The Young Scholars on the Silk Roads interview series seeks to empower young people, by giving youth a platform from which to transmit their voices. Via this series young scholars hailing from different countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia will be interviewed to share their research and reflections on the ancient Silk Roads.
Ceren Çetinkaya was born and raised in Istanbul. Holding a degree from Hacettepe University International Relations Department, she mostly focused on the Middle East and did her minor in Anthropology. She also completed a MA in International Relations at Central European University, with a focus on Identity and the Europeanization of Turkey. Ceren is currently working for an NGO in Istanbul, and continues her research on international relations, popular culture and identity.
What do the Silk Roads mean to you and how would you define them?
Ceren: As an International Relations graduate who was born and raised in the bridge between the East and West, I think that the Silk Roads are definitely more than just a trade route. The first thing that comes to my mind about the Silk Roads is that it was one of the very first links between Asia and Europe, which brought intercultural communication to our lives. The Silk Roads are one of the best examples of how international trade can be important in terms of disseminating culture and shaping relations between countries.
The Silk Roads to me also illustrate wealth. Not only the wealth of merchants which was brought about by trade, but the wealth of knowledge and different values that have spread around the world.
What role has the Anatolian region played in the Silk Roads historically? How do you evaluate its place in the development of the Silk Roads?
Anatolia is defined by its role as a melting pot of civilizations. In my opinion, being the frontier of the Silk Roads before entering Europe’s borders shaped its role more than anything else. Due to its geographical position, Anatolian society and its traders had the chance to absorb lessons learnt from caravans passing along the Silk Roads and transfer this knowledge to European societies. Also, Turkeys many historical artifacts, like Göbeklitepe, the first temple of the world, as well as its rich cuisine, attest to its history as a center for intercultural activities.
How do you see Turkey’s relations with Europe being impacted by the Silk Roads?
Well, I studied Turkish and European identities during my MA thesis and mostly focused on relations between Turkey and Europe after the last period of the Ottoman rule. It is very interesting to note that interactions between Turkey and Europe are as old as the Silk Roads themselves. It’s really the location of Turkey along this route that is so important, which continues to affect EU-Turkey relations today.
Globally, do you think the Silk Roads holds value today?
Of course! Unfortunately, in many regions, the Silk Roads do not feature across education syllabuses beyond high school history classes. This is a shame because I think that they are one of the best examples of how trade can reshape the world by spreading culture. I can’t imagine the cultural impact that caravans on the Silk Roads brought to the regions they touched each mile they travelled.
I strongly believe that the Silk Roads are important examples that can help us remember how the peaceful co-existence of different cultures is vital for the overall progress of humanity. They serve as a reminder for us to respect diversity more and embrace the “other”.
How do you understand UNESCO’s pillar of “common cultural heritage”?
The concept of common cultural heritage reminds me that the ways we live today were created by our ancestors and passed down generation to generation. The traces of these roots are not attributable to one nation or society, but they are rather a part of our universal values because of their important place in humankind’s history. If we look at the world from this perspective, we will see how much we have in common with every other region of the world, not only Asia and Europe.
Thanks to the internet, today we can see and learn about any other country in the world. Where previously I would see a pattern on a carpet in an East Asian country and immediately presume that they are one hundred percent Turkish, I now realise that there is nothing we can accredit to only one nation, given that there has been such deep and longstanding interactions between cultures for centuries.
I couldn’t agree more. Have you experienced that in your work or studies?
Definitely. I was lucky enough to have the chance to live in Greece and Hungary during my studies and they were both great experiences to see how much we have in common! Geographical proximity as well as interaction between these cultures due to a shared history under the rule of the Ottoman period have brought these nations many shared values and materials. It was amazing to see how our history brings us together despite the political borders of 21st century.
And what do you think can be done by young people and UNESCO to enhance the role of youth in activities relating to the Silk Roads?
That’s a tricky one. Establishing some kind of representative institutions in every country along the Silk Roads would be a great start to bring youth together and partake in significant research. Another idea would be an annual conference where young scholars can discuss not only the ancient Silk Roads but also the modern-day effects of common cultural heritage, which would be very interesting for interdisciplinary researchers such as myself.