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Activity Boom in the Turkish Archival World

JANUS. 1993.2 (1993): 67-72.


 ctivity Boom in the Turkish Archival World

The Difference of Professionalism

Bekir Kemal Ataman[*]


Being one of the few major powers of the world for over four centuries, throughout its history of more than six centuries, the Ottoman Empire had large territories in all three continents of the old world. Besides the direct threat on Poland, Austria, Italy and Malta; all of South-Eastern Europe (comprising present day Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, Albania, Hungary, Romania and parts of the Ukraine), Crimea and Caucausia, all of the Middle-East, with the exception of the more remote parts of the Arabian Peninsula, and all of North Africa, with the exception of Morocco, were under direct Ottoman rule. If one adds to this the fact that the Ottoman Sultan was the Caliph of all Muslims, one can easily see the great influence the Ottoman Empire had over most of the world of its time.


Ruling over such a vast piece of land for such a long period of time, the Ottomans, naturally, had a huge state apparatus, which produced and preserved an enormous amount of documents throughout its history. Today, the cultural heritage of the Ottomans is distributed all through its ex-territories. Naturally, Istanbul being the imperial capital, the Turkish Republic received the greatest share. Considering the fact that, the total number of documents in present day Türkiye alone is estimated to be some 150 million, the hard task the Turkish archivists had to face becomes obvious.


Unfortunately, this task has become even harder over the years, since the Republic, in seek of a new identity for itself, was quite ignorant of its predecessor’s cultural wealth and left it to deteriorate for the major part of its history. Though there have been a few attempts, from time to time, to recover whatever that was left, the situation remained much the same until the last decade.


These last ten years, on the other hand, have seen a lot of archival activity and the tendency is towards an increase in geometric progression. The first cornerstone being the reorganization of the state archives under the General Directorate of State Archives in 1984, the second was the employment of 500 to 600 more staff in 1986 and the provision of supplementary funds in 1987 through the promotion fund. In parallel to this state support, the General Directorate was provided with more buildings in Istanbul, for its Directorate of Ottoman Archives in the same year, and a new record office complex in Ankara, for its Directorate of Republican Archives in the next. 1988 also saw the passing of the new archives act, which was to replace one outdated by about 25 years, and the opening of two Departments of Archives Administration, one in Marmara University and one in Istanbul University. The trend towards an increased archival awareness showed itself in the private sector, too, and there appeared more and more newspaper ads looking for professional records managers. From then on things started changing more rapidly.


A. The Public Sector



The majority of archival services in Turkish public sector is organized under the General Directorate of Sate Archives and the GDSA itself comprises of three major components: The Ottoman Archives, which was first founded as an independent institution in 1846, is responsible of most of the imperial documents; the Republican Archives, which was founded as an independent institution in 1976, takes care of the documents produced in the republican period and processes them according to modern archival standards, as well as an advisory function on records management to government offices; and the Documentation Centre, which was founded in 1989, collects publications produced in the public sector.



1. The Ottoman Archives


a. In-house training: The first major move towards a more professional service in the Ottoman Archives was the in-house training of the newly employed staff. Because there were no archives schools in 1986, all of the newly employed were graduates of departments like history, literature, law, etc. and they needed extensive training on Ottoman administrative history, paleography and archival theory. Through a well organized collaboration between the Archives and the Universities, the Archives was turned into an in-house school for a certain time period and the new staff were adapted into the organization quite rapidly.


The bulk being out of the way onto their work, the in-house training was made more formal and institutional in the later years, especially after the change in the top administrative levels, when in February 1992 professional archivists were appointed as top level directors, as opposed to the historians in the preceeding five years. The infra-structure being ready, one of the first things the new administration set on to was to publish several books and booklets on various aspects of archives administration. Two of the most important of these were the `Punctuation Guide’ and the `Arrangement and Description Guide’ to be applied in the Ottoman Archives, which put the existing rules into writing.


b. Arrangement and description: The second major improvement the new administration went on to apply was in the way the documents were arranged and described. The archives being under the influence of historians for very long years, all descriptive work had been at the most minute detail. Putting an end to the calendar system, all on-going description activity was carried into a `file level’ system. This enabled 4.5 million more documents to be opened for public research in 1992 alone, in contrast to the 22 million that was processed all through out the 59 years of Republic’s history.


c. User Services: In parallel to the state support on archives and the general move towards more democracy in the society, the bureaucratic procedures on public access to documents were decreased and permissions were granted more easily after the change in the related legislation in 1989.


Following the same pattern, the limitations on xerox copy demands were abondoned and users were let free to get as many copies as they wished.


The biggest event of Turkish archival history upto now, perhaps, was the publication of the new `Guide to the Ottoman Archives’ in 1992, which is the first proper finding aid ever prepared in accordance with the provenance principle in this country. It comprises all macro-level descriptions down to the series level, as well as a brief `who is who’ in Ottoman administrative structure arranged in chronological order, a glossary of archival terms used in Ottoman documents and a comprehensive index.


A natural outcome of the arrangement and description work being undertaken on a new basis, 20 more volumes of class lists, consisting of 3420 pages were made available for public use in the same year.


