The Birth and Development of Conference Interpreting in Turkey

Lale Arslan ÖZCAN

Yildiz Technical University


Abstract. Based to a large extent on the experiences of the pioneers of the interpreting profession, together with a number of news reports  and programmes from visual and print media, this paper aims to illuminate the beginnings of professional conference interpreting in Turkey. The development and success of the profession was supported by significant contributions from the Business Administration Institute of Istanbul, in cooperation with the Harvard Business School and Ford Foundation, the Economic and Social Studies Conference Board, and individuals such as Gloria Wagner, Nezih Neyzi, Norayır Altınyan, as well as the founders of Turkey’s two major industrial  companies, Nejat Eczacıbaşı and Vehbi Koç.

Keywords: conference interpreting, Turkey, Norayır Altınyan, Gloria Wagner, Ford Foundation, Economic and Social Studies Conference Board.


This paper1 aims to shed light on the birth, development and coming of age of conference interpreting as a profession in Turkey. In scientific terms it would be daring to consider this research fully representative of the history of conference interpreting in Turkey, due to the relative shortage of resources, data and documents related to the early years of the profession. Nonetheless, in our opinion it makes a significant contribution to the field by documenting the valuable experiences of early conference interpreters, while also establishing a road map of conference interpreting in Turkey using the limited resources currently available. Owing to the lack of sufficient written resources, this research is based mainly on the experiences of the pioneers of the profession, along with news articles and programmes obtained from relevant visual and print media.

To collect the necessary data for this study, we interviewed several managers of translation companies as well as practicing professionals who were active during the period in question. Information was collected from pioneering interpreters, leading institutions and organisations, and meetings were conducted with these interpreters and the administrators of the institutions. As part of our qualitative analysis, we evaluated survey responses on how these active interpreters first  began  working  in  this  profession;  this  survey  was  completed  by  12


1 This research was conducted as part of my BA graduation thesis, entitled Historique de l’interprétation de conférence en Turquie, submitted in 1996 to the Department of Translation and Interpreting in French at Yıldız Technical University.

simultaneous interpreters from the translation/interpreting company Enterkon regarding how they began their careers and how they were trained, as well as other personal information. These data were confirmed and elaborated upon by descriptively evaluating information from written and verbal media archives and archival documents of the relevant institutions and organisations.


    1. The Establishment of the İşletme İktisadı Enstitüsü (Business Administration Institute): First Steps in Simultaneous Interpretation

When looking at the history of higher education in Turkey, it is important to note that Istanbul University played a significant role in the revival of university education in Turkey in the late 1930s and 1940s. Furthermore, many distinguished scientists fled to Turkey to escape Nazi persecution, and the re-establishment of their research at Istanbul University made a significant contribution to local development. Raising the universities to the level of modern, secular and advanced civilisations played an important role in Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s national development project and this emigration of academics from Germany during the Second World War provided Turkey with a number of opportunities to conduct  university  reforms. These developments marked a turning point for university reform as well as for the history of the translation profession in Turkey (Seyhan, 2015:109). As Diriker indicates, ‘The Turkish government signed an agreement with the Notgemeinschaft deutscher Wissenschaftler im Ausland (The Emergency Assistance Organization for German Scientists) established in Geneva to help Jewish and other persecuted German scholars secure employment abroad’ (Diriker, 2015:92). Particularly during their first three years in the country, these professors used translators/interpreters to produce their academic work and to communicate, and they also made significant  contributions to reforms within Turkey’s universities (Seyhan, 2015:111). Interpreters—assistants or doctoral students who were studying at universities at the time and who had mostly been trained abroad—were used in university lessons due  to students’ insufficient language skills. They ensured communication with the students and translated lecture notes into Turkish; some even worked with these professors on the translation of important scientific works and world literature into Turkish (Diriker, 2015:92-93). Furthermore, some of the interpreters  who  worked with these professors were academics themselves and made important contributions to Turkish academic life; among them we could mention distinguished academic and philologist Azra Erhat, translator, writer and professor of English literature Mina Urgan, and the eminent professor of philosophy Nermi Uygur (Seyhan, 2015:114).

In the 1950s Turkey was faced with numerous problems arising from social and economic instability, but this was also a period during which the country opened up to the world and the country’s private sector developed economically. In this context, the Ford Foundation, which established businesses in foreign countries and whose Middle-East liaison office was based in Ankara, offered a grant of

$100,000 to Istanbul University for the purpose of establishing a department of business administration (Neyzi, 1996) and thus in 1954 the Business Administration Institute was established within Istanbul University’s Faculty of Economics1.

