When India's Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) university awarded an honorary doctorate to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 1, it highlighted the president's humanitarian diplomacy as one of the main reasons behind its decision.
Turkey under the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rule has emerged as one of the world's leading providers of humanitarian aid if considered in per capita terms; Turkey is clearly a hugely generous nation. Just as it was obvious to JMI, this deserves better recognition by all who follow developments in Turkey closely.
The citation JMI Vice Chancellor Talat Ahmad read said that Erdoğan "has displayed admirable human compassion by allowing nearly 3 million Syrian refugees into Turkey" since the war erupted in the neighboring country. He also mentioned that Turkey has not only accepted Syrian refugees but has taken good care of them.
Before the Syrian crisis, Turkey's major international humanitarian aid was to famine-hit Somalia. JMI duly made a reference to Erdoğan's appeal on behalf of Somalia in 2011, when he told the United Nations that "no one can speak of peace, justice and civilization in the world if the outcry rising from Somalia is left unheard."
A nation without solid economic and political foundations cannot be expected to undertake such large-scale humanitarian efforts, and it is evident that Erdoğan and the AK Party have played their nation-building roles with total dedication despite facing challenges within the country and from historically hostile circles outside Turkey. Some of the major wrongs that hobbled Turkey as a nation in the past and presented Western tutelage as a political system have been fixed, and it is expected that Turkey will be more decisive and clear in its policies in the coming years.
In honoring Erdoğan on his state visit to India, JMI was mindful of its modern exchanges with Turkey as well as the historic connections dating back to the Ottoman period.
The auditorium where Erdoğan was hosted is named after Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, one of JMI's founders who led an Indian medical mission to treat wounded Ottoman soldiers during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.
The book "People's Mission to the Ottoman Empire" by the former Turkish ambassador to India, Burak Akçapar, explores this connection in detail. It contains letters written by Ansari during his stay in Turkey.
Today, JMI is the only Indian university offering a bachelor's degree course in the Turkish language.
"India has diverse and rich historical relations with Turkey. We see ourselves as connecting the two civilizations," said Mohsin Ali, founder and coordinator of the university's Turkish Language and Literature Program.
He spoke about the enthusiasm in the university community, particularly among his students, generated by Erdoğan's visit.
"There is a widespread feeling that it will create new links that will benefit the university. President Erdoğan's policy of encouraging foreign students to study in Turkey is a great way of building cultural bridges," he said.
The university has an arrangement with the Yunus Emre Institute for getting Turkish language teachers. Many students have been provided with scholarships in Turkey for advanced Turkish language courses.
The university plans to start a master's degree course in Turkish and hopes one day some of its own students will be teaching the language.
The Turkish government is ready to fund a building for the Turkish language department, the former ambassador said before he left India last year. But this can only happen after India presents a proposal to Turkey. When this happens, it will open a new chapter in Indian-Turkish cultural relations.
* India-based journalist
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