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Mutual Understanding Fostered by Turkish Trip
 

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From the Civic Education Project Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 1, Winter 1994/95

One of the highlights of CEP's 1993-94 year in Bulgaria was a week-long trip to Turkey during which students and faculty from the Varna University of Economics met and exchanged ideas with their counterparts from Ankara's top universities. The idea for the trip emerged during a series of optional seminars conducted by CEP lecturer Richard Rupp (Ph.D. candidate, University of California) during his appointment in Varna. While the students thoughtfully analyzed numerous topics, ranging from Democratic Theory to Orwell's "Animal Farm," a seminar focusing on Bulgarian-Turkish relations revealed a heightened sense of anxiety and an inability to objectively discuss the relations between these two nations.

Believing that the best way to expose his students to the realities of Bulgarian-Turkish relations was head-on, Rupp began to explore the possibilities of taking a group of his students to Turkey. Although the logistical obstacles were numerous, Richard-with the energetic support of several of his colleagues and students-worked diligently to secure funding and make the trip a reality. A group of 12 students and three faculty members departed Varna on May 14 for a week-long visit to Istanbul and Ankara. While in Ankara, the Bulgarian delegation visited three universities where they heard lectures on the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, Islam and Women, and Turkish Foreign Policy, amoung others. Beyond the formal lectures, the Bulgarian students had the opportunity to meet and socialize with Turkish students. These gatherings helped to weaken some of the stereotypes sustained over centuries of conflict in the region. Even within the short time period many friendships were made and return visits planned.

On the final day in Ankara, the group was invited to the presidential residence where they were received by Suleyman Demirel, President of Turkey. President Demirel greeted the visiting Bulgarians and presented a number of gifts that the students took back to their university in Varna. In turn, President Demirel was given a watercolor of the Varna University of Economics. By all accounts the trip was a considerable success in fostering greater understanding and goodwill among the participants. As Richard said, "This trip has had a profound, lasting impact on my students - what more could I have wished for?"