The aim of the Institute was to train well-educated businessmen in order to contribute to the country’s economic progress by enabling the development of the private sector. The directors of the Institute attempted to convince the managers of major private sector companies, such as Eczacıbaşı and Koç, to send their top employees to the Institute to take courses in various fields, including accounting, marketing and networking. They also strove to raise awareness regarding the importance of delegating company management to business specialists. The Business Administration Institute forwarded some of its grant to the Harvard Business School to attract respectable professors from Europe, while the remaining part of the grant was therefore used to finance the Institute’s courses. Professor Nezih Neyzi and four colleagues, specialists in various fields, were eventually sent to the Harvard Business School for business training, where they each took special courses in their field of specialisation (Neyzi, 1996).


    1. Translation Activities in the Business Administration Institute

In 1955 and 1956, two American professors were invited to the Institute to offer seminars and courses to train top managers for private companies and factories. However, as the students lacked the English language proficiency required to understand their professors, the Institute began searching for interpreters. This task was initially undertaken by Nezih Neyzi,  an  influential figure in the introduction of the profession of market research to Turkey. As no interpreting booths existed in the large amphitheatres where the courses were offered, Neyzi initially provided consecutive interpreting (Neyzi, 1996), and at times also conducted ‘whispering’. As the courses advanced and the importance of interpreting   began   to   receive   greater   recognition,   the   Institute       installed


1 This Institute founded the current Faculty of Economics at Istanbul University. The Ford Foundation helped several institutions at the time, although today it does not carry out any activities in Turkey. In 1996, it had a liaison office in Beyoğlu, known as the Sevk ve İdarecilik Eğitim Vakfi (Management Education Foundation). However, this foundation has been inactive for a long period of time and now only exists on paper.

simultaneous interpreting booths in the amphitheatre of the Faculty of Economics at Istanbul University. Thus Neyzi would simultaneously interpret the professors’ lectures, with students listening to the interpretation through earphones. As the Institute grew accustomed to this technique, they also asked Neyzi to provide simultaneous interpreting at conferences (Neyzi, 1996).


    1. First Steps in Training for Conference Interpreting

By 1959 the Institute had realized that there would soon be an increased need for simultaneous interpreting. The Institute invited a committee from the Harvard Business School to conduct a nine-month training programme at the Faculty of Economics at Istanbul University, with the aim of training interpreters who could offer simultaneous interpretation (Atasoy, 1996). From among the candidates, the American professors selected three students with a good level of foreign language grammar and competence and with a strong cultural background in both Turkish and English. Two of these candidates were Okşan Atasoy and Ertan Başar1. The teaching team at the Institute was comprised of Hulki Saner, the American professors, and professors from the faculty. As the simultaneous interpreting candidates attended university classes during the daytime, the interpreting courses were held during the evenings in the amphitheatre of the Faculty of Economics, allowing the students to practise in the modern booths in the mezzanine. The American professors taught simultaneous interpretation techniques and ways of improving linguistic skills. The courses mostly included simultaneous interpreting exercises into Turkish. For nine months, the students received comprehensive training on conference interpretation, participated in training seminars, and learned about how the specifics of rhetoric could be used in simultaneous interpreting activities. The students were awarded certificates at the end of the nine-month programme, while the American professors, who had been given one-year contracts, returned to the USA. The Institute aimed to train interpreters to meet its future needs, but was unable to continue this practice of providing interpretation at conferences for financial reasons. The young interpreters therefore did not have the opportunity to implement what they had learned and most went into different professions. Only Okşan Atasoy—a graduate of Istanbul University’s Institute of Journalism and who had also had a successful career in journalism—would again have the chance to receive this training, after which she  began her career as a conference interpreter with the Conference Board (see section 2.5). She later became one of the first university-level trainers in conference interpreting at Boğaziçi University.


1 Okşan Atasoy could not remember the name of this third person, and due to the lack of written resources we too were unable to find this information. The only thing we know is that this person successfully completed the programme but never worked in the field of interpreting.

