65th Meeting Astana, 2023: Opening Address

Opening Address for the 65th Annual Meeting of the Permanent International Conference (PIAC), Astana 2023

by Oliver Corff


Dear President of the 65th Annual Meeting of the PIAC, Prof. Dr. Uli Schamiloglu,

Dear President of the International Turkic Academy, Dr. Shahin Mustafayev,

Dear Acting Provost of Nazarbayev University, Dr. Loretta O’Donnell,

Dear Acting Dean of the School of Sciences and Humanities of Nazarbayev University, Dr. Anton Desiatnikov,

Dear President of the 36th Annual Meeting of the PIAC, Dr. Yerden Kazhybek,

Dear Colleagues, Dear Members of the PIAC Family, Dear Friends,

and, of course!, Dear Ancien Secretary General Prof. Dr. Kellner-Heinkele,

I am not in a position to welcome you to Kazakhstan, but I am in the comfortable position to welcome you to Тұрақты Халықаралық Алтайтану Конференциясы, and its 65th Annual Meeting!

It is already the second time that Kazakhstan hosts a PIAC Meeting, and the historical circumstances deserve a word of explanation. Soon after gaining independence in December 1991, Kazakhstan seized the opportunity and established its own Center for Oriental Studies at the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Only yesterday I learnt that Kazakhstan was the only Soviet Republic without its own specialized institute for Kazakh studies within the system of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The late PIAC member Dmitry Vasilev brokered the arrangement to host a PIAC meeting in 1993 in Almaty, considered, in Denis Sinor’s words, ”by the standards of the time a fairly exotic place.” It is a special honour for us that the former Director of the Center for Oriental Studies of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences and President of the 36th Annual Meeting of the PIAC, Dr. Yerden Kazhybek is with us today.

The 65th Annual Meeting of the PIAC is hosted by another pioneering Kazakhstani institution, Nazarbayev University, which was established only in 2010 but has enjoyed the priviledge of an international profile from its very beginnings.

And again somebody stepped in to broker the arrangement for a PIAC Meeting, namely the Hungarian diplomat and scholar Hóvári János, Executive Director of the Representation Office in Hungary of the Organization of Turkic States.

A word of thanks to all those who have contributed to making this meeting possible. Yesterday, we were generously welcome by the International Turkic Academy. At Nazarbayev University, the School of Sciences and Humanities did contribute generously to support the meeting. Dean Gonzalo Hap Hortelano, Chief Administrative Offier Balzhan Bliskeldinova and other colleagues have supported the idea of holding this conference. Adilbek Zhumanbekov and Zhuldyz Uakhitova also have been providing extensive administrative support.

A final word of thanks goes to Barbara Kellner-Heinkele, our ancien Secretary General who — in broad terms — has introduced me to the realms of the international turcologic community and notably also to Hungarian academic circles, again with a strong focus on turcology.

In my eyes, such a statement is necessary because today for the first time, I stand in front of you all in my new function as Secretary General of the PIAC. You have to bear with me that I am not a turcologist by training; rather, my occupation with Altaic Studies began with Mongolian.

Tasks of the General Secretary General

What are the tasks of the Secretary General? Let me quote Barbara. According to her words, a Secretary General is not a president — he or she is a secretary. The job of the Secretary General is to hold the PIAC Community together by searching for the venues of future Meetings, conducting the correspondence with future presidents, and by keeping contact with the PIAC members, i.e. colleagues who are researching in the field of Altaic Studies. Secretary Generals send out the Circulars announcing an upcoming Meeting and they stand by the side of the Presidents in the organization of the Meeting.

The PIAC — a community of Altaic scholars

Since its conception in 1957 and its first meeting in 1958, the history of the PIAC has spanned two generations. It is entirely possible that I am the last Secretary General to know in person the Founding Secretary General of the PIAC, Prof. Walther Heissig, and thus I humbly see myself in an extraordinary responsibility to ensure that the PIAC continues to fulfill its mission and purpose. More often than not we look up to the historical contributions and towering academic achievements of our teachers and seniors. The PIAC is not only a forum of exchange between peers, but as much a forum of exchange between generations. Today I am delighted to see that we welcome a nearly unprecedented number of first-time participants.

Please raise your hands if you are here for the first time!

It is a wonderful thing to have so many young and new scholars among us, because the PIAC is supposed to be a community of all generations of Altaic scholars. All of our first-time participants have been invited or recommended by PIAC members in good standing which again demonstrates the family spirit of the PIAC. Yesterday I spoke to a young colleague who mentioned that her first participation in the PIAC last year was so successful in fostering new contacts that she decided to be with us again.

Again I quote from Barbara’s speech last year: The task of the next Secretary General will be to keep the PIAC alive and kicking, to rejuvenate it, and to continue to circumnavigate political impact.

These are some of the challenges we face:

  • a complicated political environment more often than not adverse to the pursuit of our academical interests;
  • disruptive developments in technology and the ensuing perception of the value of scholarly research which may sooner or later also massively influence the way we conduct our work;
  • a permanent need to justify and prove the value of our scientific activities towards administrative departments and sources of finance beyond our own participation fees;
  • last but not least, a challenging university landscape with ever more rigid ideas of education which makes it increasingly difficult for young scholars to acquire the broad interdisciplinary knowledge and skills essential for our field of studies.

So, in my words, the PIAC has to serve as an intellectual home as well as an enabling platform for the next generation of Altaic scholars to meet like-minded persons, to develop new ideas and to promote cooperation. The unique scholarly environment of the PIAC has been created for this purpose. You all are the PIAC, and your contribution is vital. We always need scholars who volunteer to become President and host a PIAC Meeting, and we need your constant support in identifying young, talented scholars for whom the environment of the PIAC will offer an opportunity to develop their academic potential.


Now, please allow me to ask you to rise from your seats and pay tribute to our long-standing PIAC member, the Manju scholar Giovanni Stary, born in 1946. With great sadness we mourn his departure on October 19, 2022.

Closing Remarks

Finally, for our first-time participants: we have a few traditions and rituals which are easily perceived and shared, and most important, not to be afraid of: one is the award of the PIAC Prize for Altaic Studies, another fine tradition is a session at the beginning called Confessions, and finally, we have the Business Meeting that traditionally rounds up every PIAC Meeting. Boring as the title sounds, I strongly suggest to participate in the Business Meeting because it is a source of vital information about our activities, proceedings etc.

Thank you for your attention.

Enjoy the 65th Annual Meeting of the PIAC!