BY ALP RODOPLU (HIST/MA)
On September 7, an event celebrating what was thought to be Prof. Halil İnalcık’s 97th birthday took place at the Bilkent Hotel. Guests included faculty and students of the Department of History, Rector Abdullah Atalar, Dean Talat Halman, Dean Dilek Önkal, family members, friends and past students, among whom were Prof. Özer Ergenç of the Department of History (Prof. İnalcık’s first doctoral student) and Prof. İlber Ortaylı (who also previously taught at Bilkent). Midway through the evening, the announcement of a surprising discovery by Prof. İnalcık’s biographer proved to be the highlight of the celebration.
The event began around 7 p.m. with a cocktail hour and a mini-slideshow on Halil Hoca’s life. After speeches by Prof. Atalar and Prof. Ortaylı, Prof. İnalcık blew out the candles of a magnificent cake and then spoke briefly to thank the guests and say a bit about the period when he was born, to an Ottoman citizen during World War One. His documents having been lost, Prof. İnalcık had relied on his mother’s account for the date of his birth. According to it, he was born in İstanbul during a British bombardment of the city, from which he and his biographer, Emine Çaykara, had inferred his birthdate to be September 7, 1916.
At this point, Ms. Çaykara stepped in at Halil Hoca’s invitation, and to the astonishment of the audience, which consisted predominantly of historians and historians-in-training, announced that he was turning not 97, but 96! This interjection drew a delighted if somewhat bewildered reaction from the guests, who warmly applauded the news. Some, referring to Benjamin Button, suggested that perhaps next year we would be celebrating Prof. İnalcık’s 95th birthday.
Following this surprise, the evening continued with dinner as Halil Hoca personally invited the guests to enjoy the feast prepared for them in his honor. This in part brought an end to the debates that might have been expected to emerge upon such a pronouncement in a room full of historians, in a great many of whose development
Halil İnalcık, “the professor’s professor” (Hocaların Hocası), had played an instrumental role, personally or through his works. And it was this fact that was really celebrated on the night, for although Halil Hoca’s age is perhaps open to discussion, the importance and influence of his work is not.