    1. The Period of European Influence

Conference interpreting achieved real success in the 1960s, when Turkey’s diplomatic relations grew substantially. Towards the end of the 1950s, Turkey experienced a series of challenges, such as political instability and socio-economic problems, along with the troubles associated with the country’s period of transition from a single-party period to a pluralistic political regime. Towards the end of the 1950s, increasing political and economic clashes led the country into social crisis (Parla, 1995:29), resulting in a takeover of the government by Turkish military forces in the 1960s. Based on the Constitution established as a result of this coup d’état, Turkey entered a new political period shaped by a desire for a more democratic regime and a more stable and better organised economy (ibid.). In such an atmosphere, the private sector gained more importance and began competing with the public sector. The managers of large Turkish companies therefore began working with politicians to organise seminars and conferences in order to establish an environment of dialogue between the public and private sectors, and to solidify their cooperation by offering opportunities for business people and politicians to exchange ideas and find solutions to national problems. These meetings offered an opportunity for interaction among politicians, business people and even academics, who until then had been unable to establish a continuous and constructive relationship (Neyzi, 1996).

At this point, the founders of Turkey’s two major industrial companies, Nejat Eczacıbaşı and Vehbi Koç, decided to expand this environment of dialogue and began organising annual conferences to discuss the country’s economic situation, which took place until the mid-1970s. As these conferences were held in  a famous hotel in Kilyos in Istanbul, they were known as the ‘Kilyos Conferences’ (Neyzi, 1996).

Thus, in this environment created by the changing social and economic conditions of the country, organisations and institutions in both public and private sectors felt the need to organise conferences and seminars and to conduct research at an international level. Following the Kilyos Conferences, Turkey improved its relations with other countries, especially with Europe, and conferences and seminars were subsequently organised in important cultural and business centres such as Izmir, Ankara and Istanbul (ESEKH, 1973:16).


    1. Pioneers of the Conference Interpreting Profession

During this period, in order to meet the need for interpreters, conference organisers worked with people from different professions who could speak foreign languages but had no knowledge of interpreting. They even invited simultaneous

interpreters from Europe, an effort that failed because the foreign  interpreters lacked sufficient proficiency in Turkish, and could therefore only interpret between English and French or other language combinations. People from certain business sectors who had spent time abroad or been trained abroad and who could speak English, German or French fluently, offered their help. In addition to this deficit of interpreters, consecutive interpreting was chosen over simultaneous because of the insufficient number of booths and earphone systems in conference halls.

Individuals who had been trained in various professional groups, could speak one or several foreign languages very well, had a strong cultural knowledge and were competent in their fields of specialisation and terminology eventually began acting as interpreters in multilingual meetings and conferences. As mentioned by Katipoğlu and Altınyan, the pioneers of the profession initially considered interpretation as a hobby or as a small favour to their colleagues who were organising the meetings. These pioneers learned the profession through trial and error without any previous knowledge of interpreting; they gradually increased their experience and specialised in the field, making significant contributions to the professionalisation of interpretation in the country (Altınyan 1996; Katipoğlu, 1996).

Among these interpreters were Berrin Kefeli1, who participated as an interpreter at the NATO meetings in Ankara; the famous journalist Faik Poray; and Filiz Ofluoğlu, who accompanied Nezih Neyzi at the Business Administration Institute at Istanbul University and who also worked as the interpreter of Vehbi  Koç (Altınyan, 1996). These interpreters had received no training in interpreting, and therefore no matter how knowledgeable they were in their subject areas and how fluent they were in their second languages, they still encountered problems and setbacks in conferences. As a result of this, some interpreters did not continue to work in the field after their initial experiences. The conference organisers who observed this decided that this activity should be conducted by professional interpreters, as was the case in Europe (Altınyan, 1996).


    1. The First Conference with Professional Simultaneous Interpretation in Turkey

1962 was a very important year for the development of conference interpretation in Turkey, as the Ford Foundation undertook the organisation of the second leg of the ‘Population Control’2 conference in Istanbul (the first of which had


1 When I asked Norayır Altınyan during our interview if there was anybody else working in this profession in an amateur capacity, he mentioned Berrin Kefeli.

2 At the time population planning was a relatively recent concept, but one to which developed countries attached great importance. The fact that Turkey would organise such a conference was very important for the promotion of the country on an international level.

