[Korea Beyond Korea] Korean studies in Turkey grows on foundation of strong relations
Despite being on the opposite sides of the continent, South Korea and Turkey have maintained a positive relationship throughout their histories. Turkey sent the fourth-highest number of troops during the 1950-53 Korean War, and it was among the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with Korea in 1957.
During the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Korean fans celebrated the Turkish team’s accomplishments as well as their own as the two nations beat the odds to reach the semifinals.
With the growing status of Korea on the international stage, there is a substantial level of interest among the Turkish people in what is described as their “blood brother” nation.
“(Turkey's) advantage in Korean studies, from the early years of our department to the present, lies in the special feelings that Turks harbor toward Korea. Particularly, the interest of the generation in their 40s and 50s, as well as the high level of interest among young people,” said Mahmut Ertan Gokmen, the head of Ankara University’s Department of Korean Language and Literature, in an email interview with The Korea Herald.
Ankara University, based in Turkey's capital, was the first higher education institute there to establish a department dedicated to Korean studies in 1989. The Department of Korean Language and Literature consists of eight faculty members -- two Koreans and six Turks.
While Korean and Turkish have significant differences, studies suggest that the Korean language possibly shares the same root of Altaic language family as the Turkic languages, which Gokmen said provides substantial advantages in teaching Korean as a foreign language.
But another crucial element supporting Korean studies in the country is the significant investment made by Korean companies in Turkey, the professor noted.
Interest in Korea
Korea’s trade volume with Turkey reached $9.1 billion in 2022, marking a 74.4 percent increase from 2012, according to the Institute for International Trade under the Korea International Trade Association. In a July visit to Seoul, Turkish Industry Minister Mehmet Fatih Kacir called for more investments from Korean companies in the country.
“The increasing demand for young, well-educated individuals proficient in Korean in (Turkey) is another important advantage (for the Korean studies program),” said Gokmen. “We update our programs according to the needs of Korean companies through strong relationships with them. Additionally, both our government and Ankara University administration.”
Possibly the bigger pillar of the Turkish people’s growing interest in Korea is the recent surge in popularity of Hallyu.
Last year, the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange conducted an online survey on 8,500 individuals across 18 countries that consumed Korean cultural content. Of the Turkish respondents, 58.6 percent said their use of Korean cultural content is likely to lead to consuming other products or services from the country.
Hallyu content has grown exponentially since 2000, and in 2019, Director Bong Joon-ho’s film “Parasite” became the first Korean picture to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for best picture.
In 2016, Han Kang became the first Korean to win the coveted Man Booker International Prize for fiction with “The Vegetarian.”
“It is evident that Korea’s economic advancement on a global scale has brought about a parallel development in Korean studies worldwide. Awards in literature, advancements in the film industry, and the emergence of award-winning films, along with the production of high-quality dramas and series presented to an international audience, have increased Korea’s recognition worldwide,” Gokmen noted.