Serhat Akpinar – A Man with Vision
By Margaret Sheard and Chris Elliott
We were recently granted an interview with Serhat Akpinar, the Founder and Chancellor of Girne American University. We duly arrived at the appointed time and were shown to his office where he came out to greet us and invited us in. We stepped into the office and I stood in amazement as not only was it a huge room but there was a host of antique items everywhere. I must have stood for quite a few moments with my mouth open as it was such a surprise. There was a parrot in one corner of the office which has been Serhat Bey’s companion for 18 years. I later mentioned that I expected a very minimalistic office of perhaps leather, chrome and glass. We could see that Serhat Bey was amused at our reaction and he said that he had just received permission from the Authorities to open a private museum at the University. This is something we hope to be able to see at a later date while the project is progressing and when it is completed.
We settled down to begin the interview, firstly asking if a personal profile would be in order and the reply was that this was perfectly alright.
Serhat Akpinar was born in Nicosia on 1st February 1964 and was the eldest of 2 boys. He progressed through the normal educational system in Cyprus at the time and, as there were no universities here, he had a choice of the USA, UK and Turkey to continue his education and as his girlfriend (later his wife) was going to Cambridgeshire in England to further her education, he chose to go to the UK and settled on the City University and later Huron University in London where he graduated in 1984, his graduation thesis being the foundation of a University. Serhat Bey returned to North Cyprus and at the age of 22 years he spoke to his parents about his desire to start a University in North Cyprus as there was no higher education system, it took some convincing and persuading but they were fully behind his decision to follow this vision.
There were of course many stumbling blocks and Serhat Bey had a difficult time with the necessary paperwork which involved a great deal of time and energy dealing with the Ministry of Education, Under-Secretaries and other Government officials, but eventually he received the permission he needed to go ahead and he designed the curriculum himself. So started this amazing success story,
The first University was established in 1985, it was then called the University of North Cyprus and was situated in a rented apartment block in Girne where Molly’s Place is now situated and also premises on the opposite side of the road, commencing with 7 students in the summer months and by September there were 196 students. In those early days Serhat Bey taught as well. One year later the University moved to 3 apartment buildings at the entrance to the New Harbour. In 1995 building work started at the present 35 acre site and in 1996 the University was established there, where it has continued to grow and flourish. Teachers were brought over mainly from the UK and in the initial years there were 30 teachers. So this was the start of what we see today, the huge complex which is Girne American University.
It was, however, necessary to achieve legal status and initially negotiations had been conducted with New Hampshire College (USA) to obtain this but unfortunately after working with them for one year they pulled out due to pressure from protesters and new negotiations took place with South Eastern University in Washington which was founded by the Charter of Congress and this time all went well and the University of North Cyprus was then re-named Girne American University.
I asked Serhat Bey the significance of the double-headed eagle, thinking this was maybe something to do with the “American” influence in the name but this is not the case, the logo was in fact the emblem of the Seljuk Turk Dynasty and the great Seljuk Empire, it was also adopted by many other nations. Reading about this, one explanation which seems logical is one head facing west to Rome and the other facing east to the new Rome – Constantinople but I think the significance in this instance would also relate to “vision” which is what Serhat Bey had in his younger years and still continues to the present day.
The “American” influence stems from the early years when there was a great deal of apathy about North Cyprus and when Serhat Bey was travelling overseas to promote the University he had to deal with many protests about the legality of the University in an unrecognised country (North Cyprus). He told us that on a trip to India an incident occurred when he was put behind bars for 24 hours due to Greek Cypriot protests and provocations over Turkish Cypriot representation which resulted in Serhat Bey being accused of misleading Indian students about a university in an unrecognised country. This was resolved by the Turkish and American Ambassadors but it was not the only time incidents of this kind occurred, there were problems in China and Moscow and they are still on-going although the Universities now get together under one exhibition and there is back-up by the Turkish Embassy. Serhat Bey has always had an on-going battle to promote the University and this still continues today with the non-recognition of North Cyprus.
Since those early days, which must have been very stressful and frustrating, Serhat Bey has gone from strength to strength and as well as Girne American University, North Cyprus, there are now Universities in England, USA, Turkey, Singapore, 3 continents, 5 nations. He must be so proud of his achievement and yet he still has a vision and it will not be too long before there are 6 nations with another University in Hong Kong. It is interesting to see that in one of the images of GAU there appear 8 stars and these represent the 8 international operational sites.
In a more personal vein, I mentioned to Serhat Bey his new project of a Pilots’ Education Program and asked if he had a pilot’s licence. His answer was No, but in fact he wanted to train as a pilot, this was his first dream when he was young, but it involved being trained under the Turkish Military and not a Flight School and this was not the route he wanted to take, however, his younger brother is a pilot and was able to do his training without the military aspect. Just imagine, if Serhat Bey had been the younger brother he would have probably succeeded as a pilot but one awful thought is that there would probably be no Girne American University! Another vision of Serhat Bey is to be able to take a light aircraft from Girne to the Karpaz or even a seaplane and he feels this will happen in the future.
Serhat is married and has 2 daughters, the youngest following in her father’s footsteps in the academic world and the eldest daughter who trained and became a lawyer/barrister has now decided to have a change of career and is currently in London where she has been studying musical drama and is now studying for her Ph.D. in this field. She has set up her own company which will probably result in travel around Europe. This is quite a change of direction but Serhat Bey said he is fully behind her and will give all the support he can.
We were aware that Serhat Bey is very keen on motorbikes and he owns a Harley Davidson, Chris suggested that this is probably his way of relaxing and I am sure it is a very different and rewarding pastime away from the monumental task of running an International University.
Following the interview, while Chris was setting up an article on his laptop which he wanted Serhat Bey to see regarding the GAU Flying Angels, I took the opportunity of looking at the many antique objects on display, there were wooden doors which I was told were around 16th century, Viking and other helmets, items of furniture and many other items of interest, large and small.
We needed to have a brief discussion regarding the article we had completed about GAU Flying Angels and at this point we were told that there is to be a new GAU hospital which will be mainly for rehabilitation and when it is completed the new Flying Angels project will be based there which will give them space and a nice working environment to operate from.
The time flew by and all too soon our interview had to come to an end but we thank Serhat Bey for his time and it was a pleasure to be in such a relaxed atmosphere speaking to this softly spoken man who had and still has – “A Vision” and you can read more of of the Girne American University clicking here
To learn more of the Founder and Chancellor, Serhat Akpinar and the Girne American University activities please follow a selection of our articles through these links:
GAU Chancellor Serhat Akpinar congratulated by LinkedIn – click here
GAU and Türksoy Sign a Protocol – click here
GAU – Tűrksoy – Photography Exhibition – click here
GAU – Flying Angels – North Cyprus – click here
GAU – 100 Best Universities in Higher Education – click here
GAU – Pilot Training to World and EU Standards – click here
GAU Karpaz Life Campus – Has started – click here
Girne American University – Mevlana Week – click here
GAU – The Grand Turkish Hamam re-opens in Lefkosa – click here
Click on the screen below to watch the GAU video