On Trip to Nuclear Security Summit, Turkish Prime Minister Speaks at Mason

Posted: April 13, 2010 at 1:45 pm

By James Greif

Mason President Alan Merten, left, greets Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan upon his arrival at Mason. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave the inaugural address for George Mason University’s Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies on April 12. The topic of his address was “The Alliance of Civilizations as a Vision of Global Peace.”

“I attach a great importance to this center established at George Mason University,” Erdogan said. “This center will be a significant one with respect to politics, geographical perspective and historical vision.”

The prime minister, who was introduced by Mason President Alan Merten, said the new center was unique because it is the first academic center studying Islam that is funded by a Turkish businessman. The center is named after Vural Ak, a successful car rental company entrepreneur who has a strong interest in contributing to broad education about Islam and its history. Ak contributed $4 million to establish the center and attended Erdogan’s address.

Erdogan, who was in the Washington, D.C., area to attend the Nuclear Security Summit, discussed the different perspectives among Eastern and Western countries and cautioned against attaching labels to people of a particular faith or country.

“The lack of dialogue and understanding between people of different geography and faiths is as important of a threat as nuclear proliferation and terrorism,” Erdogan said.

During the speech, the prime minister addressed the need for Turkey to continue to be a leader in the region, stating that “turning an eye to problems doesn’t eliminate them.” In seeking global solutions to conflicts in the region, Erdogan warned that “peace and security cannot be sustainable if they are not achieved for all.”

Cemil Aydin, center director and associate professor in the Department of History and Art History, provided opening remarks and moderated a question-and-answer session at the end of the speech.

Cemil Aydin, director of Mason's Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, moderates questions for the prime minister. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Erdogan took questions from several undergraduate students on topics such as Turkey’s relationship with its neighboring countries; Turkey’s relationship with Buddhist leaders and countries; Turkey’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions; and the role of Turkey in Israel-Palestine peace negotiations.

Mason’s Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies focuses on Islam as a global tradition and includes the study of Muslim societies in South, Central and Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and North America as much as the Middle East.

Currently, Mason’s Islamic studies program has more than 15 affiliated professors teaching courses on various aspects of Islam in disciplines such as history, religious studies, political science, international affairs, literature, art history, geography and languages. The minor program, founded in 2001, offers courses in a variety of areas, including Koran and Hadith, Islamic religious life, Islamic history and Muslim society and politics.

Of the 31,000 students at Mason, more than 2,000 have either a Muslim American background or come from a country in the Muslim world, Provost Peter Stearns noted last year when the center’s opening was announced.

B.J. Koubaroulis contributed to this story

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu