Leading Turkish historian Halil İnalcık dies at age 100

Published 25.07.2016 20:25
Updated 26.07.2016 14:50
Leading Turkish historian Halil İnalcık dies at age 100

Historian and writer Professor Halil İnalcık passed away at the age of 100 on Monday in Ankara where he had been receiving medical treatment. İnalcık died of multiple organ failure and will be buried in the family grave on July 28.

Dubbed later in life "the professor of professors," İnalcık was born in Istanbul on Sept. 7, 1916. His father Seyit Osman Nuri Bey and his mother Ayşe Bahriye Hanım were Crimean migrants. İnalcık once told some biographers that he was of Crimean Tatar origin, but his ancestors were Kipchak Turks, who resided in Crimea, too, for centuries. He went to Ankara Gazi Elementary School before enrolling in teaching school in Sivas. After studying in Sivas for a few years, İnalcık was transferred to the teaching school in Ankara from where he graduated. He finished Necati Bey Teaching School, which was one of the best high schools in Turkey back then, received his bachelor's degree from Ankara University's Faculty of Languages, History and Geography (DTCF) and completed his master's studies in 1940. He attended lectures of such prolific professors at the faculty as M. Göker, B. S. Baykal and F. Köprülü. İnalcık graduated from the faculty in 1940.

In the same year, İnalcık prepared a special seminar on Timur I of the Timurid Dynasty, which attracted the attention of Fuat Köprülü. Thus, İnalcık was appointed as a scientific assistant for the Modern Era Branch of the history department.

After he wrote his thesis "Tanzimat ve Bulgar Meselesi" (Tanzimat and the Bulgarian Question), which is one of the earliest examples of socio-economic history writing in Turkey, he finished his doctorate in 1942.

İnalcık was assigned to Ankara University DTCF's New Age Chair as an assistant on April 28, and in 1942 wrote another thesis titled "Viyana'dan Büyük Ricat'e Osmanlı İmparatorluğu ve Kırım Hanlığı" (The Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Khanate from the Siege of Wien to the Big Retreat), which brought him an assistant professorship.

In 1945 he married Şevkiye Işıl, who was also a scholar at the Department of Arab Language and Literature at Ankara University.

He was elected as a member of the Turkish History Institute (TTK) in 1947, obtained a professorship with his thesis "Viyana Bozgun Yıllarında Osmanlı-Kırım Hanlığı İşbirliği" (The Collaboration of Ottoman Empire and Crimean Khanate during the years after Vienna Defeat) on Jun. 2, 1952.

İnalcık is known for his document-based understanding of historiography. His usage of archives is limitless. He has searched not only Ottoman archives but other national archives of various countries as well. He likes to use comparative texts on a specific issue, such as Ottoman histories and Byzantine chronicles on the establishment of the Ottoman state and conquest of specific places.

İnalcık spent 1949-1951 in Britain to examine Turkish documents in the British Museum and make bibliographic research in the Public Record Office. He also attended lectures given by prominent European historians, including Paul Wittek, who was giving a series of seminars at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where he met significant historians like Bernard Lewis and E. Zachariadou.

After returning to Turkey, İnalcık worked in the Ottoman Legal Archives ("Şeriyye Sicilleri") in Bursa, which offered much information about social and economic life in the Ottoman State, and initiated the classification of the same archives.

İnalcık obtained a professor title in 1952, before he traveled to the United States to work as a visiting professor at Columbia University in 1953-54. He also worked at Harvard University as a research fellow in 1956-57 with a Rockefeller scholarship. He attended the History of Islam classes of H. A. R. Gibb at Harvard. While at Harvard, he revised the Islamic articles in the fourth edition of the Encyclopaedia of World History.

He worked in Turkey from 1957 until 1972, and his papers and academic publications were under the radar of international scholars and universities. Upon receiving an invitation from the University of Chicago's Department of History in 1972, İnalcık moved to the U.S. A year later, he published his critically acclaimed work, "The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age, 1300-1600," in the U.K. His masterpiece has been published in several languages and was also listed among the books that are taught in the most prominent universities around the world. In 1978, he is also chosen as the honorable member of the Royal Asiatic Society.

After he graduated from the University of Chicago in 1986, after 15 years, İnalcık was presented with an honorary Ph.D. by Boğaziçi University. İnalcık also lectured at Harvard and Princeton universities as a guest professor between 1900 and 1992.

In 1991, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and Diploma by the Republic of Turkey Minister of Foreign Affairs due to his contributions to Turkish history and culture. He founded Bilkent University's Department of History for graduate students in 1992 upon an invitation from then chancellor of Bilkent University, Professor Ali Doğramacı. The same year, İnalcık was elected as a member of the Atatürk Culture, Language and History Supreme Institution and an honorable member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA).

In 1998, the ninth president of the Republic of Turkey, Süleyman Demirel, presented the Istanbul University Institute of Turkic Studies Award to İnalcık. The book, which was commissioned by Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry and compiled by a commission supervised by İnalcık, won the grand prize at the World Book Fair.

İnalcık continued his academic studies in years to come. In 2001, he received an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Sofia, was awarded by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2002, received the Culture and Art Grand Prize from the Culture and Tourism Ministry and was presented the Hungarian Order of Merit by then Hungarian President Ferenc Madl.

Thanks to his academic work, which contributed to cultural development, İnalcık was awarded the Turkish Presidency Culture and Art Grand Award in 2005 and an Honorary Award from Parliament in 2008. İnalcık was also presented with an honorary medal by the International Organization of Turkic Culture (TÜRKSOY) in 2012.

The Cambridge International Biographical Center also listed İnalcık among the 2,000 social scientists who made their mark in the 20th century. İnalcık published numerous works on Ottoman history and knew seven languages.

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