Tag Archives: Obituary

In Memoriam János Hóvári (1955 — 2023)

Ambassador János Hóvári in spring 2022

With shock and utter disbelief we had to learn of Ambassador János Hóvári’s untimely and totally unforeseeable death within a few days after the end of the 65th Annual Meeting of the PIAC in Astana, 2023.

János was a remarkable and outstanding person who excelled both as a scholar and a diplomat. Having graduated from Eötvös Loránd University with a diploma in Turkish history in 1979, he worked as a research associate at the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and at the same time he was a university lecturer at the Institute of History at the Teacher Training Faculty of Janus Pannonius University until 1992 when he entered the diplomatic service of Hungary. His first assignment was in the Department of Central Asia and Transcaucasia at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  In 1997, he obtained a PhD in history from the University of Pécs. Since 2008, he held several posts as ambassador in Israel, Kuwait, Bahrain and Turkey. In his last position, he was the Executive Director of Hungary’s Representation Office of the Organization of Turkic States.

While János never formally was a participant of a PIAC meeting, he nonetheless closely followed PIAC affairs; his support was essential for organizing two PIAC meetings. Since it was impossible to hold the 64th PIAC Meeting 2022 in Moscow,  as originally announced, he opened doors in Hungary at the Institute of Oriental Languages and Cultures, Faculty of Humanities of Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary and at the Organization of Turkic States. He also recommended his long-time friend Uli Schamiloglu (they had known each other for half of their lives) and Nazarbayev University, Astana (Kazakhstan) as a possible host for the 65th Annual Meeting of the PIAC, a recommendation to prove auspicious as we just held a wonderful meeting in Astana a week ago at the time of this writing. All words of gratitude for his contributions to the PIAC are too late, and thus their only place is here.

János is remembered as a sharp-minded, yet soft-spoken, gentle, and generous human being; his friends find no words for his sudden departure.

Oliver Corff
Secretary General
August 9, 2023


In Memoriam Giovanni Stary

– A Sublime and Humane Ambassador of Manju Scholarship –
Giovanni Stary
(March 27, 1946 – October 19, 2022)

Giovanni Enrico Stary (he rarely used his middle name) was born in Merano in South Tyrol, on March 27, 1946. It may be a coincidence that he was born in a city known through the ages as a residence of scholars and writers alike; it may be another coincidence that South Tyrol, an autonomous province in northern Italy, being home to Germans and Italians, enjoying a strong regional culture, is a prominent model of a region where multiple languages and cultures co-exist in a community. In a wider sense, this may also be said of the Manju nation, their language, culture and religion, subject of the life-long academic interest of Giovanni Stary.

Giovanni Stary studied Classical Chinese at the Istituto Universitario Orientale, at Naples. His doctoral dissertation, defended in 1969, was the ouverture to a lifelong occupation with Central Asia and China: “I primi rapporti tra Russia e Cina. Documenti e testimonianze” [Early relations between Russia and China. Documents and testimonies.], later published in Naples in 1974. A German treatise followed soon, in 1976: “Chinas Erste Gesandte in Russland”. Among these earliest envoys are the Manju diplomat Tulišen, whose report Lakcaha jecen de takûraha babe ejehe bithe [“Book of the remote border areas recorded by the embassy”; the title also being interpreted—rather than translated—as “Narrative of the Chinese Embassy to the Khan of the Tourgouth Tartars”] (in Chinese: 異域錄). Tulišen and his text have been known in the West since the end of the 18th century. Far less known is the fate of Tuoshi and Daisin missions, the Tuoshi mission being systematically purged from the record under Qianlong; the “Draft History of Qing” (清史稿) neither mentions Tuoshi nor Empress Anna or their encounters in 1731 and 1732 at all, only the “History of Qing from Beginning to End” (清史紀事本末), compiled in the early years of the Chinese Republic by Huang Hongshou, mentions Tuoshi’s mission and encounter with Empress Anna.

Beginning with his dissertation thesis, Giovanni Stary made Manju studies an integral element and later central foundation of his scholarly work. To him, Manju never was an extinct or dead language, and his occupation with and dedication to Manju studies never was what is known in some academic circles, occasionally in a mildly disparaging tone, as Hilfswissenschaft. Rather, Manju studies were to him an essentially contemporary field. Thus, he dedicated a considerable portion of his energy to researching Sibe, a modern, yet endangered branch of the Tungusic languages which is still spoken today in Xinjiang and is mutually intelligible with Manju. He published “Epengesänge der Sibe-Mandschuren” (1988), the “Taschenwörterbuch Sibemandschurisch–Deutsch” (1990) and the “‘Schamanenbuch’ der Sibe-Mandschuren” (1992). Whoever among his wide circle of friends happened to travel to China, or better, Xinjiang, was asked to buy every available publication in Sibe.

