Pakistanis at METU


Early History

Fifty years ago, Vecdi Diker founded Middle East Technical University (METU) under the name "Orta Doğu Yüksek Teknoloji Enstitüsü" on November 15th, 1956. The objective was to contribute to the development of Turkey and Middle Eastern countries by producing skilled individuals in the fields of technology, natural and social sciences. Pakistan, not strictly a part of Middle East, was included in the list of countries that could benefit from this great institution in the making.

Before 1963, when the university moved to its current location creating the first university campus of Turkey, METU was located in the barracks behind the Grand National Assembly of Turkey – a small building at Kızılay's Müdafaa Caddesi. In 1957, the first Pakistani student, Arshad Jamil joined METU. Since then, Pakistanis have kept an unbroken presence at METU.

Numbers and Academics

Turkey and METU offered a very interesting attraction for Pakistani students. METU was the first university in Turkey having English language as the medium of instruction. Besides, there were several important factors that attracted them to METU.

  • It's high standard of education - at par with some of the top universities in the world
  • English as a medium of instruction
  • Very low-cost relative to options in the West
  • Availability of scholarships for Pakistani students through multilateral treaty organizations including CENTO and RCD until 1980.
  • Ease of travel to Germany and other European countries for summer jobs, that allowed Pakistani students to be financially self-reliant.
  • Proximity to Pakistan
  • Muslim culture and halal food, with a flair for Western way of life

During the 1960’s and 70’s, Pakistan and Turkey were members of two multilateral organizations which provided handsome scholarships for Pakistani students in Turkey.

  • Central Treaty Organization (CENTO): This military alliance was formed in 1955 and named the “Baghdad Pact” as part of the Cold War strategy against the Soviet Union. It was renamed as CENTO after the Iraqi revolution when Iraq pulled out of it. Headquartered at Ankara, the remaining five members were USA, UK, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. The pact was dissolved in 1979.
  • Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD): In order to extend the scope of CENTO, the three regional members Pakistan, Iran and Turkey established RCD in 1964 to promote socio-economic development in the region. This became defunct after the Iranian revolution in 1979.

While these treaties were established for various geopolitical reasons, they both played an important role by offering scholarships to numerous qualified Pakistani students at METU. It is estimated that several hundred students from Pakistan benefited from this financial support for studies at the university.

With the University expanding and scholarships made available from CENTO and RCD, Pakistanis started to pour into the university in the early sixties. There were many who paid their own expenses, some with great sacrifice of their parents. They were mainly from major cities- Karachi, Dacca, Lahore and Islamabad. This was natural as information about the University was limited. At their peak in late sixties and early seventies, there were more than 100 Pakistani students enrolled at any time. By 1980, the scholarships were no longer available after the Iranian revolution which brought an end to CENTO and RCD, and the number of Pakistanis started to dwindle. In recent years, the Turkish government instituted the Türkiye Bursaları scholarship scheme for Pakistani and some other foreign students. In addition, METU has taken an initiative to attract talented students by participating in educational exhibitions which are now regularly organized in Pakistan. A comprehensive list of all Pakistani alumni was compiled in 2006 and has been updated time and again. These alumni are on METU email lists. It is estimated that at least 600 Pakistanis have entered the gates of METU

A substantial number dropped out for different reasons. Many could not adjust to the rigorous study culture of METU and were either dropped or left studies. Some transferred for different reasons to other universities in Pakistan, USA, Canada, Europe and elsewhere. Then there were several very bright students who used METU’s reputation and preparation as a stepping stone for admittance to some of world’s top universities like MIT, Stanford and others.

Those who finished at METU generally fared well academically. However, in sixties and seventies, one can find examples of those who had problems with grades. Turkish METU students were and still are crème de la crème of Turkey – disciplined and regular. Pakistan’s intermediate education was based on annual examinations which most of the students prepared for at the very end of the academic session. With relative grading in most courses at METU, some found it difficult to compete. Or perhaps these difficulties mirrored the turbulent political conditions of 70’s worldwide. There were times when studies would be disrupted because of boycotts. But the University would not compromise on standards and students would complete the academic requirements under great psychological pressures

METU currently has more than 28,000 students with approximately 25% of these enrolled in graduate programs. The undergraduate program consists of five faculties which have 41 academic departments. There are 93 masters and 51 doctorate programs available in the graduate schools of Natural and Applied Sciences, Social Sciences, Informatics, Applied Mathematics and Marine Sciences.

Pakistanis, reflecting the development needs at home, have kept a focus on Engineering, Architecture, City Planning and Administrative Sciences. In Engineering, they have opted mainly for Chemical, Electrical, Mechanical, Civil, Industrial, Metallurgical, Mining & Petroleum fields. Physics and Chemistry have been the two most popular departments in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences. But we do have those few who did not follow the trend and went for departments like mathematics or social sciences.

A majority of Pakistanis joined the undergraduate programs with some continuing up to Masters. In the seventies, Pakistanis started to enter METU for Masters programs. Only a handful of Pakistanis have completed their doctorate programs at METU.

