22 September 2006

A long story from 1838 to 1979

What do the British explorer, archaeologist Charles Fellows (1799-1860) and my college diploma have in common? No, we didn't go to the same school. To find out, read on.

Fellows started out the first of his several expeditions in western Turkey in search of archaeological sites1 in 1838 from Izmir on the west coast. He traveled north to Çanakkale, crossed the Dardanelles and continued on to Istanbul. From there, first he went east, then south to arrive at a small town the name of which he spelled as Oneóenoo. Fellows noted that the town was at the foot of a cliff with caves in it. This description identifies Oneóenoo as Inönü (= cave front).

John Arrowsmith's 1844 map of Turkey had Inönü as "In Oghi" (arrow). (Downloaded from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection)

After its brief debut in Western literature in Fellows' account of his trip first published soon after he returned to England, the town of Inönü went back into oblivion until 1921. In January of that year, the fledgling army of Mustafa Kemal confronted the occupying Greek army in their first full-scale battle on the plains below Inönü. The Turkish army was commanded by a veteran soldier, Colonel Ismet, who like most others in his country did not yet have a last name. At the end of March, Ismet returned to fight the Greeks one more time in the 2nd Battle of Inönü.

inönüpul2Now we fast forward to 1934. War had been over for more than 10 years, Mustafa Kemal (soon to have the last name Atatürk) was the first president of the still-young Republic of Turkey. He and the General Assembly passed a law making it mandatory for all subjects of the Republic to have last names. Ismet, quite naturally, picked as his last name the name of the town where he had commanded the Turkish armies; he was now Ismet Inönü. After Atatürk's death, he was to become the 2nd president of Turkey. His likeness is on the old Turkish stamp on the left.

Ismet had a son, Erdal, who became an accomplished physicist. Towards the end of the 1970s he was the dean (dekan (deacon) in Turkish) of the science faculty at Bogaziçi University In Istanbul where I was an undergraduate studying chemistry. I graduated in June 1979, but my aversion to pompous celebrations made me skip the graduation ceremony. A few days later I showed up to pick up my diploma. But the secretary realized that the dean hadn't signed it. Luckily, Inönü was in his office and wasn't busy. She ushered me in, I presented my diploma and the man whose father had picked their family name as that of the town where he had fought 2 battles more than 80 years after Fellows had visited the same place signed it.

This is a scan of a photocopy of my college diploma. I have no idea where the original is. Erdal Inönü's signature is at the lower right-hand corner.

1. Fellows, Charles. 1852. Travels and Researches in Asia Minor, more particularly in the Province of Lycia. Two Parts. London: John Murray. [The Elibron Classics Replica Edition. 2004.]


budak said...

OMG you are ancient!:P in 1979 i was still pooping in my....

Tristram Brelstaff said...

A nice story. It brought back memories. I too graduated in June 1979 (University of Leeds, UK, biochemistry) and also managed to avoid the degree ceremony (I was on holiday in Czechoslovakia at the time).

Anonymous said...

I never had the priviledge of chatting with the Gentleman, but often saw him on the campus of mIddle East Technical University in Ankara, where he was on the faculty of the physics department and served as the President of the Univeristy, before moving to the institution where you earned your undergraduate degree.

This is the second flame-out for the sciences in a week. The other star was Arthur Kornberg.