been held in Greece). With a large number of participating countries, this conference was of great importance for Turkey. Nejat Eczacıbaşı, the president of the Ford Foundation in the 1960s and the CEO of Eczacıbaşı Holding S.A., recognised this and believed that it was essential to have a professional simultaneous interpreter for such a prominent meeting. He thus asked Robert Kerwin, the European President of the Ford Foundation at the time, for assistance. Kerwin contacted Simulta Inc., an  international translation company based in Geneva (Altınyan, 1996) that was managed by Maria Ginsberg and Gloria Wagner, well-known senior simultaneous interpreters in Brussels. Simulta Inc. employed numerous simultaneous interpreters from all over the world; Wagner would contact people in the countries she had  visited who were able and willing to work as conference interpreters  and employ them in the company. When required, courses were also offered to the newly recruited interpreters in Geneva. Kerwin asked Wagner to contact Nezih Neyzi, assistant to Nejat Eczacıbaşı. She sent a telegram to Neyzi, telling him that they were looking for an interpreter who could do simultaneous interpreting at a conference in Turkey and Neyzi sent the following message in reply: ‘There is non simultat [sic.]  in Turkey’1 (Altınyan, 1996). Wagner then decided to find an interpreter through her personal contacts and contacted Kosta Dapontes, who had previously worked in the Turkish News Agency in Greece, where the first leg of the conference had been held, and who was the Athens correspondent for the Hurriyet Daily News. Dapontes recommended a friend of his, Norayır Altınyan, who had a good command  of English and French and was suitable for the position in terms of education and level of general cultural knowledge. Kerwin appreciated Dapontes’ recommendations and knew Altınyan from Mobil S.A., where he had worked as a consultant in financial affairs. Dapontes therefore contacted Altınyan to inform him about the  project. Before accepting the offer, however, Altınyan wanted to meet Wagner, to whom he expressed his doubts: ‘I had no experience either in simultaneous interpretation nor in translation. Yes, I knew French and English very well and could speak both very easily, yet I knew that this was not enough for simultaneous interpretation, especially for working as a simultaneous interpreter in such an important conference. I told Gloria Wagner all this; she told me that they were in a difficult situation and could not find a Turkish interpreter, and that this was vital for the success of the  conference, so I accepted her request for help’2 (Altınyan, 1996). Two weeks before the conference, Wagner visited Istanbul and met Altınyan to discuss the scope of the work.

Meanwhile, Neyzi was looking for a second interpreter who could help Altınyan,  and  after  some  research,  contacted  Ayşegül  Çilli,  who  also  agreed  to


1 The same message was confirmed by Nezih Neyzi (Neyzi, 1996).

2 Translated from the Turkish by the author.

interpret at the conference. The Population Control conference was held at a hotel on the Kilyos coast, with the interpreting booths, resembling barracks, installed on the beach. Ayşegül Çilli interpreted during the first half of the meeting, and Altınyan then took over and interpreted until the end of the meeting (Altınyan, 1996). Wagner observed that Altınyan was efficient and competent in conference interpreting and invited him to Geneva. Altınyan thus travelled to Geneva in the summer of 1962 to participate in the courses organised by Wagner. Lecturers from the School of Translation and Interpreting at the University of Geneva (ETI) taught Altınyan the techniques and intricacies of simultaneous and consecutive interpretation, and during conferences he had the opportunity to accompany ‘senior interpreters’ who were regarded as the masters of conference interpreting in Europe at that time. Following this intensive period of study, Altınyan returned to Turkey as a trained simultaneous interpreter. He subsequently participated in all the conferences organised by the Ford Foundation during the 1960s and the early 1970s as the Foundation’s professional interpreter. He was sometimes joined by Berrin Kefeli, but in general he worked independently. Today, Altınyan is therefore considered the first person in Turkey to hold the title of professional conference interpreter (Çorakçı, 1996).

In the summer of 1963, Altınyan again travelled to Geneva to improve his technique and knowledge. All his expenses were paid by Nejat Eczacıbaşı, who  had observed Altınyan interpreting at the Population Control conference. Eczacıbaşı believed that simultaneous interpreting was crucial for international conferences, which were important for Turkey’s social and economic progress (Atasoy, 1996). The Ford Foundation and Simulta Inc. therefore decided to work with the Ekonomik ve Sosyal Etüdler Konferans Heyeti (Economic and Social Studies Conference Board), which organised international conferences and conducted research in economics and sociology in cooperation with the Ford Foundation, to create a professional simultaneous interpreting team in Turkey. This decision was a turning point in the profession of conference interpreting in the country.


    1. Ekonomik ve Sosyal Etüdler Konferans Heyeti (Economic and Social Studies Conference Board)

The Ekonomik ve Sosyal Etüdler Konferans Heyeti (ESEKH) or briefly Konferans Heyeti (Conference Board) was founded by Nejat Eczacıbaşı in 1961 to study the country’s economic and social problems in an open and transparent way, and to inform the public about these studies (ESEKH, 1973:2). The Conference Board held international conferences, seminars and panel discussions, conducted scientific research and informed related groups and the public about their activities through various publications. The Board also aimed to build a bridge of communication    between    ‘the    governors’—i.e.    the    authorities    and      the

government—and ‘the governed’—i.e. the public and academics. The Board was awarded the title of ‘public benefit organisation’ on 22 June 1966 (ibid.).