As part of the outreach program, again a first-time-ever-concept, a copy of all class lists were sent to Ankara to facilitate public access and decrease on-premises research time; several volumes of documents --most of which relate to Turkic countries-- were published in facsimile, together with their transcriptions and brief explanations; and the project to microfilm heavily used documents was reinitiated, as well as the automation project.


d. Conservation: One of the major issues Turkish archivists had to face lately was, naturally, the conservation problems that arose as a result of the ignorance that went on for more than five decades. Starting in 1987, the restoration unit was improved, several para-professionals were trained under the guidance of the only restoration expert in Turkey at the Süleymaniye manuscripts library’s fully equipped restoration laboratory. This investment in human resources gave its fruits very fast in periodic disinfestation of all storage areas and restoration of about 90,000 documents in six years, in contrast to the five to six thousand in the preceeding decade. A project to improve and enlarge the restoration unit is under way.


e. Estray: As a result of the territorial changes that came up with the First World War, a great part of the documents left from the Ottoman administrative structure remained in possession of the new states that emerged. Similarly, documents relating to an important part of these countries’ histories remained in Istanbul. To re-maintain the integrity of the archives, bilateral agreements were signed with Macedonia, Azarbaijan and Romania in 1992, for mutual exchange of document copies. Efforts to collaborate with other countries’ archives are under progress.



2. The Republican Archives


a. Legislation: The biggest barrier in front of proper functioning of the Republican Archives had been the outdated legislation for some 25 years. All efforts to change it proving unfruitful, the legislation in effect allowed the government departments to escape central control and coordination over the documents they produced, by the State Archives. As an extension to the state support on archives, the long awaiting archives act was finally passed, and things started becoming much easier from then on. Immediately after this, the Republican Archives issued a `regulation on archives operations’ which was followed by government offices’ preparing their own, to complete the related legislation regarding archives and records management procedures, thus putting and end to the destruction of records at random.


b. Training: Due to the unavailability of archivists with formal training until recently, one of the major activities of the Republican archives. too, has been in-house training of their staff on archival theory, with special emphasis on records management.


Since the government offices are responsible for their own records management, their staff charged with this duty had to be trained, too. With this aim, the Republican Archives organized courses and trained about 340 officers from 160 different offices in 1988-89 alone, in addition to the on-the-premises courses organized in 17 different offices.


To continue theoretical training on an on-going basis, the archives initiated a major project to translate literature on archives and records management into Turkish. Out of this came ten books and booklets in the last two and a half years, most of which are translations of UNESCO publications.


c. Other: In additon to the usual accessioning, arrangement, description and similar activities, the Republican Archives has done a general survey, initiated an automation project and took over the auditing of the records management activities carried out in the government offices, in the last five years.



3. The Documentation Centre


The Documentation Centre, which is responsible of collecting all publications produced in the public sector, on the other hand, has been publishing a bi-monthly `Information Bulletin’ since 1989, to announce its new accessions and has published ten bibliographies, most of which relate to current foreign affairs, in the last four years, in addition to its usual activities on accessioning, cataloguing and the like.




B. Education



The history of archival education in Türkiye is quite old. There have been courses on archives administration in library schools and at the Türkiye and Middle East Public Administration Institute for several decades. Yet, they have been far from being adequate to produce archives professionals. These last five years, on the other hand, has seen drastic changes in the education arena, too.


The first initiative coming from Marmara University to start an independent degree program in archives and records management, in 1987, to be followed by Istanbul University immediately afterwards, two programs started accepting students from 1988-89 academic year onwards. To these was added a third one, attached to the Department of Librarianship, in the next year, by Ankara University. The last in chain, so far, is Hacettepe University, which started accepting students in 1993-94.



1. Collaboration with State Archives


Aiming to serve the needs of the public sector, in the first place, all three departments are in close cooperation with the State Archives. Both being located in Ankara, the program at Ankara University, benefits from the part-time lecturing of the General Director to the State Archives and sends some of its students to the Republican Archives for practical training attachments (`stage`). All three being located in Istanbul, both Marmara and Istanbul Universities work in close cooperation with the Ottoman Archives, in addition to sending some of their students to both the Republican and the Ottoman Archives for practical training attachments. Istanbul University benefits from the part-time lecturing of the Director of Ottoman Archives, as well as employing a retired archivist, who has got experience in both the public and the private sector.


Marmara University, having its own full-time professional staff with academic backgrounds, initiates its own projects as parts of the collaboration with the Sate Archives. The Republican Archives being the end receiver, the Department at Marmara University has been functioning as the de facto records manager of the University for the last five years, in doing its record survey, preparation of its retention schedules and weeding of some of its records, through the `graduation papers’ of some of its students. Another project being the arrangement and description of judicial records left from the Ottoman Empire located at the Müftülük, the University has been assisting the State Archives by processing records currently out of the Archives’ reach, i. e. in the hands of other institutions, through the practice sessions of its academic courses. Going into closer collaboration with the Archives, another project the University initiates as part of its courses this year will be the renewal of existing class lists prepared in the 40s and 50s comprising of firmans, and re-listing them according to modern archival standards.


