INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS ON LEARNING AND EDUCATION IN THE OTTOMAN WORLD, 1999

International Congress on Learning and Education in the Ottoman World, organised by IRCICA under the patronage of H.E. Süleyman Demirel, President of the Republic of Turkey, in cooperation with Turkish Historical Society and Turkish Society for History of Science, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey and the commemoration committee for the 700th anniversary chaired by the Ministry of State, Istanbul, 12-15 April 1999


The congress was inaugurated on Monday, 12 April, at Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul. The ceremony started with the presentation of a short documentary film outlining the activities of IRCICA beginning from its establishment in 1980 up to the present. The Lalezar music group (Istanbul) conducted by Reha Sağbaş performed pieces of Ottoman instrumental music.

Addresses were delivered at the ceremony by: H.E. Mr. Süleyman Demirel, President of the Republic of Turkey, H.R.H. Prince Hasan Bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; Ambassador Dr. Omar Jah, a diplomat and scholar from The Gambia and Chairman of IRCICA Governing Board, and Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu. Prime Minister of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina Prof. Dr. Haris Silajdzic was unable to come to Istanbul because Sarajevo airport was closed. His message was read by H.E. Dr. Besim Spahic, Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Ankara.

Prof. İhsanoğlu, Director General of IRCICA, in his welcoming address said: "... In my opinion, one of the most important aspects and benefits of commemorating the seventh centennial of the foundation of the Ottoman State is that it is an occasion to better understand the Ottoman reality, to discover and describe it. Understanding this reality is important not only for Turks but also for many countries in Europe, Caucasia, the Middle East and North Africa and even for some African countries south of the Sahara, which share a common history. There must be a responsibility towards this common history, which lasted six centuries for some of us, shorter for others, but constituted a past we share.

I think the main responsibility is to understand this history well and accurately with due regard to its particular features, as well as the internal dynamics of its expansion and the institutions and traditions it developed. This way, it will be possible to understand and recount this common history objectively by reflecting all its aspects that can be carried to our time. ... Because it covers the history of learning and culture during the Ottoman period, the congress theme reflects many historical aspects of cultural, intellectual and social life all over the lands which were part of the Ottoman State...

The Ottoman State assimilated elements from the cultures of peoples under its rule and in neighbouring regions, created an active and dynamic cultural symbiosis and later carried this culture to other lands..."
Dr. Omar Jah, Chairman of IRCICA Governing Board, at the opening of the congress: "... For us in Africa, the Ottoman rule represents a period of expansion and consolidation of Islam and the dissemination of Islamic sciences and culture in Africa. The establishment of great empires of Mali, Songhay, Kanem-Borno in the West and Central Africa coincided with the territorial expansion of the Ottoman State. ... All the trade lines and pilgrimage roads from Africa crossing the Ottoman territory were safe and protected by the Ottoman authorities.

Now after the Ottomans, we still have the people of Turkey; a dynamic, industrious nation with tremendous human resources and economic potentialities, a people well qualified to play a constructive role in promoting peace, human understanding and cooperation among the nations of the world.

In fact, Turkey's active role in the establishment and development of the international and regional organisations, especially that of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and its affiliated bodies, is a good example of what Turkey can do to help people in Asia, Africa and Europe; to work together for the interest and betterment of mankind.

It goes without saying that the most dynamic and progressive affiliated regional body of the OIC is located in Turkey, namely IRCICA. Not only IRCICA but also the Organisation of the Islamic Conference is in need of his valuable and indispensable services in the years to come. In order to carry out the function entrusted to him, Professor İhsanoğlu needs our continued full support to further foster mutual understanding among nations and mankind at large. ..."

From the message of Prof. Dr. Haris Silajdzic, Prime Minister of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina:
"... The impact and the significance of Ottoman history in the Balkans in general and for the Balkan Muslims in particular are embodied in the moral and intellectual characteristics of the Balkan peoples, as well as in the physical landscape of the region. In other terms, they are reflected today in cultural and social life, ethics and manners, as well as the written and architectural heritage assets of the region. ... IRCICA, the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, has been studying these institutions and cultural heritage assets since its establishment in 1980, and increasingly so since the beginning of the 1990's, in order to restore and preserve the Islamic heritage of the Balkans and increase public awareness world-wide on the treatment inflicted upon Muslims and their heritage. ... Professor İhsanoğlu has become synonymous with IRCICA's successes and his tireless efforts and enterprising spirit are built into the achievements that aim at the reconstruction of the authentic Bosnian heritage and thus preserve the distinct cultural identities in the Balkans. ..."

Prince Hasan Bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in his address, referred to the important characteristics of the Ottoman period and their significance for the Middle East. He pointed out the multi-faceted cultural contributions of the Ottoman State and its leadership in the modernisation of culture in the Muslim world. He said that the Ottomans established a mighty empire which ruled the heartlands of Islam in the Middle East and many other territories and peoples, and that more recent generations of Ottomans provided leadership in various processes of modernisation in art and architecture, language and literature and in the sciences, where great effort was needed to regain the high level of accomplishment which centuries ago had distinguished various sciences and their practitioners in Muslim lands. "...

