About 1,000 Turkish students have left home to attend university in Bosnia, attracted by the low cost of living, good food and -- for women -- the right to wear an Islamic headscarf.
On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan officially opened a new campus of the International University of Sarajevo (IUS) on the outskirts of the Bosnian capital.
"I hope that a cultural bridge will be created at this university that will connect the people and secure peace in the Balkans," he said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Turkey still insists on imposing headscarf ban as a country whose population is 99 percent Muslim and majority of women wear headscarf as a religious practice.
Turkey imposes also the ban at all public domain.
In Bosnia no such ban exists, and this is among the reasons that young Turks give for making the relatively short journey to study at one of Sarajevo's three international universities, two of which are Turkish-funded.
Food and finances, close to the hearts of students everywhere, are important to Sarajevo's Turkish students.
"There are a lot of mosques and the food is delicious," said Enes Cici from Istanbul, an engineering student at the IUS. "It's very similar to our own culture."
Economics student Mehmed Guner from Bursa said: "It is more affordable to study here than going to the United States, Canada or any European country, so this was what made me pick it."
Other reasons are peculiar to Turkey, founded in 1923 from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire which once ruled Bosnia.
"I came here because of a scarf problem," said architecture student Cahide Nur Cunuk, explaining that she could not enrol at any state or private university in Turkey after graduating from an Islamic high school.
"We are happy to be here," added her colleague Vildan Mengi. "Bosnians are Muslims and they are similar to us."
Freedom of wearing headscarf
Many of women students say they cannot enrol at universities in Turkey as they have graduated from high schools, the only schools where they could attend classes wearing headscarves.
"If the situation in Turkey changed, we would not come to study here," said one woman in a group of headscarved students sitting in a university tea shop. "Bosnian people are more tolerant than Turkish people," she said.
Vildan Mengi said she had three sisters who would also come to Sarajevo if the scarf problem were not resolved. "My mother came to see me here. She saw I am safe," she said.
The IUS is the largest of the three universities that are building what might become the largest complex of private colleges in the region. The other Turkish-funded college is the International Burch University (IBU).
While the IUS was set up by a group of Turkish businessmen and public figures and their Bosnian counterparts, the IBU's founder is the Istanbul-based Foundation of Journalists and Writers.
The third university, whose new building in emerging only a few hundred metres away, is the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, accredited by the British-based Buckingham University.
Ruling AK Party and National Movement Party (MHP), opposition party, made an amendment to limit the ban in 2007.
But main opposition party, Republican People Party (CHP), angered most of the Turkish people when it prevented the freedom of wearing headscarf in universities by applying to top court to annul the parliament's amendment which would give limited freedom to Islamic wearing of girls.
"This is unique situation to have two Turkish-funded universities in the same area," said IBU Secretary-General Orhan Hadzagic. "This was a pure coincidence," he added, explaining that universities were not linked in any other way.
Bosnia, which like most other Balkan countries had been part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, has close ties with Turkey. Bosnian Muslims are known as moderate Muslims of Slavic origin, who have turned to the religion in greater numbers only since the 1992-95 war, during which they were the main victims.
Erdogan said at a public debate earlier on Monday: "It does not matter whether we have a shared border or not, I feel this country as the closest neighbour and we will never abandon Bosnia because of our historic responsibility."
The total investment, estimated roughly at more than 100 million euros ($135 million) once it is completed, would turn Sarajevo into a regional university centre and create new revenues for the city, officials say.
"The city of Sarajevo will earn about 35 million euros annually only from the university, which is a large profit," said Alija Rizvanbegovic, one of the founders of the IUS. "We expect that about 600 jobs will be created in the next five years."
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 06 Nisan 2010, 12:04