The idea of starting an SRII Director’s Blog is not entirely my own. Ever since I took on the duty of acting as head of the Institute in January 2012, I have on various occasions been met with requests for more information and transparency concerning the activities conducted at the Institute. This is an encouraging challenge. Our website (http://srii.org/) is expanding and from now on I also look forward to sharing news and reflections with associates and friends of the SRII on this blog.
Being a “research” institute, the SRII naturally has as one of its most fundamental tasks to provide facilities for the promotion of academic study and scientific work. The research agenda of the SRII is comprehensive as regards not only disciplines and topics but also temporal and geographical dimensions. The SRII is ready to support studies and research in all fields of Humanities and Social Sciences related in one way or the other to regions that are specified as areas of relevance to the Institute, i.e. Turkey and Central Eurasia at large, the Middle East and adjacent territories once under Byzantine or Ottoman hegemony.
The notions of mobility and identity are key concepts for work in our research environment at the SRII in Istanbul. The long stretch of land from the innermost parts of Asia to the Mediterranean region has all along, from ancient times till the present day, been characterized by mobility in both directions, where the moving entities have been either physical bodies – people or goods – or less physical phenomena, such as ideas and cultural habits.
Mobility – traveling – means encounters with new environments in relation to which the social identities of individuals are to be shaped or reshaped. Important means for recording, analyzing and communicating these processes of traveling and transformation are – to mention just a few – social and cultural anthropology, political science and other social sciences as well as language and linguistics, which is my own field of specialization, literature and history. The impact of identity formation from the point of view of belonging, security and loyalties on the part of both individuals and communities constitutes a crucial aspect of the research agenda.
Together with my staff in Istanbul and colleagues from the SRII Collegium of Fellows I’m in the midst of developing a template for studies on geopolitical and geocultural processes in Turkey and its near abroad as well as in a wider Eurasian context. Given such a template, the researcher may become a traveler himself in the true sense of the word, with the additional privilege of playing the role of interpreter and transmitter. Last October, a group of scholars and students from the SRII made a tour of south-eastern Turkey for a survey of the present-day multicultural landscape of this region. A follow-up workshop will be convened later this year for discussions of the prospects for a broad research program devoted to cultural legacies and current sociopolitical processes in the region.
In October this year, a 4-day symposium will be devoted to research on treasures from the Eastern Silk Road presently conducted in a joint project between our Institute and the Sven Hedin Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. At this symposium, journeys of bygone days will be attended to by present-day traveling scholars participating in our research environment at the SRII. I will keep you updated on these and other research activities at the SRII in future posts.
Our Institute will now close for the summer holiday. As we are back again in late August, this blog will start operating continuously and on a regular basis. As my first guest blogger I will invite the newly appointed Deputy Director of the SRII, Dr. Önver Cetrez. He will be with us full time from September. My staff joins me in welcoming Önver to our office, and we all look forward to cooperating with him in the years to come.