METU offers quality education with a high emphasis on merit and excellence. It has become one of the most distinguished institutions in Turkey with around 2500 faculty members, academic instructors and research assistants. Many Pakistanis, including some alumni, have taught at the University. Prof. Dr. Syed Tanvir Wasti, one of the earliest Pakistani students at METU, remained with the University throughout his career until his retirement.

Life at METU

Life of Pakistanis at METU mirrors the life of other students but they have some peculiarities. The common ground is the bonding that METU students developed with the University and other fellow students. Internet in recent years has facilitated interaction of METU alumni, who are now spread across the globe. There are more than 400 email groups fraternities and WhatsApp chat groups of all kinds formed by METU alumni. Pakistanis are no exception and keep a strong presence.

For Pakistanis, Turkey is special, as Pakistan is special for Turks who demonstrated this after the 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan. Pakistanis at METU can not forget the great love and affection Turkish people showered on them during their stay. They felt most welcome in Turkey and at METU.

The homepage of ‘Metupaki’ email group summarizes the sentiments:

“Our youthful days at Ankara - frolicking on the grounds of ODTU and in Ankara city - were the most unforgettable. It was the most remarkable period of our lives which has had a permanent impression on the way we developed.

Our Turkish hosts were truly "kardeşler". They didn’t merely mince words when they called us Pakistanis as kardeş. They demonstrated it time and again.

Turkey and ODTÜ was a love story for us indeed.”

Kebap 49 was a favorite haunt for dinner, being inexpensive and good food

The concept of kardeşler was new to the Pakistani students. They had never been taught the amazing historical bond between Pakistan and Turkey. This deep historical connection between the Muslims of the sub-continent and Turkey goes back to the First World War and earlier. The Turks are taught in school that virtually all Muslim rulers of the sub-continent for the past nearly 900 to 1000 years were Turks. They also felt a strong bond of love for Pakistanis for having stood by them at the worst time of their history when the Ottoman empire came to an end, and they had been betrayed by the Arabs. As a result, they consider Pakistanis to be their kardeşler (brothers and sisters), while all other nationalities are arkadaşlar (friends). They are treated royally with love at every juncture.

Pakistani alumni reminisce about the campus life as well as the city of Ankara. There is a charm about the red and blue buses, yurtlar (dormitories), Kafeterya, canteens, çalişma saloons, the library, Üçlü Anfı, the Science Tree, the vivid four seasons at campus, famous places, streets, cinemas, restaurants and bookstores. Utter a familiar name – Kızılay, Atatürk Bulvarı, Ulus, Maltepe, Bahçelievler, Tunalı Hilmi, Vali Reşit, Küçükesat, Cebeci, Çankaya, Kavaklıdere, Gazi Osman Paşa, Asaği Ayrancı, Gima, Set Kafeterya, Pide Kebap 49, Foto Güzel – and they know Ankara like the back of their hands; they fondly remember it and long to walk its streets again.

Bridge players in early 1970s

While some took residence at the campus, others rented apartments in different parts of the city, popular areas being Kavaklıdere, Küçükesat, Çankaya and Gazi Osman Paşa. Apartment life provided an attractive aspect in the form of the self-prepared aromatic and spicy Pakistani food. Although this food was not cooked with expertise, it was nonetheless a highly valued commodity. ‘Finesse’ was a term coined to depict a METU-Pakistani tradition whereby a group of friends would ‘raid’ a Pakistani friend’s apartment as uninvited guests right at dinner time. Cinema was so inexpensive for students who hardly missed a good movie. There would be a new movie every week in every movie theatre. Some were virtually addicted to seeing more than one movie a day, ensuring that every single movie theatre was visited every week.

Pakistanis picked up many card games including Contract Bridge and chess from their Turkish friends. They were not very enthusiastic about sports but still managed to produce champions like Syed Shah Alam and Masood Hashmi, in table tennis and tennis respectively. Collectively, Pakistanis agree that they did not benefit properly from the excellent sports opportunities at METU and committed themselves more to pastimes like music, movies, and indoor entertainment.

Although still mostly hooked to sub-continental music, Pakistanis also caught on to pop and rock music like the rest of METU students. The greatest addition to their listening pleasure was the genres of Turk ‘sanat’ and ‘halk’ music. Some of them have retained collections of Zeki Müren, Müezzez Ersoy, Cem Karaca, Ahmet Kaya, Emel Sayın, Ajda Pekan, Neşe Karaböcek, Bariş Manço and others. In terms of classical tastes, some turned east towards Saigal, C.H.Atma, while others turned towards the western pop music of Elvis, Engelbert, Tom Jones, Simon and Garfunkel, or Western folk songs of the like of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Mary Hopkins, or classical traditions led by Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart.

With independence from their families, some of them acquired habits that would not have been condoned back home. The cheapest cigarettes were Birinci and Bafra which were horrible in taste but most of them could not afford to buy the higher end ones like Maltepe, Samsun, and Yeni Harman. The ones with taste would sacrifice other expenses to buy Winston, Marlboro, Rothmans, or other imported brands

They traveled to Europe for summer jobs and availed opportunities unknown to them in Pakistan. When they came to Ankara, they could speak English, Urdu and/or Bengali and possibly Punjabi, Pushto, Sindhi and Baluchi languages. They enriched themselves with the knowledge of Turkish history and witnessed the transformation Kemal Atatürk brought to Turkish society. They were thrilled by the pride a Turk had in his country and learned some lessons.

