Iran has also fallen victim to the temptation offered by Turkish television series, with more Iranians lining up to learn Turkish to better follow their favorite shows.
The Yunus Emre Foundation Culture Center in the capital Tehran is proud to proclaim that every year 550 people are taught how to speak and write Turkish. While some sign up to improve their language skills so they can better manage their business dealings in Turkey or improve their chances of gaining admittance to a Turkish university, the vast majority of students freely admit that television shows are the sole reason for their presence.
The Yunus Emre Institute, founded in 2009, aims to promote and expand the influence of Turkish culture and language through its 36 centers around the world. From Japan to Russia and Jordan to the Netherlands, these centers hold exhibitions and cooperate with local authorities on cultural and social issues.
The center in Tehran, currently headed by Assistant Professor Şamil Öçal, was established three years ago. Öçal, who took over less than a month ago, said he had visited the country before but was surprised by the interest in Turkey and the Turkish language.
"We can't keep up with the applications. Only half of those who apply can gain admittance," he said. Öçal said there were other institutions that had Turkish language courses but theirs was the most popular because the teachers were Turkish. Another advantage is the curriculum formulated in accordance with European language instruction standards.
Azeri, which many Iranians speak and is closely related to Turkish, is hard to understand for those not acquainted with it. Moreover, knowing how to speak Azeri does not necessarily mean that one is capable of understanding Turkish as seen by the number of local Azeris signing up to improve their proficiency.
The center offers 12 levels based on the student's proficiency, which is determined by an entrance exam. Each level runs for approximately three months and at the end students need to pass an exam. Every student who completes two levels is given a certificate. Everyone above the age of 15 can apply.
Öçal said due to their failure to satisfy the huge demand they decided to move to a larger and more central building that will have eight rather than the current four classrooms. "There is also significant enough demand in Isfahan and Tabriz for us to consider opening centers there," he said.
He also said that they had agreed to open a separate Turkish language course in cooperation with the Iranian Language Institute. "Turkish will be the first foreign language to be taught there," he said.
80 PERCENT WOMEN
The culture and arts coordinator of the center, Selim Özban, said there are at least 100 housewives among the students every year. Özban, who has been at the Tehran center since its establishment, also said at least 80 percent of the students are women.
While some want to learn Turkish for commercial or educational reasons, most want to follow Turkish television series in the original language, he said.
Özban said they also held dozens of exhibitions and conferences on Turkish poetry, modern literature and Turkish cinema since the beginning, with many Turkish artists and experts coming to Tehran to hold seminars.
Zubeyda Misbahi Daryan, a 55-year-old housewife, said she had decided to learn how to speak Turkish after getting hooked on the show "Asi." "Then I started to watch 'Aşk-ı Memnun' [Forbidden Love]. 'Kuzey ve Güney' [North and South] was great. Kıvanç [Tatlıtuğ] is a great actor. I also watch Derya Baykal. Recently, I started to watch 'Paramparça' ([Shattered] and 'Güllerin Savaşı' [War of the Roses]. I am happy with our teachers. I love Turkey," she said.
Almira Amiri, who admits knowing little Turkish before starting the course despite her Azeri background, said she first started to understand Turkish after starting to watch Turkish TV shows. Amiri, who has been attending the courses for the past two years, said: "When I complete my courses, I will give private Turkish lessons."
Arafat Deniz, who has been teaching at the center since the beginning, said: "Iranians have a natural aptitude to learn Turkish. They are fast learners. It is also apparent that they follow what happens in Turkey very closely. Most watch Turkish television channels."