After three years as Director of Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, I now return to my position as professor of Central Asian Studies at Stockholm University. At the same time, I’m happy to say that my cooperation with the Institute will continue in a close and concrete manner.

An agreement has been reached between my University, the Research Institute and The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, stating that my future research work is to be carried out in Istanbul on materials from The Gunnar Jarring Central Eurasia Collections at SRII. This work will be integrated in the Stockholm University SIPCAS program (Stockholm International Program for Central Asian Studies) and conducted within the general framework of “Silk Road Studies in Memory of Gunnar Jarring”.

The broader SIPCAS program was established at Stockholm University some 10 years ago, with initial funding from the aforementioned Royal Academy of Letters and Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education. Extensive international partnerships for the exchange of students and scholars have been developed.

In this context, my mandate as SRII Director, 2012–2014, has been an extraordinary experience for further international cooperation. I have also had the pleasure of working for an expansion of the SRII agenda from the point of view of both geography and research topics as well as student activities. After a “travelling seminar” to south-eastern Turkey (, a follow-up workshop was organized on 15–16 December this year under the title of “From a Cradle of Civilization to a Globalizing Transit Region: Migration and Cross-Border Identities in South-Eastern Turkey” for the purpose of initiating research projects on different topics relating to this theme and in connection with a joint network founded by the representatives of four Nordic academic institutions, including the SRII, for studies on “Migration, Identity, Communication and Security in Turkey and Eurasia” (MICS; As a further development of activities at SRII/Istanbul and thanks to young students holding scholarships or working as trainees at the Institute, a new type of forum called “Today Talks” has been established for discussion seminars on sociopolitical issues in Turkey and neighboring regions.

Today Talks on 29 November, 2014, organized by Azize Güneş, Gürkan Özturan and Aria Nakhaei for a discussion of “Gendered Pressure and Young Women in Turkey”.

Today Talks on 29 November, 2014, organized by Azize Güneş, Gürkan Özturan and Aria Nakhaei for a discussion of “Gendered Pressure and Young Women in Turkey”.

From 1 January, 2015, as a consequence of my new position, this blog will be renamed as “The SIPCAS Director’s Blog”, with due changes in orientation and subject matters.

I wish all readers a HAPPY NEW YEAR. medaljongklipp

We are relieved!

Life at the Swedish Research Institutes in the Mediterranean region is back to normal. Our work continues as before and our Government is not threatening us any longer. We are relieved and still more grateful to all our colleagues and friends who stood up for us and demanded a withdrawal of the budget proposal, which would have put an end to the annual state funding of the institutes by 2017.

In a courtesy letter to the Government (below), the Directors of the institutes in Istanbul, Athens, Rome and San Michele (Capri), elaborate on a few points as examples of the significance of the activities and representation offered by the institutes:

With their facilities abroad, the four institutes constitute “second campuses” of universities and research environments in Sweden and to some extent also other Nordic countries. They play a prominent role in the internationalization of higher education and research. In close cooperation with Swedish diplomatic missions, our research institutes contribute to the promotion of Sweden from the point of view of both science and culture. Et cetera.

It is wonderful to be back on the right track again!
Letter to the Swedish Government, in Swedish, 2 December, 2014:

Klicka för att komma åt 01fbb20e-2632-44be-a29e-1690b769ae21.pdf

Institutet auditoriet


A Threat Out of the Blue

From the Director
A Threat Out of the Blue
(Published on, 27th of October 2014)

Sweden has several research and dialogue institutes in the Mediterranean region. The ones in Rome, Athens and Istanbul, respectively, receive an annual grant from the Swedish Ministry of Education for administration and rents. On 22 October, without any prior consultation or pre-warning, we were informed that the new state budget to be presented the next day by the Government would contain a proposal to the effect that all subsidies to these institutes were to be cut by 2017.

In reality this means that the targeted institutes would have to be closed down and that their presence in the region since the 1920s onwards would come to a sudden end. Massive protests have been launched against this proposal from both academics and journalists, first and foremost in Sweden but also elsewhere. Together with my fellow Directors in Rome and Athens I am grateful for such strong support and mobilization, which we do need for our struggle in order to protect our Institutes from threatening assaults of this character.

The fight will go on. In the meantime, for those of you who are able to decode a text in Swedish, please read a short article about the significance of the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, written by myself and the Deputy Director Önver Cetrez and published on




Sweden on the Silk Road

In just another week our Institute will host a symposium on linguistic and other cultural treasures from the historic Silk Road. The era of Eurasian imperialism and great-power games in the 19th and early 20th centuries was also an era of explorations of unknown Inner Asian territories. Unearthed manuscripts and artifacts were scattered around the world to museums and archives, where they remained as potential assets for future research.

At the SRII Symposium on 11-14 October, current digitization work on materials from the Eastern Silk Road System kept in Swedish collections will be presented in the light of international scholarly research in Silk Road history.

The materials included in the Swedish digitization project belong to two sets of collections – the so-called Hedin and Jarring collections, respectively. Most of the finds from the four expeditions to Central Asia headed by Sven Hedin (1865–1952) between 1893 and 1935 is to be found at the National Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm. The “Central Eurasia Collection” at SRII consists of books, maps and offprints from the private library of the renowned diplomat Gunnar Jarring (1907–2002).

Ambassador Jarring was also a scholar of Turkology with special training in Uighur lexicography. As a young Ph.D. student in 1929 he travelled – partly on horseback – to Kashgar in Eastern Turkestan for field work on the sound pattern of Eastern Turki. This was the starting-point of a life-long scholarly career devoted to the Uighur language and culture – parallel to his other career as a diplomat in the service of the Swedish Foreign Ministry.

