Ilber Ortayli is a well-known Turkish Historian. He was born in a refugee camp as the son of a Crimean Tatar family in Austria in 1947. As a graduate of Languages, History and Geography Faculty he studied Slavic and Oriental studies. He worked as a professor of history in various universities in the world including in Moscow, Berlin, and Sofia. His expertise is on the 16th-19th centuries Ottoman and Russian history. Professor Ortayli was invited to Abkhazia by the Federation of the Abkhaz Cultural Associations in Turkey. As part of his busy schedule where he is to visit historical and natural sights of Abkhazia, he gave a short speech at the Abkhaz State University in Russian and responded to questions of local academics about ways of cooperation.
In his speech and in the discussion that followed some important points to mentioned are:
* “Abkhazia history starts in the 8th century. Many other nations living in the region, in the east, do not have history registration (archiving), a modern history, historiography. Their history starts much later than Abkhazia. Turkish history in the region for example, starts in the 10th century. And further, Russian history also after the 10th century. We don’t have important documents. For us Abkhazia is important subject in this regard. Today Abkhazia is a small nation but in the history under the administration of Ottoman Empire Abkhaz played a very important role.”
* Evliya Chelebi, the Ottoman explorer who is most known for his Travelogue about his travels which included visits to the Caucasus and Abkhazia, “was of Abkhaz origin. He has many interesting observations of his travels to the Caucasus… I ask you please to read his travel notes.” This book is available at the National Library for those interested in reading, provided by Ankara KAFDAV, a cooperation partner of CSS Abkhazia.
* “In Turkey lives more Abkhazians than in Abkhazia in many cities. The Abkhaz language and culture lives better in Turkey. The Abkhaz are living in villages, and in the cities. The Abkhazians living in Turkey and elsewhere should help Abkhazia… They should help to develop the university and academic institutions, room by room and you the students here should take care of them, keep them clean, and study well.”
*Ilber Ortayli read a poem by Bulgarian poet Ivan Vazov about the beauty of Bulgaria saying Abkhazia reminded him of the poetic beauty in this poem.
* As a response to a question by Denis Chachalia, Ilber Ortayli stated that the Inscription of the Sohumkale kept in the archives of Topkapi Museum or a good copy of it can be provided to Abkhazia. Sohumkale, was one of the old names of the Sukhum city while it was under the Ottoman Administration. Ortayli also added that the key to Sohumkale was also in Turkey and this could be returned to Abkhazia.
* As a response to a question by Zurab Capua, president of the Academy of Sciences of Abkhazia, about educating Abkhazia’s experts that can work in the Ottoman archives he responded positively saying: “We organise summer camps with the Moscow Oriental University. Your students can join this camp where they can practice their Turkish, learn about Turkey and study intensive Ottoman language courses.” He also suggested the funding for these courses should be provided by the diaspora and asked the diaspora representatives at the hall to put their hands in their pockets to provide this funding. Ortayli also suggested Abkhaz speaking students can easily learn Persian because of the similarities of sounds and stated that it is very important to study the resources there too.