The online discussion was attended by: Nikolai Telitsin, Head of the Department of Turkic Philology at St Petersburg University; and Associate Professor Apollinariia Avrutina, Director of the Centre for Contemporary Turkish Studies and Russia–Turkey Relations at St Petersburg University. The key topics were the history of teaching Turkish and other Turkic languages in Russia, and the teaching of Turkish language and literature during the pandemic.

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Apollinariia Avrutina, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University, spoke about the state of affairs with Turkish literature in Russia in the present situation. She noted that the attention to Turkish writers has skyrocketed with the growth in demand for books as a whole. Mrs Avrutina is currently finishing her translations of four books. Among them are: Nermin Bezmen’s ‘Kurt Seyit ve Murka’ – memoirs of the life of an imperial army officer, who fled to Istanbul, recorded by his granddaughter; ‘My father Abdul-Hamid’ – memoirs of Şadiye Sultan, a daughter of the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire; ‘Green Apples’, the first novel by Nâzım Hikmet, which has not yet been translated into Russian; and ‘Time to Love’, a novel by a Turkish-speaking writer of Jewish descent, Liz Behmoaras, dedicated to the life of national minorities in Turkey during World War Two.

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Photo: Yunus Emre Institute in Moscow

All these books will soon be published in Moscow and St Petersburg publishing houses. ‘When I see how people, who are far from learning Turkish language and literature and even from Turkey itself, start discussing Turkish novels translated into Russian, I understand that literature, culture, as well as human feelings, are the main things that bring communities together,’ noted Apollinariia Avrutina.

At such moments, books start living their independent life, and I understand that everything we do is not in vain and brings our peoples together.

Apollinariia Avrutina, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University

Nikolai Telitsin, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University, spoke about the history of the Department of Turkic Philology and its most famous representatives. Teaching of Ottoman Turkish as an additional language began at the University in 1824; and 11 years later, a department of Turkic languages ​​was opened. Then, in 1855, the Faculty of Oriental Languages was founded and Turkology officially became a separate field of study. Two heads of departments, Academician Andrei Kononov (1906–1986) and Professor Viktor Guzev (1939), became members of the Turkish Linguistic Society. Professor Guzev was also awarded the State Order of the Republic of Turkey for his valuable individual contribution to Turkish studies and the training of academic personnel. At present, several Turkic languages ​​are taught at St Petersburg University: from ancient to modern – Yakut, Uzbek, and Azerbaijani. There is a Turkish language speaking club. Students from Turkey studying at universities in St Petersburg communicate there with Russian students who study Turkish.

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Photo: Yunus Emre Institute in Moscow

Professor Şeref Ateş, President of Yunus Emre Institute, emphasised that during the pandemic it became obvious how much researchers around the world need strong interpersonal relations. Previously, in the midst of heated political discussions, scholars from all over the world were confined within strict boundaries that prevented them from feeling free. The pandemic has shown that, in science, national and religious affiliations take a back seat. Human relations have become important because culture and science are based on them. In order to be successful in science, it is necessary to know foreign languages. So, the Turks who study Russian in Turkey begin to understand Russia better, and the Russians who study Turkish understand Turkey better. This is a way to lay a cornerstone of any relations – economic, cultural, or political ones,’ said Professor Ateş.

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Turkey to the Russian Federation Mehmet Samsar said that the friendship and strong will of the leaders of our countries – Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – had moved bilateral ties, primarily economic ones, to a deeper level. The volume of trade between Russia and Turkey last year alone reached $27 billion. Strategic economic projects are being developed: the Turkish Stream gas project and the construction of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant have been implemented. Last year, Turkey was visited by more than seven million Russian citizens, who make up the main tourist flow. At the same time, the Turks come to Russia to work or study. Relations between the two countries are developing productively thanks to political and economic activities, culture and education.

The international online conference ‘Teaching Turkish in Russia and academic papers on Turkey and Turkology’ was organised by: Yunus Emre Institute’s Moscow branch; the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in the Russian Federation; and the Turkish Linguistic Society. The conference was moderated by Professor Ömer Özkan, Director of Yunus Emre Institute in Moscow.

Professor Gürer Gülsevin, President of the Turkish Linguistic Society, said that the mutual interest of the peoples of Russia and Turkey in the language and culture is due to being in the same neighbourhood for centuries and family ties. The territory on which most Turkic peoples live is historically under the influence of Russia. Russian Turkologists maintain leading positions in the world. In Turkey, Russian is taught at 15 universities, and 15 departments of the Russian language and literature have been opened. According to the number of students, the Russian language ranks second in Turkey after English, said Gürer Gülsevin.

At the conclusion of the conference, Professor Şeref Ateş, President of Yunus Emre Institute, proposed organising a literary school and invited Russian Turkologists to take part in it. They plan to conduct classes at the school in autumn in Ankara.