Beyond scholarly work, he also disseminated his knowledge and understanding of Manju culture to a broader audience. A representative title is “On the Tracks of Manchu Culture. 1644–1994. 350 Years after the Conquest of Peking” (1995). This book contains more than 200 illustrations reflecting the rich heritage of Manju history, inscriptions and material culture, both in the Manju heartland as well as beyond its borders. The book even offers a rare glimpse into the contemporary life of Cabcal Sibe Autonomous County during the year 1991; at that time, public signboards still showed Sibe Manju texts on top, with their Chinese equivalents below — a vivid demonstration of Sibe being indeed the primary language of Cabcal.

Besides his own writing, Giovanni Stary edited and published numerous sources (e.g. “Ars Poetica Manjurica”, 1989, and “Materialien zur Vorgeschichte der Qing-Dynastie”, 1996, to name just two titles), frequently in collaboration with life-long colleagues.

Giovanni Stary was a faithful friend of the PIAC family; he participated in at least 25 Annual Meetings and was the President of the 28th Annual Meeting which was held in Venice in 1985 (he also published the Proceedings volume of this meeting in 1989). His outstanding academic contributions to the field of Altaic studies were recognized with the Indiana University Prize for Altaic Studies, or PIAC Medal in short, in 2006.

Beyond his own research and writing, Giovanni Stary always played a catalytic role in the field. He published dozens of scholarly reviews (the author of these lines counted more than 70 but is not at all sure whether he found all reviews written by him), thus sharing his own broad knowledge of recent work and increasing the visibility of other scholars and their research within the community.

If anything more needs to be said, then that Giovanni Stary was a true bridge between generations of scholars; in prominent position, he mentions Walter Fuchs and Shunju Imanishi as academical teachers. A similar relationship holds true for the author of these lines who, over nearly 20 years, received continuous support and critical feedback from Giovanni Stary along his own humble steps of Manju studies. His guiding spirit will live on and his work will be a source of inspiration to continue Manju studies in a way which demonstrates the lasting significance of the field.

Giovanni Stary was an immediate child of the end of World War II; the peaceful end of the Cold War and the ensuing demise of the Eastern Bloc created a historical window of opportunity for research, academic collaboration and friendship across many borders, as his writings reflect. It must have been painful for him to see this window closing again.

Everybody who knew Giovanni was aware of his frail health in recent years, but everybody was devastated to hear that the wonderful human being he was no longer is with us. Over decades of fruitful collaboration, many of his colleagues become close friends, and we all mourn, with great sadness, his departure.

Oliver Corff
Secretary General
November 5th, 2022.


Dear Reader,

obituaries are an important means to share the memories of a person who has passed away. The writer of the obituary shares his or her knowledge of the deceased and, very often, shares the perceptions and sentiments related to that person. An obituary is thus a pathway to contribute to collective memory by sharing these individual observations and sentiments.

In a scholarly environment, collective memory is the essence of all academic pursuit. Without the achievements (and occasional errors) of our predecessors, meaningful reasoning would be simply impossible. It is thus understandable that writing obituaries is one of the many tasks of a scholar who takes history as the most important source of progress. In this tradition, PIAC members dedicate obituaries to their fellow members who have passed away.

References to obituaries dedicated to the following scholars, but published outside the domain of altaist.org, were added recently.

Oliver Corff, September 13, 2022

Mourning Alexander (Sasha) Vovin

The members of the PIAC community mourn Alexander (Sasha) Vovin, directeur d’études, Centre de recherches linguistiques sur l’Asie orientale (CRLAO), École des hautes études en sciences sociales (ÉHESS), who passed away in Paris on April 8, 2022. He leaves to the academic world a rich and complex oeuvre encompassing trail-blazing studies in historical linguistics on ancient and classical East Asian languages, in particular Japanese, Korean, Mongolic and Tungusic. His research interests and the vast number of his published works cover many more languages and approaches, and inspired and will continue to inspire a large circle of colleagues and students all over the world. Alexander Vovin was not only an exceptional scholar but also served the academic community in his capacity of academic teacher, editor, referee, convenor of conferences and recipient of research funds.

