Royal honour for Erik-Jan Zürcher
At his farewell party on 25 August 2018, Erik-Jan Zürcher, professor and specialist on Turkey, was appointed Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion. He was presented with the award by Leiden's Deputy Mayor Martine Leewis.
Erik-Jan Zürcher is an expert on Turkey, in particular the transition period from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey (circa 1880-1950). This fundamental knowledge gives him an excellent understanding of present-day developments in Turkey.
Zürcher received the award not for his in-depth knowledge of Turkey and Turkish history, but primarily because of his ability to convert this knowledge into statements and analyses that can be understood by large groups of Dutch people. No academic jargon, and no complex arguments that can only be followed by insiders: he has always been able to distinguish major issues from minor ones and to show his audience what has gone on in Turkey and why. These skills have made him a highly sought-after expert and commentator, including internationally. And there is more: he has disseminated his knowledge more broadly, to the business sector, government, diplomats and members of the Royal Family. The role he has played in spreading knowledge about Turkey should not be underestimated.
Zürcher has always made every effort to foster contacts with the academic world in Turkey. He set up the master's programme in European Union Studies, together with the Bilgi University in Istanbul, the aim of which was to prepare young Turkish graduates for positions within the EU. The programme ran for four years, and then it became clear that the paths of Turkey and the EU were not going to merge. He was also co-founder of the Turkish Institute and the Netherlands Institute for Higher Education in Ankara (NIHA).
Zürcher can look back on an impressive publication list, even including an academic best-seller: his book Turkey – A modern History from 1993 is a standard work at many universities both at home and abroad, including in Turkey itself. The book has been translated into nine different languages.
Zürcher will continue for the coming two years as academic director of the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS).
(Text: CH/photography: Monique Shaw)