For the first time, Turkish Baha’i appointed as dean

November 13th, 2008

The Baha’i population in Turkey numbers at approximately 10,000. Like their counterparts in most countries in the region, Turkish Baha’is cannot state their religious affiliation in identity cards as the Baha’i Faith is not listed as one of the options. In 2006, a ruling permitted citizens to either leave the religion field blank, or change it by a written application, but the government continues to restrict applicant’s choices.

The Turkish Hurriyet recently reported that a Baha’i leader has been appointed dean of the Science and Letters Faculty of the Middle East Technical University. Such a development is definitely welcome, and we hope that citizens of more countries would follow the suit of Bahrain and and Turkey and recognize Baha’is as equals.

Professor Cüneyt Can, director of the External Affairs Office of the Baha’i Community in Turkey, has become the first Baha’i dean in Turkey after serving as deputy dean for nine years.

“I am a METU [Middle East Technical University] student and have served in administrative posts for years. I didn’t expect any discrimination because of my faith and my appointment didn’t surprise me,” Can told the Hurriyet Daily News. Baha’is are adherents of a religious movement originating in Iran in the 19th century and emphasizing the spiritual unity of humankind.

The appointment comes at a time when the government has been rasing its voice of nationalism and when official discourses have seemed to ignore the existence of minorities in the country.

The Baha’is, however, are not even consi dered religious minorities as their entity was not officially recognized by the Turkish government, although there are around 100,000 Baha’i members in Turkey.

A chance for Baha’i people

Baha’is are unable to state their religious affiliation on their identity cards because it is not included among the options.

“It is an important development for the Baha’i community here and for Turkey as well, where I have been given such a chance as a Baha’i member,” he said adding that he had not faced any difficulties during his post because of his faith.

The number of Baha’i academics in Turkey is pretty small, while other occupation groups include proportional numbers of Baha’i members. The appointment process was pretty democratic, according to Can.

“Everybody knows that I am a Baha’i. I was elected despite this fact. My identity is an academic, a scientist and a director within the borders of the METU; but I am a representative of the Baha’i community outside METU. I am pretty careful not to mix them and to act righteously in my job,” he noted.

Founded in Iran in the 19th century by Baha’u'llah, the Baha’i faith is considered to be the most rapidly growing religious group in the world. The religion has around six million followers worldwide and seeks world unity and peace against the problems of the modern age.

Note: The article quoted above claims there there are 100,000 Baha’is in Turkey. Hurriyet is the only source so far claiming this amount of Baha’is in Turkey. All other sources state that Turkey has a Baha’i population of around 10,000, hence our introductory statement.

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