education year, Ottoman Turkish course was elected and studied as common course by 1.990 students at 10th grades, 1.987 at 11th grades, 1.677 at 12th (5.654 students in total), and as elective course by 6331 at 9th grades, 36.739 at 10th, 19.968 at 11th, and 402 at 12th grades (69.094 students in total). In the education year of 2015-2016, Ottoman Turkish was elected and studied as common course by 2.879 students at 10th grades, 1.741 by 11th, 1.527 at 12th (6.147 students in total), and as elected course by 12.823 students at 9th grades, 66.002 at 10th, 23.529 at 11th and 37.208 students at the 12th grades.

There are also educational activities of NGOs in respect to Ottoman Turkish, either with the permission of the Ministry of National Education or with cooperation protocols. For instance, with the protocol signed between the Ministry of National Education and Hayrat Foundation in 2012, there has been great interest and attendance to the Ottoman Turkish courses opened across Turkey. This situation is pleasing. In 2015, for example, 6.466 classes were opened and 175.743 students took education. Our citizens show great interest and attend these courses which are opened among the programs of non-formal educational activities.

As education institutions and educators, we have a historical responsibility for this matter which will be a benefit for the future of our children and our country. Our efforts will increase in order to popularize and ensure continuity of this course by developing the current programs which have been started to learn and teach Ottoman Turkish, a bridge to meet our one-thousand-year-old past, for a generation who will know and understand its history, internalize its culture, be equipped with national and spiritual values and build its future with hope.

In summary, Ottoman Turkish lessons were studied by 69.094 students in 2014-2015 school year. With a 114% increase it was studied by 145.859 students in 2015-2016 school year. We see an important increase in the number of students who elected Ottoman Turkish lessons when we look at the data of the last two years. Our teachers and school principals informing, suggesting and guiding more students to elect this course at Anatolian High Schools, Science High Schools, Fine Arts High Schools and Imam Khatib High schools will contribute to achieving the objectives of our policies. It is one of our important objectives to increase the rate of the number of students who elect Ottoman Turkish as an elected course in the total number of students studying at secondary education institutions.

Will Ottoman Turkish be a common course one day? Why not? We will continue to inform, tell, and teach until it is.