Pakistani students and alumni learnt the Turkish language, cherished its food and music, and reminisce all the time about their adventures at that young age. Turkey became a part of their existence. Its people and culture occupy an important place in their hearts, many of whom continue to visit Turkey periodically to enjoy all that this beautiful country has to offer. Many of them left Turkey with at least a fair understanding of the Turkish language, while some of them reached a high level of proficiency.

Those who traveled to Europe also picked up new languages and cultures. In a nutshell, in addition to education, METU provided a platform to broaden their cultural horizons.

The most valuable part of their non-academic life was the time they spent in other parts of Turkey visiting homes of their Turkish friends or as student-tourists. Many remember with emotions the love they received from mothers of their friends who lovingly called them with names like ‘kara gözlüm’, ‘oğlum’ and ‘yavrum’. It is no coincidence that many Pakistanis, both sexes, found their life partners in Turkey. Some of those who didn’t marry in Turkey gave Turkish names to their children, Sinan being the most popular.

Probably the most difficult part was the winter months with cold weather and snow that they were not used to. Most of them had come from the hot climate of Karachi, but even those who came from Punjab and KPK areas were generally used to warm weather.

During early decades, communications with parents and families used to take weeks

Living far from their homeland, the Pakistani students regarded each other as if they were one single family. They shared joys and sorrows and supported each other financially when required. Those were the days when communication with Pakistan was difficult and the only way to survive away from their families was to build a mutual relationship with new-found friends. In times of difficulty and emergency, they could not reach out to Pakistan for help. Travel back home was also difficult and expensive. The only alternative was to rely on each other and thus they became one big family. This common experience of having lived and studied in Ankara created a lifelong bond among the Pakistani alumni of METU and has overcome the test of time. It exists to this day.

With technology, voice, video and text communications have become instantaneous over the past decade or two. The issues faced by students today are very different from those of the earlier decades.

With the happiness of life comes sadness too. The flip side has been the tragedies of death of at least 60 Pakistani alumni who died in accidents, or due to heart failures, cancer, COVID, lung disease, suicide, assassination, and other causes. Many of them left us very early that remains a shock and a loss. Then there are some who quite didn’t make it in life. Such is life and we have come to accept its reality


Most Pakistani graduates of METU went on to illustrious careers in all fields in Pakistan and across the world. Some of them excelled in their fields and rose to the top of their organizations, bringing laurels to their alma mater.

The total number of students who passed through the halls of METU is over 150,000. They have made tremendous contributions to Turkey and the world as they are scattered all around. Of these, Pakistani alumni are fewer than a thousand in number, but they have done their part in proportion.

Pakistani METU alumni hold human values high and feel a tendency to take care of their fellows. They came from families with strong values based on the teachings of Islam. Their parents ingrained sound norms in their lives from childhood, which was extremely important as a foundation. But the world was changing fast with different philosophies on the horizon to confuse a young mind. Having broadened their worldview with unhindered exposure to the world and without anyone looking over their shoulders, these young men struggled and found their niche. Each one moved in different directions but the essential base they brought from their families had an immense impact on the future developments for most of them. They retained their Pakistani identity and family, cultural and religious values, and found a new vision based on their new outlook.

These young people started their first day at METU at the Registrar’s Office, unsure of themselves and little knowing that they were about to begin a life of accomplishment. METU was able to transform these young people into highly skilled and motivated professionals. They are contributing not only to Pakistan but also to other countries where a significant number have chosen to settle down.

While many are now retired from professional life, they have headed corporations, educational and research institutions, consulting companies, specialized departments and projects. They are in technology, architecture, business, politics, journalism, media, real estate, trading and community service. They have written and published books in all fields, and their articles have been included in reputable international journals. They design and build power plants, alternate energy systems, telecommunication systems, highways, bridges, roads, buildings, homes, shops, and earthquake resistant shelters. They are into aerospace and design and operate equipment, manufacturing and process plants, factories, assembly plants and workshops. They produce atomic power, test missiles, invent and register patents.

Environmental issues are among the serious concerns of the University. METU has the largest campus area in the world and is proud to be the recipient of International 1995 Aga Khan Award for its Forestation Program. Many of its Pakistani alumni are working for environmental protection, some as top experts in alternate energy, namely solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and other forms.

Many followed their teachers and took education, training, coaching, and consulting as their calling, starting again the cycle Vecdi Diker set in motion fifty years ago.

Pakistani alumni of Middle East Technical University celebrated its 50th anniversary with a sense of pride, gratitude and belonging. A contingent of 42 Pakistanis including 25 alumni and their families participated in the celebrations as a group. We too have a dream of possibly building a METU campus in Pakistan one day

Mohammad Aslam (Ch E 1969-75) and Kazi Zulkader Siddiqui (Ch E 1969-71)