Princetonians’ roots and attachment to Turkey (cover story, Sept. 24) go way back to the early missionaries of the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of these missionaries were teachers at Robert College in Istanbul, which was, for many years, the only English-language university in Turkey.
Early in World War II, when the possibility existed that American forces could enter Europe through Turkey, the Sultan’s granddaughter, Princess Hümeyra Özbas, came to Princeton to teach Turkish to American officers. She had been exiled to Egypt along with members of the royal Ottoman family at the beginning of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Once there was no longer a need to teach American officers Turkish, she remained at Princeton to teach English to Turkish pilots. I believe she was one of the first female instructors at Princeton.
During the 1950s, under Professor Philip Hitti, Princeton became one of the major American universities with a Turkish language and area-studies program, and a number of midcareer Foreign Service officers were sent there for a year by the State Department.
Later, Ahmet Ertegun, son of Turkey’s wartime ambassador in Washington, made a fortune with Atlantic Records. He spotted Princeton as the best place to endow a chair of Turkish studies. Currently, Professor Heath Lowry is the Atatürk Professor of Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies, and Professor M. Sükrü Haniolu is the chairman of the Department of Near Eastern Studies. Thanks to Princeton’s initiative and support of this Turkish program, there are now about 15 Turkish undergraduates and 15 graduate students at the University.
“Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations” certainly applies to this innovative Turkish program. I served in Turkey from 1951–53 and am once again involved.