Since 1997, an institute on Ayvalık’s Cunda Island affiliated with Harvard University has drawn great interest from foreigners and locals who want to learn Ottoman Turkish during the summer.
The Intensive Ottoman and Turkish Summer School hosts students from countries such as the U.S., the U.K., Norway and Greece every year between July 1 and Aug. 15.
One of the founders of the school, Gönül Tekin said the classes first opened in 1997 and had been run in collaboration with Koç University since 2002. She said that although there were other schools in Turkey teaching Ottoman, their school drew more interest as it is affiliated with the prestigious Harvard University. It is also popular for its picturesque location near the Turkish town of Ayvalık, and with the Greek island of Lesvos visible on the horizon.
Tekin said people who already speak Ottoman were also choosing the school to conduct field research.
“Especially those who want to conduct research in the fields of history, history of arts and architecture.
Archive documents are available here. At first, we had around 10 students every year, but it has been around 20-22 over the last five years. The school is in great demand but we have a limited capacity and we can only accept up to 22 students at most... Most of our students come from abroad,” she said.
One of the institute’s instructors, Greek citizen Evangelia Balta, said she taught the Karaman, Turkish and Greek languages at the school. “The Ottoman Empire had many different languages. A number of nations lived in the empire and each nation used the writing of its own language. The Orthodox Greeks wrote Turkish with the Greek alphabet,” Balta said.
“The students here write are generally writing theses at universities or doing master’s degrees. Then they become academics or researchers,” she added.
Another instructor, Selim Kuru, an associate professor at Washington University’s Near East Languages and Civilizations Department, said students at the Cunda institute took five hours of classes every day over six weeks, polishing their ability to read and interpret Ottoman languages.
“It is a very important education for master’s and doctorate students to improve both their modern Turkish and Ottoman Turkish skills. Ottoman Turkish classes are very rare in Europe and U.S. students generally come on scholarships. We also help some students thanks to the support of the Turkish Cultural Foundation and Koç University... This year we started accepting students from Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, Arizona, Chicago, North Carolina and Georgetown universities,” Kuru added.
An Iranian student Anna Boreschan said she was attending the school because of her interest in Ottoman literature.
Another university student, Ashly Die Mak from the U.S., said her doctorate thesis was on Ottoman tents. “I am not only learning detailed information about the huge sizes of Ottoman tents but also understanding how they were used as venues for various occasions,” Mak said, adding that her goal was to become a museum curator.