64 Years of the PIAC

Speech at the occasion of the opening ceremony of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the PIAC,
Ulaanbaatar, 2021


Klaus Sagaster

Dear colleagues,

it is really unbelievable! Sixty-four years of PIAC since 1958! Every year, without interruption. The only exception was last year, but this was definitely not the fault of our Mongolian colleagues. They had been trying hard to organize the sixty-third meeting in Ulaanbaatar, but then corona came, and all was in vain.

Mongols, however, do not give up. There is internet, and so we are now having the meeting online, which is some sort of premiere, thanks to the efforts of this year´s president Academician Bold and his Mongol colleagues, and of course also thanks to the efforts of our secretary general Barbara Kellner-Heinkele, together with Oliver Corff, who is one of the most faithful followers of PIAC. Of course, it would have been better to meet in Ulaanbaatar personally, but what can we do? We shall do this when corona is over. I am sure that our Mongolian friends will invite us again!

I am very moved to be asked for some words of welcome. This is a great honour, but not quite a surprise. After all, I seem to be one of the oldest participants of the PIAC. I attended the first eight meetings and many others.

The PIAC meetings were – and are – an excellent opportunity to meet many of the most renowned scholars of Altaic Studies and to become acquainted with the newest developments in research. This has already been the case with the three first meetings, which were held in Germany.

The number of participants was not yet very high. There were twelve in 1958, twenty-three in 1959 and nineteen in 1960. But what names: during the first meeting in Mainz, on the Rhine, Walther Heissig from Bonn, one of the founders of the PIAC, und his future successor as Secretary General of the PIAC, Denis Sinor from Cambridge; Pentti Aalto from Helsinki, Gerhard Doerfer from Mainz, Annemarie von Gabain from Hamburg, Karl Jahn from Leiden, Karl Heinrich Menges from New York, Udo Posch from Seattle, Omeljan Pritsak from London and Kaare Thomsen Hansen from Copenhagen. The political situation did not allow colleagues from the Soviet Union, from Hungary and the Mongolian People´s Republic to participate.

The second meeting, in 1959, was also held in Mainz. This time Professor Zajaņczkowski had the opportunity to participate. New names were Charles Bawden from London, Friedrich Bischoff from Bonn, Richard Nelson Frye from Harvard, T. Gandjei from Naples, Aulis J. Joki from Helsinki, Mecdut Mansuroğlu from Istanbul. Nicholas Poppe from Seattle, Reşit Rahmeti Arat from Istanbul, Martti Räsänen from Helsinki and B. Ögel and Ahmet Temir from Ankara.

Many of the participants of the two first meetings also attended the third meeting in the romantic castle of Liebenstein near Mainz, overlooking the River Rhine. Newcomers were David M. Farquhar from Maryland, Walter Fuchs from Cologne, Matthew Magadburin Haltod from Bonn and Manfred Taube from Leipzig. A particularly great honour for the meeting was the participation of Erich Haenisch, the editor and translator of the Secret History of the Mongols, who already was eighty years old.

I did not mention all these names in order to bore you, but to show how vivid Altaic Studies already were more than sixty years ago and how they were based on international cooperation and friendship.

There were, of course, not only scholarly papers and discussions. We were mostly living in the same building or at least very nearby. In Mainz, for example, we were staying in the building of the Academy of Science and Literature. We slept in the office rooms of the Academy on campbeds, The caretaker of the building and his wife prepared delicious meals, and the good Rhine wine flowed freely. There was a very relaxed atmosphere and many, many talks. What could have been better to get to know each other and to appreciate each other? Even students were welcome, like me in already in 1958. I could tell you many anecdotes of PIAC meetings, like the one of the second PIAC. One evening we were standing together and drinking wine, when Udo Posch complained: “It is very annoying. I have to teach and write about Mongolia, but I never have the opportunity to go there.”

And there is another anecdote, one of the eighth meeting in the castle of Auel (Schloss Auel) near Bonn in 1966. This meeting was the first in which scholars from the Soviet Union could participate. Walther Heissig was the President of the conference, and we, his assistants, had to help with the organization. So we had to decide about a difficult question: which room should be given to whom. There was a very particular room: tradition said that Napoleon had slept there, and even his bed still existed – perhaps in its ninth or tenth version, but nevertheless. We were considering that this place was the most worthy place of the whole castle, and therefore it should be given to one of our Soviet guests. But then doubts came: could that not be misunderstood? Would it be politically correct? After all, Napoleon invaded Russia. We decided that this was too risky. But to whom should we give the room? Checking the list of participants we noticed the name of Professor Pavel Poucha from Prague, and the idea came that he would deserve and like such a famous bed, without political implications. And indeed: He accepted our offer with pleasure.

There are many more stories, but I know that the solemn opening of the sixty-third PIAC is not the right place to tell them. They would only taste only together with a glass of wine – or, of course, of Arkhi. But that is unfortunately not possible this year. Let us hope that it will be possible in one of the next years!

I wish the conference a very good success.

Thank you.