As an extension to the collaboration, the State Archives, for its part, provided employment to half of the first graduates of both Departments in Istanbul, last year, after a highly selective examination. More opportunities are expected in the future for the newly graduated, who are higher in number this year due to Ankara University’s graduates joining the profession.



2. International Collaboration


One of the main collaboration issues of Turkish Universities with colleagues abroad, upto now, has been through visits of archives professionals well known in the international arena. The first of these was Mr. Michael Cook, who has visited Türkiye twice, upon the invitation of Istanbul University’s Department of Librarianship and financing of British Council in 1984 and in 1991, for a series of conferences. These visits were so useful that, after his first visit, the conference proceedings were translated and published in Turkish and Marmara University decided to open the first Department in Türkiye on the matter.


The second visitor was Mr. Jean Favier, who came over for another series of conferences, in 1991, both in Ankara and Istanbul, as part of the collaboration between Marmara University and Archives Nationales de France. As a continuation of this collaboration, the third visitor expected to arrive in November 1993 is Mme. Paule René-Bazin.


This collaboration between Marmara University and Archives National de France is not limited to visitors, however. In addition to ANF’s kind donation of French Archival Literature totalling some FF 4500, Dr. Faruk Bilici, an archivist from Archives Departmentales has worked as a full-time Associate Professor for the last three years. Marmara University, on the other hand, has been planning, for its part, to abandon the current program and split it into two, for some years; a program on archives administration and another in records management, where a minimum of one third of the courses will be taught in French and English, respectively. It is hoped, this will facilitate international collaboration between the University and the colleagues abroad, apart from its other benefits. The necessary approvals being taken for both programs from the High Educational Council, the English language based education starts in 1993-94, after a one year’s delay in the planned calendar. The French language based education, on the other hand, had to be postponed for an indefinite period of time, since Dr. Bilici had to return home, his contract not being extended. Unfortunately, there is noone else in the Department speaking the language fluent enough to lecture in French, apart from one of the first graduates who has attended the Stage Technique International, lately, on a kind grant from the French Government.


Yet Dr. Faruk Bilici’s stay has been a most valuable contribution to both the University and Turkish archival world in general: In addition to his lectures at the University totalling some 12 to 14 hours per week, he has run and initiated several important projects, a few of which are the arrangement and description activity on Ottoman judicial records mentioned above, a survey of archival services in both the public and the private sector institutions, and the preparation of a Manuèl d’Archivistique for Türkiye, besides his research activities at the French Institute of Anatolian Studies in Istanbul. It is hoped such collaboration efforts will continue in the future.


Apart from these, Turkish Universities support their members--though not financially most of the time--in joining international projects, too. The latest of these will be the preparation of a video film on archiving machine-readable records, where Dr. Hamza Kandur, an assistant professor from Marmara University will join, as project manager, a team consisting of members of University College London, University of Liverpool and National Archives of Canada, Sweden and the USA.



3. Collaboration witn the Private Sector


The increasing archival awareness in the society shows itself in the private sector, too. According to the early findings of an on-going study, run by the author of this article, on the emloyment potential of archives professionals, through classified ads appearing in major dailies, the specifications of people sought for archives related jobs changed from secretaries in the late seventies to librarians in the eighties and to archivists in the nineties. There is an increase in both the number and size of individual ads, too,


Meanwhile, the last few years have seen a difference in the way the private sector approaches its archival problems, in that companies started contacting Universities straight away to employ the newly graduated as well as asking for assistance from the academic staff. As a result of this, academics from both Marmara and Istanbul Universities, have been acting as consultants to several companies in archives and records management matters and several graduates found employment in private sector companies.


The survey on archival services in the public and private sector institutions mentioned above has made a great contribution, both to the general awareness and the closer collaboration between the Universities and the institutions in these sectors. Considering the early findings of the study, the program at Marmara University was reshaped according to the urgent needs of the institutions mentioned and several elective courses were added, in additon to the English language based teaching medium stated above.


Following the same pattern, the program at Hacettepe University, too, is planned to be in an English language based medium, thus, it is hoped, the processing of documents arising from the increased trading activity with the EC countries will be facilitated.


Accordingly, the Modern Office Technologies Management Certificate Program run by Marmara University in a totally Engliish language medium, which aims to train executive secretaries for the private sector, has added a records management course to its curriculum, to increase collaboration between the Universities and the private sector on archival matters.





BINARK, Ismet, Cumhuriyet Döneminde Arsiv Hizmetlerinin Gelistirilmesi Konusunda Yapilmis Çalismalar ve Cumhuriyet Arsivi. Ankara: Basbakanlik Devlet Arsivleri Genel Müdürlügü, 1991


Bulgaristan’a Satilan Evrak ve Cumhuriyet Döneminde Arsiv Çalismalari. Ankara: Basbakanlik Devlet Arsivleri Genel Müdürlügü, 1993



[*] Marmara Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Arsivcilik Bölümü Ögretim Görevlisi

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