Opening Speech 63rd Annual Meeting of the PIAC

63rd Annual Meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference (PIAC),

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Dear colleagues and friends of the PIAC,

Dear Akademik Bold, President of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference,

Dear Akademik Chuluunbaatar, Vice-President of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences,

Dear Akademik Chuluun, General Secretary of the International Association for Mongol Studies,

How happy I am to find you all, out there, assembled for a very special event, namely to carry out the 63rd Annual Meeting of the PIAC. The conditions of this Meeting are unusual – we live in a global pandemic and we need to be cautious with ourselves and our fellow men and women. And we need to preserve a distance from each other. But beyond the unusual, we have almost become accustomed to this situation and the cautiousness it requires. Thus, an online Meeting is the answer to the impossibility of meeting, all of us in person, in Ulaanbaatar. This was the plan since August 2019 at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the PIAC in Friedensau, Germany where we gathered in a lovely, quiet place so ideal for scholarly exchange. Then came Corona and we all had to learn that world history has its unpleasant surprises.

All the more we can now be grateful that the Online Meeting could be realized. In the first place, I would like to thank Akademik Bold for taking it upon him to organize this Meeting. This required a lot of adaptation to new conditions, re-thinking and patience. Thank you so much for all you have done! And right away here I would like to thank Akademik Bold’s brilliant team for their ideas and their hard work over months of organization. My thanks go in particular to Mr Zagarperenlei Tumenbayar for the excellent cooperation. Our host in this Meeting is the Institute of Language and Literature of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. We participants are grateful for this great support.

This Online Meeting takes place under the auspices of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. Thank you, Akademik Chuluunbaatar, for extending hospitality to a group of scholars many of whom have devoted their academic life to the study of the Mongolian peoples, their languages, history, literatures, religions, and cultures in the past and in the present. A number of the participants have known Mongolia for a number of years. They have dear friends and colleagues in this country and cherish the memories and insights they were able to gather – also thanks to the famous Mongolian hospitality.

This PIAC Meeting also profited from the support of the International Association for Mongol Studies (IAMS). Our thanks go to Akademik Chuluun who welcomes us here as the representative of this Association of world-wide fame.

My warm welcome goes out to the numerous Mongolian scholars who follow the Meeting Online. This is YOUR Meeting and it definitely draws attention to your beautiful country, your heritage. It is true: we wished to be together in Ulaanbaatar and in person. There might be another time and another occasion.

The name of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference (PIAC) has often caused surprise among scholars. “Permanent”? A “Conference” that is “permanent”? The founding fathers and mothers of the PIAC invented the name with the notion in mind that scholarship is an activity that is performed every day, therefore permanently, by the people who study and do research. The word “Conference” conveys in this case not the meaning of a short gathering of like-minded people, symposium, or such like. Rather, in the case of the PIAC, the word “conference” is supposed to mean community of like-minded people who pursue similar scholarly interest and are therefore in contact and practice exchange. Some scholars are in permanent contact and thus fertilize each other’s ideas.

There are many formal scholarly associations and societies in the world. They are important as rallying points, as representatives of interests, and they provide support. The PIAC is informal in every respect. There is no membership and there is no money involved. It is alive due the interest of scholars in a variety of Altaic Studies, world-wide. And the PIAC is completely based on voluntary work. This also applies to the Homepage of the PIAC which exists due to the expertise of Oliver Corff. I owe him special thanks for mediating, in Mongol, between Ulaanbaatar and Berlin.

Last year, the word “permanent” in the PIAC’s name was shredded by the Corona crisis. For 62 years the Annual Meeting had happened uninterruptedly. Corona made us miss one year. All the more, let us be happy that one year later, our Mongolian colleagues made the Meeting come true.

How lucky we are that one of the early adherents of the PIAC is among us at this Online Meeting: Professor Klaus Sagaster (Bonn) who, for decades, has been known as a friend of the Mongol people and as a scholar of Mongol Studies.

Also, among us is Professor Peter Zieme who worked with Annemarie von Gabain, a founding mother of the PIAC. Peter Zieme (Berlin) has been carrying on Annemarie von Gabain’s work and widened the field of Old Turkic Studies in an unprecedented way.

I do not know all the names of those who follow this Online Meeting passively, but I know that Prof. András Róna-Tas (Budapest) is among our listeners. He joined a PIAC Meeting for the first time in 1964, in Arnhem, I believe. He is one of the great names in Altaic Studies as I do not need to remind you. Welcome!

Time doesn’t permit to mention the names of all our presenters and colleagues who have been faithful participants of earlier PIAC Meetings. But please, join me in sending special greetings to Edward Tryjarski in Warsow, one of the very first participants in PIAC Meetings.

By the way, among our speakers are four former presidents of PIAC Meetings: Rodica Pop, Olga Diakova, Oliver Corff and myself. And among the active and passive participants, four recipients of the Indiana University Prize for Altaic Studies are present here: András Rona-Tas, Klaus Sagaster, Peter Zieme and Hartmut Walravens.

Now it is time to greet most warmly all the younger and young scholars who joined this Online Meeting. It is with great pleasure and satisfaction that I welcome the new generations of Altaists who joined the Meetings in recent years or this year. Scholarship rests on the shoulders of the younger generations. All the best to you! Success and joy in your researches!

The PIAC Meetings will continue changing their character as they have always done over the decades. New disciplines, new research conditions, new methods have changed the workings of scholarship. The dissolution of boundaries of research have been matched with new boundaries, often of a political nature. We must persist in the belief that scholarship is free.

Before I end, please allow me to remind us all of the passing of two important scholars and PIAC members. Last year, there was no opportunity to remember Erika Taube (1933-2020) who left us on July 3, 2020. She was a delightful person and an influential mongolist, ethnographer and folklorist.

This year we lost Dmitry D. Vasiliev (1946-2021) who succumbed to the Corona virus on January 18. He was a dear friend of the PIAC community and a great discoverer of Old Turkic inscriptions in Siberia.

But on the bright side: yesterday was the birthday of our friend Rodica Pop. Many happy returns, Rodica! And congratulations also to those of you who have their birthday today.

My heartfelt thanks go to all presenters. You have prepared your papers in order to share your findings with your colleagues. The great variety of topics and disciplinary approaches we will be witnessing makes up the stuff scholarship is made of. To all of you, may I wish a successful and satisfying Meeting!

Thank you.