At the time, the financial expenses of the Conference Board were paid by private sector companies such as Mobil S.A. and Eczacıbaşı Holding S.A., foundations such as the Ford Foundation, and public institutions such as the State Development Bank and the Ankara Chamber of Commerce. As such, the Ford Foundation was among the most important financial supporters of the Board.


    1. The Establishment of the First Turkish Professional Simultaneous Interpreting Team

In 1964, with financial aid from the Ford Foundation and in collaboration with Simulta Inc., the Conference Board decided to organise a special course on conference interpreting in Geneva to train the first team of Turkish simultaneous interpreters. In the summer of the same year, Wagner and Altınyan began meeting candidates from schools offering foreign language education to select participants for the courses (Atasoy, 1996). They selected the candidates meticulously, looking at numerous criteria: a strong cultural knowledge, competence in both their mother tongue and in a foreign language, a rich vocabulary, rapid mental responses and open-mindedness regarding the world and other cultures and civilisations. The selection phase comprised of an oral interview followed by several further stages in which vocabulary and linguistic competence were assessed. Wagner and Altınyan were very strict about the criteria, and at the end of the process five candidates were selected: Okşan Atasoy, Ayşegül Çilli, Suna Bozkır, Dilek Basmacı and a further candidate named Selda1 (Atasoy, 1996). Although Okşan Atasoy had previously undergone this training in 1959 (see section 1.3), she was initially  unable to practise in the field because of the unavailability of work. Before participating in the Geneva programme, Çilli had previously worked as an amateur conference interpreter without any education in interpreting. In the summer of 1964, the selected candidates travelled to Geneva where Wagner, who personally organised the courses, undertook the task of teaching this first team.

The five selected candidates received approximately the same education as Altınyan. The one-month training programme was very comprehensive, and courses were organised at the School of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Geneva (ETI), where professional interpreters were trained each year for international institutions such as the United Nations and NATO. Again thanks to Wagner, the candidates had the opportunity to participate in the conferences held


1 Atasoy could not remember the name of this candidate, and due to the lack of written resources we too were unable to find this information.

in the UN and NATO and to observe the support, solidarity, harmony and professional attitudes among professional interpreters. Wagner and the lecturers who participated in the course taught the candidates the techniques and intricacies of simultaneous interpreting and note-taking, along with techniques for memorising a text or long passages of speech. At the end of the very intensive one-month programme, these five newly trained simultaneous interpreters returned to Turkey where they worked as professional interpreters in the conferences organised by the Conference Board, with each conference initially serving as a kind of additional training. Of these five interpreters, however, only Okşan Atasoy and Suna Bozkır continue working in the profession today. Although Dilek Basmacı was a talented interpreter and worked as Wagner’s assistant for some time, she later moved to the banking sector (Atasoy, 1996, Diriker, 2015:94); Selda decided to give up interpreting after several attempts, believing that the profession was not for her; and Ayşegül Çilli worked for a very short period of time before moving to the USA (Altınyan, 1996). Even though some of the candidates left the job after a short  time, the Conference Board was satisfied with the interpreters’ performance and believed that the endeavour should be continued in order to meet the clear need for interpreters in Turkey, and therefore decided to invest further in conference interpreting (ESEKH, 1973).

At the beginning of the 1960s, interpreting booths had only been installed in the conference hall located on the ‘C’ floor of the Tarabya Hotel. The booths were obviously unsatisfactory and the Conference Board knew that better booths would be needed in order for their team to work and to implement what they had learned. In 1966, therefore, the Conference Board, with financial aid from the Ford Foundation, acquired wired and wireless listening devices and imported the devices and technical equipment required for the installation of simultaneous interpreting booths. A technical team was hired for the installation of this system, and the booths were stored in the Conference Board’s office at Harbiye Adlı Han (Dişbudak, 1991:70). Whenever a conference was organised, the technicians would take the booths to the conference venue, later returning them to the office. After some time, the Board began to rent out the booths to other institutions.

