ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News

Whether for a youngster who has been living in Istanbul since birth but never seen the historical highlights of the city, or for someone who came recently to Istanbul and is discovering it for the first time, a new project of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality targets any group of people who know very little about the city but want to learn more. The project, “Culture Ambassadors,” began in June with seminars from prominent academics, journalists and experts, and tours to significant historical areas.
“We live in Istanbul, but do not know Istanbul. To present Istanbul, we need to know it first,” said Recai Çalışkan, the municipality's assistant tourism manager.
The project is organized as part of preparatory activities for when Istanbul becomes the European Capital of Culture in 2010. Istanbul songs, urban consciousness and the history of Istanbul are some of the seminar topics, while tours are given to places like Sultanahmet, Fatih, Cistern Basilica and Yıldız. Attendees of the program get a certificate of “culture ambassador” if they complete four seminars and two tours.
Latecomer in promotion
“Turkey is too late to promote itself and the situation as far as Istanbul's promotion is even worse. Any project dedicated to promote Istanbul is appropriate wherever it starts,” said Professor Zekeriya Kurşun, one of the lecturers at the seminar.
This is a very symbolic project, according to journalist Ersin Kalkan, who is also one of the lecturers. “I see this as a demo of a more detailed certificate program.” According to Kalkan, a project that would train and give certificates to all personnel in the service sector, including taxi drives, but not those who are graduates of vocational schools, is extremely necessary for Istanbul.
However, it is yet unclear how those culture ambassadors would be used in upcoming culture capital preparations, though there are some ideas to benefit from them as volunteer guides in some areas. This is a preparatory program for 2010, according to Çalışkan, who added there are some plans to get the assistance of those who can speak foreign languages.
Intense interest
The interest of students in the program has been enormous. The quotas for the seminars and tours are already full.
“I thought that I do not know Istanbul sufficiently enough as a person who was born and grow in Istanbul,” said Fatma Uğurtan, who is a student at Yıldız Technical University. The program might be beneficial said Tahir Çıralı, another participant, adding that it is not certain yet the function of this program will be. “We do not know what a culture ambassador is,” he said.