Sasha was a longtime friend and supporter of the PIAC. In 1986 he attended an Annual Meeting (Tashkent) for the first time. At the Meeting in 2017 (Székesfehérvár) which he attended with his wife Sambi Ishisaki-Vovin and two children, he presented first results of the spectacular analysis of the Brahmi Khüis Tolgoi and Bugut inscriptions, a project which he developed jointly with other PIAC colleagues D. Maue, M. Ölmez and E. de la Vaissière.

Sasha was a wonderful companion, sociable, outgoing and endowed with a rare sense of humour, not to forget his refreshing talent for constructive criticism. The PIAC community will greatly miss this unusually successful scholar and esteemed friend.

Barbara Kellner-Heinkele
Secretary General
April 10, 2022

In memoriam Dmitry D. Vasiliev (1946 – 2021)

Dmitry Vasilyev

Дмитрий Дмитриевич Васильев (October 11, 1946 – January 18, 2021)

On January 18, 2021, due to complications resulting from coronavirus infection, Dmitry D. Vasiliev (Дмитрий Дмитриевич Васильев, October 11, 1946 – January 18, 2021) PhD (Hist.) famous Russian orientalist-turkologist, head of the Department of History of the Orient, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, passed away at the age of 75.

He was a talented organizer of science and particularly successful as the– head of epigraphic expeditions of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, for the study of monuments of ancient Turkic writing in Southern Siberia. He was a vice-president of the Society of Orientalists of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, Honored Scientist of the Republic of Tuva, and an honorary member of the Atatürk Kültür, Dil ve Tarih Yüksek Kurumu (Atatürk Culture, Language and History High Authority).

The main field of Dmitry D. Vasiliev’s scientific investigations was research and systematization of monuments in ancient Turkic script. In 1983 he defended his PhD thesis on the topic “Paleographic systematization of monuments in the Turkic runic script of the Asian area”.

Dmitry D. Vasiliev is the author of a large number of scientific monographs and articles, including “Corpus of monuments in the Turkic runic script of the Yenisei basin” (1983), “Graphic fund of monuments in the Turkic runic script of the Asian area” (1983), “ORHUN” (1995), “Orthodox shrines of the Balkans” (co-authored) (2004), “Corpus of Turkic runic inscriptions of South Siberia” (2013), “From Central Asia to Anatolia. City and Man” (2013) (in Russian, English and Turkish), “Crimea in the Past in Old Photographs” (2006) (co-authored).

D. Vasiliev’s scholarly prestige was also underlined by his membership of editorial boards of Russian and foreign scientific periodicals such as “Vostok” (Orient), “Vostochnyy Archiv” (Oriental Archives), “Epigrafika Vostoka” (Epigraphy of the East), “Tyurkologiya” (Turkology) (Turkestan, Kazakhstan), “Vestnik Instituta Vostokovedeniya RAN” (Journal of the Institute of Oriental Studies RAS), “Vostochnyy kur’yer” (Oriental Сourier).

Paying great attention to scientific and teaching activities, D. Vasiliev taught since 1995 at the Russian State University for the Humanities where he held Turkish language classes and gave the courses “Introduction to Turkology”, “Country Studies”, and “Historiography of Turkey”. He educated a pleiad of young scholars who now successfully work in various Russian research institutes.

D. Vasiliev made a huge contribution to the development of Turkology in Russia. He had the honour of winning numerous awards, including the Kublai Khan medal (Mongolian Academy of Sciences), the medal “For services in the development of science of the Republic of Kazakhstan”, the commemorative medal “For the contribution to the study of history and culture of the Republic of Tuva”, the “I. Yu. Krachkovsky medal” of the Institute of Oriental Studies, the award “For services in the field of culture, history, language and literature of the world of the Turkic peoples” from the Turkish Foundation “International Valeh Hacilar Foundation of Science and Research”. In 2020, by the decree of the Government of the Republic of Tuva, D. Vasiliev was awarded the order “For Labor Valor” for his contribution to the development of science in the republic.

D. Vasiliev was a high-level professional, distinguished by deep knowledge of the subject of research, breadth of scientific interests, as well as high human qualities.

Dmitry Vasiliev’s sudden departure from life is an irreparable loss for his relatives, friends and colleagues.