In 1965, the Board decided to train interpreter candidates in Istanbul rather than taking them to Geneva, as they had done with the first team. Announcements were placed in daily newspapers to recruit new interpreter candidates. Teachers at Robert College1, some businessmen and politicians—such as Nejat Eczacıbaşı and the Istanbul governor Fahrettin Kerim Gökay—were also informed. The criteria for candidates included a perfect level of grammar, a good level of cultural knowledge,


1 Prestigious American college in Istanbul, founded in 1863.

and the competences required for conference interpreting, including mental agility, capability and rhetorical skills. Wagner and Altınyan interviewed the candidates individually. Dilek Basmacı, who was Wagner’s assistant during this period, also participated in the entrance exams, which comprised of reading the news in the original language and then giving an oral summary in the same language. The candidates were then asked to translate this news into a foreign language (Diriker, 2015:94). Almost all the candidates participating in these interviews were either university students or recent graduates, or the children of Turkish embassy employees who had lived abroad for some time and been educated abroad. Candidates were selected from those who were highly proficient in English, German and/or French in addition to Turkish (Altınyan, 1996).

The selected candidates attended an intensive one-month course offered by Wagner and Altınyan in the Board’s office (Altınyan, 1996). The trainee interpreters studied texts about the subject matter of the conferences and seminars  they participated in and found the corresponding technical terms in other languages before deciding which terms were to be used when interpreting for internal consistency (ESEKH, 1973:7). The schedule of this programme and the duration of the courses varied each year, sometimes requiring two months, sometimes only one. The  teaching method involved on-the-job training, which allowed thorough practice in a real working environment. In their free time, candidates worked in the booths installed in the Board’s office and implemented what they had learned. At the end of the programme the candidates took exams, and successful candidates were granted a professional conference interpreting certificate. After completing this intensive training programme, the new graduates then participated in conferences with their instructors as a kind of internship. During this internship, they improved their vocabulary and knowledge in many fields and gained experience in the profession. Following all these stages, candidates whose trainers believed they would make successful conference interpreters joined the Board’s professional staff.

The Conference Board organised such courses from 1964 to 1981 with around a dozen students each year being trained in conference interpreting by Wagner along with the Board’s professional interpreters. However, as conference interpreting is a difficult profession that requires great effort and dedication and that may not alone provide a satisfactory source of income, most candidates left the profession at the very beginning of their careers (Altınyan, 1996).

From 1964 to the beginning of the 1970s, the Conference Board, a place considered ‘home’ by interpreters, strove to meet Turkey’s need for conference interpreters on its own (Dişbudak, 1996). The Board’s team of professional interpreters, comprising Okşan Atasoy, Norayır Altınyan, Nur Ottoman, Gülseren Albatros and Suna Bozkır among others, worked hard to improve their profession and contributed to the country’s development in this field (ESEKH, 1973:5).

The end of the 1960s was a difficult period for conference interpreting. Interpreters worked with little in the way of technical equipment, and several  booths and pieces of equipment were defective. In total, the country had fewer than a dozen booths from which simultaneous interpreting could be conducted. The quality of the technical and audio equipment was problematic and far from conforming to international norms (Dişbudak, 1991:72).

Among the prominent figures who contributed significantly to the improvement of the profession were leading businessmen Nejat Eczacıbaşı and Vehbi Koç, prominent diplomat Nuri Eren, Istanbul governor Fahrettin Kerim Gökay, and journalist and writer Burhan Felek. Aware of the importance of simultaneous interpreting for the success of international conferences, these individuals believed that interpreting should be done professionally and strove to ensure this was possible (Dişbudak, 1996).

Although not directly involved in an interpretation activity themselves, Nezih Neyzi and Sadun Katipoğlu (who took over the role of Secretary General of the Conference Board after Neyzi and continued in this position until the 1990s) greatly contributed to the early years of the profession, facilitating the working  lives of professional interpreters by coordinating their teams and training programmes (Atasoy, 1996).




In 1969, a group of professional interpreters working for the Board—Hasan Akbelen, Zeynep Bekdik, Asaf Savaş Akad, Melik Furgaç and Ömer Bozkurt—left the Conference Board, openly stating their wish to work according to their own principles and rules without the Board’s intervention (Dölay1, 1996) and founded the Konferans Tercümanları Derneği (KTD – Conference Interpreters’ Association). In this context, Hasan Akbelen, the first Turkish member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters, needs to be remembered for his significant efforts in the professionalisation of conference interpreting in Turkey (Ottoman, 2004). This group, like the Board, selected candidates and provided them with interpreter training. They gave importance to the development of its members and activities, made efforts to introduce Turkish interpreters to the international field, and strove to apply European conventions, ethical rules and norms in Turkey and to promote the professional conditions in the country. The association broadened its membership in 1998 and changed its name to Birleşik Konferans Tercümanları


1 Belgin Dölay was one of the first interpreters trained by KTD and a student of Akbelen. Together with Zeynep Bekdik, they established Enterkon, an interpreting company founded in the 1990s and still active today.