22-year old Gunnar Jarring in Eastern Turkestan

Gunnar Jarring took a keen interest in the Central Asian region as a whole, from a linguistic and literary point of view as well as an historical and political one. Publications on Central Asia, both from the region itself and from other parts of the world, not least the former Soviet Union, where Jarring was ambassador from 1964 to 1973, constituted the largest and most precious part of his vast private library. These publications, which will be accessible online in the near future, provide us with a rich material for studies of the accumulation and formation of Western knowledge on Asia in general and Central Asia in particular during the colonial era up until the cold-war era.

On his field trip to Eastern Turkestan in 1929-30, Jarring stayed at the Swedish Missionary Station in Kashgar. What is especially interesting about the missionaries working there is that they ran a printing-office of their own, where they printed not only religious pamphlets and books but also secular texts for education and other social activities. The “Kashgar Prints” present in the Jarring Collection at SRII have been digitized and can be viewed on

Ever since its start in 2011, the joint digitization project between the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul and the Sven Hedin Foundation, with funding from the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, RJ), has benefited significantly from collaboration with the International Dunhung Project (IDP). A survey of Swedish Silk Road collections can be found on the IDP website (

Therefore, it is with the greatest pleasure that we welcome the founder and Director of IDP, Dr. Susan Whitfield, to our symposium. Dr. Whitfield has been invited to deliver the 2014 Gunnar Jarring Lecture at the end of our symposium, on 14 October.

The title of her talk is

The International Dunhuang Project: Enabling Scholarship on Archaeological Collections from Central Asia through Worldwide Collaboration

Susan Whitfield is curator of the Central Asian manuscripts and Director of the International Dunhuang Project (IDP) at the British Library. Her research focuses on the history, art and archaeology of the Eastern Silk Road using both textual and material sources. She has published numerous articles and books, curated several major exhibitions and travels widely in the region.

Susan Whitfield is curator of the Central Asian manuscripts and Director of the International Dunhuang Project (IDP) at the British Library. Her research focuses on the history, art and archaeology of the Eastern Silk Road using both textual and material sources. She has published numerous articles and books, curated several major exhibitions and travels widely in the region.


SRII – a Nordic Campus in the City of Universities

The summer holiday is over and a new academic year has just started. At SRII we are back on duty finalizing the conference and lecture programs for this fall semester. Some of the programs are already, others will very soon be, announced on our website. 

Istanbul is still hot and humid but as buzzing and challenging as always – a world of its own, as many of us know. It is a large and multitudinous world with a population equaling that of Sweden and Norway combined. The territory of the two Scandinavian countries measures about 750,000 square kilometers, while the mega city of Istanbul covers an area of less than 5,500 square kilometers. Istanbul occupies one percent of the territory of Turkey but accommodates 15-20 percent of the country’s population.

It is also worth noting that present-day bicontinental Istanbul is a city with its Asian and European parts balancing each other in many respects. For example, of the approximately 15 universities that I have been invited to as Director of SRII during the last two years, half of them are situated on the Asian side – or, as it is called in Turkish, Anadolu tarafinda, on the Anatolian side. Now, these are just a smaller proportion of all of the universities in the city – at the moment numbering around 55 – and the majority of them, in fact, have their main campuses on the European side. However, the socioeconomic and sociocultural gap between the two parts of the city is decreasing. This can be felt even more strongly with regard to more general economic trends. In terms of housing, commerce and cultural events, for instance, Anatolian Istanbul is presently developing at an especially swift pace.

These circumstances are relevant for work at SRII as well. We need to place even greater efforts into keeping ourselves up to date on the rapid advancements in Turkish higher education together with regional development in order to spot the most interesting and promising research environments for cooperation. This holds, of course, for all of Turkey, and we are also following academic trends in other countries included in our research activities. However, Istanbul is the most proximate environment for the Institute, and thus universities in this city are naturally of special significance for our investments in academic cooperation.

I will have more to say on this topic in future posts. For the time being, let me just give you an example of what has been achieved this year as regards cooperation and joint activities between SRII and universities in Istanbul.

One recently inaugurated academic network at SRII is MICS for studies in the fields of Migration, Identity, Communication, and Security. Our co-founders were colleagues from Malmö University, Sweden, Roskilde University Center, Denmark, and the Danish Institute for International Studies. One of the main objectives of the MICS network is to find and support environments enabling research training for young scholars and students. For this purpose and for the promotion of the network itself, a grant has been obtained from the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond). The MICS web address is

Within this framework, cooperation has been initiated with the Department of Sociology at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, where our joint activities thus far have been devoted to migration. Last January, a workshop on migration from Central Asia to Turkey and Russia was co-organized at this university together with other institutes in Istanbul and abroad. In June, a MICS workshop on National Identity versus Transnationalism was held at SRII with the participation of, among others, colleagues from the Boğaziçi workshop. This will be followed by a new workshop in November at Malmö University entitled Labor Migration, Mobility and the Identity-Security Nexus.

Through such activities promoted by the MICS network, SRII has strengthened its image of being a campus for encounters and joint programs between Nordic and Turkish research environments.  medaljongklipp


Workshop at Boğaziçi University, 14-17 January, 2014: The Central Asian Migrant Experience in Turkey and Russia. 

Welcome to the SRII Director’s Blog

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 ( 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.  Medaljong copy