Source: Homepage of the Institut Vostokovedenia RAN, translated by Elena V. Boykova.

The Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the RAN also published an obituary.

The international PIAC family mourns D. D. Vasiliev who attended a number of Annual Meetings where his jovial presence, kindness and fine humour were appreciated by everybody.

Volker Rybatzki (1957–2018) in memoriam

As became known only now, the outstanding Altaist Volker Rybatzki passed away on June 13, 2018.

Volker was born in Hannover (Lower Saxony) on February 17, 1957. He was not particularly interested in school and left gymnasium three years before the final examination. His father wanted him to learn the profession of a wholesaler, but Volker did not like it, and left the apprenticeship after one year. On a trip through Finland, he became enchanted with the country and met Irmeli (Inkku) Arffman, the girl that, some years later, became his first wife. They started to be together, and soon Volker decided to live in Finland, learn Finnish and improve his formal education by attending evening school. Afterwards, Volker would have liked to study sinology which, however, was not available as a major at Helsinki University at that time. An alternative would have been Berlin (the only possible place, as he had not served in the army) but, as Irmeli wanted to study textile design and the Crafts and Design College of Kuopio replied faster than Berlin University, they decided to go there. Here, Volker took a training as cabinet-maker. After two years, Volker had become convinced that he would never become an outstanding craftsman and decided on studying, as of 1988, Turkology and Mongolistics (as the best choice after sinology) at Helsinki University. Concurrently, he worked at the Orientalia Library of the Institute for Asian and African Studies. To deepen and enlarge his knowledge, in 1997 he spent 9 months in Szeged (Hungary), studying Turkology with Prof. Árpád Berta and, later, he was in Venice (Italy) to study Manchu with Prof. Giovanni Stary.

In 1998 he co-organized the PIAC, in 1999 he took his master’s degree (with Die Toñuquq-Inschrift as a thesis) and was accepted as a Ph.D. student at the University. He then worked hard on his Ph.D. which he defended in 2006, under Prof. Juha Janhunen, and with Prof. Claus Schönig (Freie Universität Berlin) as opponent. His thesis Die Personennamen und Titel der mittelmongolischen Dokumente: eine lexikalische Untersuchung was a massive volume of 900 pages.

In 2007, Volker took his habilitation and thus became a docent (lecturer) of Altaic Studies. As it was difficult, however, to find a tenured position in this field anywhere, Volker accepted teaching and research jobs wherever available, e.g. at Stockholm University and at Minzu daxue in Beijing. Notwithstanding this, he always continued to teach his courses as a docent of Altaic Studies at Helsinki University.

Besides publishing scholarly articles, he worked assiduously on his major project, an etymological dictionary of the (middle) Mongolian language, a particularly challenging and ambitious enterprise to which he dedicated most of his academic career. Unfortunately, he had not the time to finish it.

His (second) wife, Alessandra Pozzi (a specialist on Manchu and Chinese), three children of his first, two of his second marriage, and two grandchildren survive him.

Most of Volker’s publications are listed (and downloadable) on: helsinki.academia.edu/VolkerRybatzki

Therefore, only his monographs are mentioned here:

Die Toñuquq-Inschrift. Szeged: Univ. 1997. 130 pp.

Writing in the Altaic world [proceedings of the 41st Annual Meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference (PIAC)] (with Juha Janhunen). Helsinki: Finnish Oriental Society 1999. 326 pp.

Die Personennamen und Titel der mittelmongolischen Dokumente: eine lexikalische Untersuchung. Helsinki: [Helsingin yliopisto] 2006. XXXVI, 841 pp. (Publications of the Institute for Asian and African Studies 8.)

The early Mongols; language, culture and history; studies in honor of Igor de Rachewiltz on the occasion of his 80th birthday (with Alessandra Pozzi, Peter W. Geier, John R. Krueger). Bloomington, IN: D. Sinor Institute for Inner Asian Studies 2009. XXXIII, 217 pp.

Introduction to Altaic philology; Turkic, Mongolian, Manchu (with Igor de Rachewiltz).

Leiden: Brill 2010. XX,446 pp.

Biographical data may be found in:

Lotta Aunio & Juha Janhunen (eds.): Miten minusta tuli tohtori – Itämaiden tutkijat kertovat.