Derneği (BKTD – United Conference Interpreters Association). In 2009 BKTD applied to the Ministry of the Interior to be formally recognised as the Conference Interpreters Association of Turkey, in order to promote conference interpreting as a profession in the country and to establish international professional principles and rules in the local market. Following approval of the application by the Ministry, in April 2010 the association changed its name to Türkiye Konferans Tercümanları Derneği (TKTD – Conference Interpreters Association of Turkey). The association adopted AIIC’s model and opened its doors to conference interpreters in Turkey. Today it represents over 100 conference interpreters.

Meanwhile, by the end of the 1970s the Conference Board, which had increased the scope of its activities, was no longer able to satisfy the interpreters’ needs within its organisation, and at the beginning of the 1980s, the Board decided to end its interpreting courses due to its busy schedule and financial limitations.  The interpreters who had continued to work for the Board therefore agreed to separate and in 1984 they formed their own company, Uluslararası Konferans Tercümanları (UKT – International Conference Interpreters) (Camat, 1996). UKT aimed to be recognised for the quality and discipline in its services by recruiting only experienced interpreters, bringing the principles and rules of the profession to a higher level in the country. To this day, UKT remains an active provider of interpreting services in the conference interpreting sector.

In Turkey today, interpreting companies that were founded at the end of  the 1980s still provide advanced simultaneous interpreting services. Moreover, these companies declare their commitment to the working principles and conditions of the TKTD at every opportunity, and their interpreters are members of TKTD.




In October 1981, Boğaziçi University, in cooperation with the Cultural Board of the British Consulate and the Ankara Office of the European Economic Community, organised a conference on ‘Conference Interpreting: The Latest Developments in Europe and Special Issues in Turkey’ (Karantay, 1985:219). During the conference a statement was made in which it was declared that, ‘when the progress made in international relations and the new conditions in Turkey are taken into consideration, it is necessary to train more professional interpreters’ (ibid.). This statement was an important milestone for the foundation of a university department of conference interpreting and general translation training in Turkey. The first university-level interpreter training course was established in the 1982–83 academic year at Hacettepe University (Diriker, 2015:96) as the English Translation and Interpretation Department, within the School of Foreign Languages. In the 1983–84 academic year, a second translation and interpreting

department was founded at Boğaziçi University. The fact that training in conference interpreting was now offered at university level was a sign of the institutionalisation of the profession.




As mentioned by Diriker, as the relationship between the European  Union and Turkey developed, the European Commission began to support conference interpreter training in Turkey (Diriker, 2015:95). In line with its aim of improving relations with Turkey, the European Commission accepted a proposal for a training programme by the Conference Interpreters Association (KTD) to train conference interpreters according to European standards and thus in 1989 the European Commission organised a training programme in cooperation with the KTD and the Turkish State Planning Organisation (Türkiye Devlet Planlama Teşkilatı) (Bekdik, 1996). Announcements were placed in newspapers to recruit candidates for participation in this programme; about 70–80 people applied for the programme of whom  three  were  selected.  The  first  training  programme  in  Brussels  ran  from  1 January 1989 to 1 July 1989. The Commission financed the programme, and the instructors of the Commission, together with Zeynep Bekdik and Belgin Dölay, offered courses to students over a period of six months. Those who successfully completed the training programme were granted the European Commission’s certificate for conference interpreting. This training programme continued for three years and was then discontinued for financial reasons (ibid.). Out of the nine graduates of this programme, only six began working in the profession (ibid.). Although the training sessions in Brussels were discontinued, the European institutions continued to support conference training in Turkey, and currently provide training grants as well as training support to two MA programmes in conference interpreting at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, and Bilkent University in Ankara.




During the 1980s, when Turkey was rapidly opening up to the world, conference interpreting shifted from being merely a side job to a fully-fledged profession. This was the result of technological developments and the fact that conference interpreters became more visible in public life through the media and began to be seen as masters of a profession,1 combined with improvements in


1 In 1995 the news programme 32. Gün, the longest running and most influential news programme in Turkish television history, broadcast a special report on the Gulf War. The programme included a section introducing the conference interpreters who interpreted the interviews and press releases about this war. This broadcast made a significant contribution to the recognition of the profession in  Turkey, and the programme made an important contribution to raising the visibility of profession.


