MESA Board letter to Turkish Minister of Culture and Minister of Foreign Affairs regarding research permits in Turkish libraries and museums

I am writing to you on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association. It has come to our attention that the Under-Secretary of the Turkish Ministry of Culture, Tekin Aybas, has expressed himself willing to investigate the possibility of changing the rules concerning residence and research permits in Turkish libraries and museums for both Turkish and foreign scholars who use them. We would like to encourage the initiative on behalf of the international research community which we represent.

Access to the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives (the Basbakanlik Osmanli Arsivi) has improved considerably in the last 10 to 15 years, allowing for more immediate access to the catalogues of the collection, and general permission to use the documents within a few days. These simplified procedures have resulted in the increased use of the BOA which is reflected in recent studies on the Ottomans and the early Republic by both Turkish and foreign scholars which have appeared since that time.

For all the other libraries and research collections under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture there remain serious obstacles to access to the materials. There are basically two separate problems. One is the “ikamet” or residence permit process, required of any foreign scholar who wishes to conduct research in Turkish libraries and museums. The other is the need to request permission to use each and every facility which an individual scholar, including Turkish scholars, may think is important to his or her research from the central office of the Ministry of Culture in Ankara. A letter of permission must be sent from the Ministry in Ankara to each library or museum concerned, which, for some researchers, could involve five to ten libraries. This can lead to situations where the potential researcher has 1) the residence permit, but cannot use the library or museum because there is no research permit, or 2) has the research access, but not the “ikamet.” Similarly, the process of renewal of permissions once acquired can seriously derail a research agenda if the “ikamet” expires before the completion of a project, and the individual scholar is forced to leave the country before the residence renewal has been granted.

What is important is access to unique resources. The manuscript collections of Turkey are some of the richest in the world. The international community of scholars understands the need to control the use of valuable and vulnerable collections from the point of view of preservation. The practice of restricted access to fragile and unique documents, and restricted photocopy and microfilm privileges is hardly unique to Turkey.

We do suggest, however, that your serious attention be given to a simplification of the research permit procedures, plus a reconsideration of the necessity of linking the “ikamet” requirements to bona fide scholarly research, especially for short-term visits.

The research community which we represent which includes scholars in the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, as well as in Turkey and its neighboring countries in the Arab world and the Balkans, would appreciate any effort which could be made by the Ministry to improve the research environment in Turkey.

Respectfully submitted,

Mark J. Lowder
Acting Executive Director

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