Helsinki: Suomen Itämainen Seura 2012, 282–291

Hartmut Walravens

Obituary: Roger Finch

In Memoriam
Roger Finch
(April 17, 1937 – October 4, 2019)

Let us all go cultivate our gardens.
(Voltaire, Candide)

Roger Finch was born on April 17, 1937, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, son of Willard and Phyllis (Creek) Finch, and died on October 4, 2019, of cardiac arrest.

Roger Finch graduated from George Washington University with a B.A. majoring in music and Harvard University with a PhD in linguistics. In 1977, after graduating from Harvard he was offered a position in Tokyo, Japan, writing textbooks for Japanese learning English. He started teaching English at Waseda University. and later moved to Sophia University in Tokyo where he taught—besides English—Modern American Poetry and phonology as well as historical and comparative linguistics. Through an introduction by Professor Paul Takei, he accepted a tenured position at Surugadai University near Tokyo in 1990 when he had already been pondering a possible return to the United States, intending to settle at his house in Maine which he had bought a long time ago.

The position at Surugadai University proved to be most fortunate; as he once wrote, he was impressed by the modern, new, attractive and well-equipped premises of the University (which had only been established three years earlier, in 1987). Given his profound love for nature, the trees and the hilly surroundings of the university campus certainly were hugely attractive to him, as he confessed once when resigning from his post. Yet, it was most important to him that he quickly made friends with colleagues, staff members and students alike, developing lasting friendships. Of his students, he spoke in terms of admiration, affectionately praising their polite manners, desire to learn and profound attention. Prior to his return to the United States in 2008, he honoured these bonds developed over two decades by encouraging his friends to visit him in Maine.

After retirement, Roger Finch dedicated his life to the things he loved most: linguistic research, writing poetry, and music composition. He once estimated that the share of his scholarly work would decrease in favour of poetry and music, but nonetheless he continued to contribute substantial, well-researched papers, combining his favourite interests when writing. His papers about subjects as diverse as folk bird taxonomies in Japan (“日本の鳥類の民間分類”, [Nihon no chôrui no minkan bunrui], Surugadai daigaku ronsô, No. 36 (2008), pp. 49–80 (this is the Japanese version of a paper presented at the 49th Annual Meeting of the PIAC in Berlin, 2006), or „Christianity among the Cumans“ Surugadai daigaku ronsô, No. 35 (2008), pp. 75–96, or „The Reconstruction of Proto-Altaic *p-“, Surugadai daigaku ronsô, No. 28 (2004), pp. 69–99, or „Musical Instruments in Uigur Literature and Art“ Surugadai daigaku ronsô, No. 24 (2002), pp. 23–53, to mention just a few papers he published during his tenure at Surugadai University, demonstrate Roger Finch’s encyclopaedic scholarship. It is difficult to say whether his attention to minutiae, combined with a broad scope of diverse interests, as demonstrated in his scholarly work was an inborn personal trait or perhaps was acquired in the scholarly environment in Japan, but one way or the other, his personal mindset and Japan‘s scholarly values complemented each other in a most auspicious and beneficial way.

Over nearly two decades Roger Finch has been a faithful PIAC member, participating at least eight times since 1998, yet the earliest connection can be traced to 1989 when Denis Sinor announced some of Roger Finch‘s recent publications in the PIAC Newsletter. His contribution to the 56th Annual Meeting, Kocaeli 2013, waits to be published.

Roger Finch was also praised for his knowledge and command of Turkish. Let him describe, in his own translation of a prophetical masterpiece of Turkish poetry by Yahya Kemal Beyatli (1884-1958), the last voyage he embarked on:

Silent ship

If there comes a time to raise anchor from time, one day more,
A ship will set out from this harbor toward an unknown shore.
It makes way silently, as though it held no living soul;
At that unrocking parting no hand waves as the lines unroll.

Roger Finch leaves his spouse, Louis Hargan, equally faithfully a PIAC member, and his sisters, to whom I offer my deepest condolences.

Oliver Corff, October 12, 2019.

(Note: Edited the same day: two forgotten words added, and poem properly attributed to Yahya Kemal Beyatli. OC, 2019-10-12, 21:47 CEST/CEDT)

Obituary: Gerd Winkelhane (1949 – 2018)

Gerd Winkelhane, November 18, 1949 — September 21, 2018, died after short illness.