Turkey’s relations with Europe, especially with the momentum created from Greek–Turkish relations based on the Davos process.1

Today, professional conference interpreting in Turkey is also expanding to include sign language interpreting, with the first sign-language conference interpreters being officially certified in 2013 by the relevant ministries, and with the establishment of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters. Although Turkish Sign Language was recognised in 2005, we can see that sign language interpreters have not yet played a sufficient role in conferences or even in public service contexts and there is therefore a need for education and awareness-raising  in this area. To this end, the Ministry of National Education launched a certificate programme for sign language interpreters in 2013, and 87 candidates were certified as Turkish sign language interpreters (Diriker, 2015: 98-102).

Since the 1980s, when Turkey’s first university interpreting programmes were established, the number of training courses has risen hugely and today, there are approximately 70 university departments of translation and interpreting throughout the country. Thus, together with active support from professional associations, conference interpreters in Turkey have made important progress in  the professionalisation of their field.



Deriş Ottoman, N. (2004) ‘From dragomans to interpreters: A brief overview of the profession in Turkey’,, accessed 28.08.2004.

Diriker, E. (2015) ‘On the evolution of the interpreting profession in Turkey: From the Dragomans to the 21st Century’ in Ş. Tahir, S. Paker, J. Milton (eds.), Tradition, Tension and Translation in Turkey, Amsterdam, John Benjamins.

Dişbudak Çorakçı, B. (1991) Tane Tane Simültane, Istanbul, İletişim Yayınları.

Ekonomik ve Sosyal Etüdler Konferans Heyeti Tanıtım Kataloğu (1973) Promotional Catalogue of the Economic and Social Studies Conference Board, Istanbul: Publications of the Conference Board.

Ekonomik ve Sosyal Etüdler Konferans Heyeti (ESEKH) (1973) Simultaneous Tercüme Servisi Hizmetinizde Tanıtım Broşürü [Promotional Brochure for Simultaneous Interpretation Service of the Economic and Social Studies Conference Board], Istanbul, Publications of  the Conference Board.

Karantay, S. (1985) ‘Boğaziçi Üniversitesi’nde çeviri eğitimi’ in Dün ve Bugün Çeviri, 2, p. 219. Parla, T. (1995) Türkiye’de Anayasalar, Istanbul, İletişim Yayınları.

Seyhan, A. (2015) ‘Saved by translation: German academic culture in Turkish exile’ in Ş. Tahir, S. Paker, J. Milton (eds.), Tradition, Tension and Translation in Turkey, Amsterdam, John Benjamins.


1 This was a process of reconciliation between Greece and Turkey that started with the official  meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Özal and his Greek counterpart Andreas Papandreou during the World Economic Forum at Davos on 30-31 January 1988.


Hacettepe University, Department of Translation and Interpretation,, accessed 4.01.2017.

International Conference Interpreters,, accessed 10.01.2017. The Conference Interpreters Association of Turkey, accessed 10.01.2017.


Recorded Interviews

Tape Number 1: A-side interview with Belkış Çorakçı Dişbudak (Pioneer of the profession, former coordinator of the Conference Board) (27.03.1996)/ B-side interview with Belgin Dölay (conference interpreter, managing director of Enterkon, Founder of TKTD) (12.04.1996).

Tape Number 2: A-side interview with Belgin Dölay continued (12.04.1996); interview with Okşan Atasoy (pioneer of the profession) (22.04.1996)/B-side interview with Nur Camat (pioneer of the profession) (24.04.1996).

Tape Number 3: A-side interview with Okşan Atasoy continued (22.04.1996); interview with Sadun Katipoğlu (Conference Board Secretary General) (17.05.1996)/B-side interview with Nezih Neyzi (Conference Board Secretary General, President of Board of Directors of market research company PEVA Ltd.) (06.06.1996).

Tape Number 4: A-side interview with Zeynep Bekdik (conference interpreter, managing director of Enterkon, founder of TKTD) (07.04.1996).


Video Tape

  1. Gün TV Programme Gulf War Documentary, 1995.


Lale ARSLAN ÖZCAN works as Assistant Professor in the Department of Translation and Interpreting at Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul, Turkey. She completed her doctorate on ‘French Literature and the Science of Translation’ at the Department of French Language and Literature at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey. Over the past 17 years Lale Arslan Özcan has produced many translated works, particularly in the fields of history, sociology and philosophy, as well as literary translations. Her translations include Jean Paul Roux’s Histoire des Turcs [History of the Turks], Mircea Eliade’s Traité d’histoire des religions [Treatise on the History of Religions] and Michel de Certeau’s L’Invention du quotidien: Arts de faire [The Practice of Everyday Life]. Her studies focus mainly on literary translation, translation strategy, and conference interpreting history and training.