My family, in 1517 AD, was responsible for giving final legitimacy to the Ottoman Sultan. Almost four hundred years later, we launched the Great Arab Revolt. Students of history, have to read Arab documents, including my family records and correspondence exchanged between Ottoman Sultans, the British, the French and other nations, and learn how they tried their best to rescue the Empire. But it was rather impossible. Antiquity of blood translated itself into ultra-nationalism: Turkish nationalism and Arab nationalism. It was impossible to live under one sovereignty; for that was the fever of the day.

Despite difficult circumstances, my family never lost contact with "Kahraman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk", who had chosen to build a new state, with a new concept, and a new spirit - The Modern Turkish Republic. We never lost sight of the need to start again with our shared common ground, respect, understanding, interdependence - and independence.

The Ottoman Empire has gone, but much of its heritage can still be seen in its former provinces, notably and most obviously, in its magnificent architecture, as well as many other fields.

I wish to add here, that my immediate family was brought up in Emirgan in Istanbul, educated in the Galatasaray School, served as members of the Mebusan, and spoke eloquently both Arabic and Osmanli Turkish. It presents itself as the bridge between two peoples: the Arabs and the Turks. For this reason, I take pride in attending this assembly and addressing it, not to preach, but rather to insist on mutual understanding."

The President of the Republic of Turkey made the inaugural speech: "What brought us together here is the need to better understand the history of a great multinational, multicultural and multi-religious state which has traces spread over a wide area of millions of square kilometres. The Ottoman Empire, whose seventh centennial we shall celebrate this year and which became part of history long ago, represents a great civilisation that was created and nurtured on grounds of tolerance by all the nations it encompassed.
I wholeheartedly believe that the history of this great civilisation is the common history of all nations who lived within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire and it should be studied and recorded with this understanding. ... As the origin and growth place of universal civilisation, the Mediterranean region was enriched throughout history by a synthesis of Eastern and Western cultures. The Ottoman civilisation is one of the brilliant products of this synthesis.

The heritage of Rome and Byzantium merged with Central Asia's cultural riches and tradition of tolerance, the Iranian and Arab cultures and the Mediterranean-Anatolian civilisations to form the Ottoman civilisation with all its features which were determining factors in the history of mankind. ...

Lessons must be drawn for the future from the history of the Ottoman Empire which offers a model of coexistence respectful of people's differences from each other. ... The tradition of tolerance carries messages which can lead to permanent peace in today's world. Today, this tradition requires that people with different faiths, races and languages live together and work together in peace on grounds of equality, supremacy of law, respect of universal human rights and democracy. This is the only way to achieve the common objective of relegating such atrocious crimes as ethnic cleansing committed against humanity to the dark pages of history. ..."

The papers presented during the working sessions focused on multifarious aspects of cultural life, exchanges of knowledge and science between peoples and regions, scientists and scientific activities, educational institutions, scientific literature, religious life, religious institutions, arts, architecture, etc. with respect to various regions of the Ottoman territory in different periods of history. The congress proceedings will be published during 2000.

The congress was held in four, and occasionally, five parallel sessions in three and a half days. It was accompanied by a series of activities aimed at reflecting different aspects of Ottoman cultural and social life, including a piano recital of Turkish classical music by the musicologist, pianist and composer Vedat Kosal at Yildiz Palace Theatre. The programme consisted of pieces composed by Ottoman sultans.

Another concert was organised by IRCICA and the Turkish Music Foundation (Istanbul) with the sponsorship of the Kar Group of Companies and performed by the artists of the TRT (Turkish Radio and Television) Istanbul Radio conducted by Prof. Dr. Alaeddin Yavaşça. A one-day cultural excursion was organised to Iznik and Bursa, the foundation place and first capital of the Ottoman State, under the guidance of Prof. Dr. Oktay Aslanapa, a renown authority on the history of Turkish art.

The scholarly sessions started in the afternoon of Monday, 12 April at Tarabya Hotel, Istanbul and continued on Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The sessions were open to all interested.

Proceedings of the congress were published under the title Proceedings of the International Congress on Learning and Education in the Ottoman World in 3 volumes.

The congress proceedings reflected the vigorous cultural, scientific and educational life which enhanced the collective social experience of peoples in the different regions of the Ottoman territory. Within the framework of the broad theme of "learning and education", the session themes and papers focused on multifarious aspects of cultural life, exchanges of knowledge and science between peoples and regions, scientists and scientific activities, educational institutions, scientific literature, religious life, religious institutions, arts, architecture, etc. with respect to various regions of the Ottoman territory in different periods of history.

The congress was held in four, or, occasionally, five parallel sessions. Paper presentations were followed by discussions. Below is the program of sessions which contains the list of the papers presented. The titles in languages other than English are followed by a letter indicating the language of presentation of the papers (A for Arabic, T for Turkish, F for French).