Gerd Winkelhane’s relation with the PIAC was of a very special nature. He was not the typical scholar who came to the annual meetings to deliver his paper, have a chat with the PIAC members (and many chats he had) and depart; rather, his contribution was of a different nature. With his specialized scientific publishing house Klaus Schwarz Verlag he published a number of proceedings of the PIAC in recent years, as well as other publications, monographs and collections alike, by PIAC members.

His father had once hoped the young Gerd Winkelhane would follow his career path and become a medical doctor. Indeed, Gerd Winkelhane started studying medicine but abandoned this course and started studying Arabic. Having spent ten years in Yemen, he acquired a degree of fluency with and intimate knowledge of the language which, in combination with his teaching skills, made him a uniquely gifted teacher of the Arabic language, as the writer of these lines can testify from the numerous conversations we enjoyed when stumbling across subjects related to Arabic.

In 1989, Gerd Winkelhane became director of Klaus Schwarz Verlag after the sudden death of the founder, Klaus Schwarz. In many years of dedicated work, Gerd Winkelhane succeeded in developing a scientific publishing house with hundreds of publications covering the fields of Arabic studies, Iranian studies, Islamic studies, Turkology, Ottoman studies and Central Asian studies. Series like Studien zur Sprache, Geschichte und Kultur der Türkvölker have grown to comprise dozens of volumes. He was always closely involved in all these publications in various rôles, and more often than not he initiated publishing projects. Driven by genuine curiosity, he kept close contact with virtually all the authors whose works he published; his deep involvement in Turkology and Ottoman studies and his contributions to the field via his publishing activities made him, in the words of the late G. Hazai, a Turkologist honoris causa.

His wit and ease of conversation made him the joyful center of many social gatherings; family, friends and colleagues miss him dearly.

Yet, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

(from: Amazing Grace, sung at the funeral)

Oliver Corff, October 3rd, 2018.

Obituaries from the PIAC Newsletters

Dear Reader,

Over the years, obituaries for the following scholars appeared in the Permanent International Altaistic Conference Newsletter:

The academic achievements of our academic teachers remind us that our work begins everyday anew.

Oliver Corff.

Obituary: Albina H. Girfanova, 1957–2018

Гирфанова, Альбина Хакимовна, Albina Hakimovna Girfanova (born in Weimar, GDR, on February 1st, 1957, died on February 2nd, 2018), scholar of Albanian, Balkan and Manju-Tungus studies, teacher at the philological faculty of St. Petersburg State University.

Being a true polyglot and polyhistor, Albina H. Girfanova had one central subject during her academic life to which she devoted her energy: the Tungusic peoples and languages, among which she primarily worked on all aspects of the Udege and Oroch languages.

Before introducing her research, a few words on the general subject are necessary. The Tungusic languages form a language family spoken in Siberia and Northeast Asia, including Northeast China. Though the Tungusic languages are one of the world’s primary language families, the whole language family, comprising 12 languages, is endangered as there are only 75,000 native speakers alive, and some languages of the Tungusic language family count their native speakers not by 1000s, but rather by 100s even though there may be many more persons of the given ethnicity. Historically speaking, this appears like a huge misfortune as one of the Tungusic languages, namely Manju, was the official language of the Manju rulers of the Qing Dynasty ruling China from 1644 to 1911. The history of the Manju Qing Empire brought forth a treasure trove of Manju documents, but the usage of the Manju language in daily life started to decline with the Jiaqing emperor. Today, even though there are still around 10 million Manju, they are virtually totally assimilated, and thus the number of native Manju speakers (and Sibe, for the same reason) is in the low three-digit range.

While the Manju were successful in obtaining the highest possible social status in Northeast Asia over nearly three centuries which greatly facilitated the usage of their language and the dissemination and preservation of written monuments in Manju, they must be seen as the exception rather than the norm. The other Tungusic peoples were by far not so fortunate in preserving, using and developing their social status or their languages. The Udege and Oroch, two of the Tungusic peoples living in Northeast Russia, settle in the Primorsky Krai and Khabarovsk Krai regions. The Udege count approximately 1,500 members while the Oroch who still had close to 700 members at the turn of the millenium now have less than 600. The number of native speakers is even smaller.

These extremely small and still rapidly declining numbers are the results of several historical and social developments; during the early phase of the Soviet Union, Stalin had implemented a set of unification and ‘amalgamation’ (A. Girfanova) policies with the political goal of reducing the number of nationalities (indicating one’s nationality in the passport was mandatory in the Soviet era; this practice was only abolished after Perestroika) or ethnic groups. Local xenophobia was another factor as the Tungusic nationalities were associated with the Manju (and, by implication, Chinese) settlements during the 19th century. Even though Perestroika offered the hope to re-establish an ethnic identity, the economic turmoil of the 1990s made it very difficult for the Udege and Oroch to promote their culture and language as public schools did not offer these languages. Even though textbooks and grammars were compiled, teaching was and is often done by volunteers without formal training, or without properly developed educational programmes, and without sufficient public funding. Thus, for the members of these communities, proper education in the mother tongue can be an expensive affair with uncertain outcome.

Even though she started her work in the field with a philological contribution (her dissertation Индикативные формы глагола в удэгейском языке [Indicative Verb Forms in Udege] Leningrad, 1988), Albina Girfanova did not limit herself to philology. She found it equally important to understand the history of the field, notably the contributions of early explorers, linguists and preservationists. Together with Nikolay L. Sukhachev, she wrote about Vladimir Klavdiyevich Arsenyev (1872–1930), an early explorer of Russia’s Far East who studied the Oroch and Udege.

Albina Girfanova reached beyond the boundaries of her primary discipline as she also studied ethnological and sociological aspects of the Udege (“The Udeghe Marriage Rite”, 2011, is her contribution to the 54th Annual Meeting of the PIAC in Bloomington, Indiana). Yet, Albina Girfanova was much more than a researcher; she was an active contributor to enable and facilitate the survival of the Udege and Oroch languages. She published educational dictionaries for Udege and Oroch and compiled Udege language Грамматические таблицы (“Grammatical Tables”) for use in high school, distributed by the Khabarovsk Committee of Education. On the academical side, she occupied herself with the sociolinguistical situation of the Manju-Tungus languages in Russia (her contribution to the 50th Annual Meeting of the PIAC in Kazan). Perhaps most important to the members of the Udege community, her insight into the precarious relationship between history, society, economy, politics and language status (see her highly enlightening article “The Taz Ethnic Group: Its Past and Future”. In: Tiina Hyytiäinen, Lotta Jalava, Janne Saarikivi and Erika Sandman (eds.): Ex Oriente Lumina. Historiae Variae Multiethnicae. Festskrift tillägnad Juha Janhunen på hans 61. födelsedag 12.2.2013, Helsinki 2013) made her an outspoken advocate with a sharp mind (and tongue), fighting for the preservation of the Udege people and language in a non-museal fashion (she was also highly critical of certain common attitudes in her own field). Her critical understanding of the intentions and outcomes of Russia’s minority policies allowed her to come forward with substantial suggestions for improvements acknowledged by politicians. In autumn 2017 she was invited by the Department of Interior Politics of Primorsky Krai as moderator for a course on the revival of the Udege language in the framework of a larger nationality policy programme from 2018 to 2020. Pavel Yasevich, Director of the Department, lauds her as the foremost authority on Udege and Oroch languages in Russia.

One might assume that there cannot be much time and energy left for completely different academical endeavours, but Albina Girfanova was also versed in Turkish, Albanian and Balkan studies. Her contributions to this field may be overshadowed by her more prominent work in the Manju-Tungusic realm, but the project of a dictionary of Turkic terminology in the languages of Southeast Europe (О проекте словаря «Тюркизмы в языках юго-восточной Европы» (опыт сводного описания историко-лексикографических и этимологических данных), „Revue des études sud-est européennes”, T. XLV (1–4), 2007, S. 461–490) should at least be mentioned here.

In recent years, she was an active and regular contributor to the PIAC, participating in the annual meetings 2006 in Berlin, 2007 in Kazan, 2008 in Bucarest, 2009 in Huhhot, 2010 in St. Petersburg, 2011 in Bloomington, 2012 in Cluj-Napoca, 2013 in Izmit and 2014 in Vladivostok, to which she served also as a secretary. Unfortunately, the proceedings of the meeting in Vladivostok never materialized, and so at least the abstract she prepared for that meeting together with Nikolay Sukhachev (“Сontroversial Aspects of Historical Lexicology and Etymological Reconstruction (The complexity and multiaspectuality)”) is presented here.

Death is untimely by nature but harbours an important message: Recognize your talent and do not waste it. Albina Girfanova has made outstanding and lasting contributions to science and to humanity.

I offer my deepest condolences to Nikolay Sukhachev, her family, friends and colleagues.

Oliver Corff, February 7, 2018.