Utrecht was identified as the possible location for the 11th Congress of Turkish Art (ICTA-xi) at the 10th Congress of Geneva in 1995. Utrecht University as the venue for ICTA-xi is indicative for the importance this university attaches to teaching and research concerning Turkish culture in its widest sense. The tradition of Turkish studies at Utrecht goes back to the seventeenth century. Teaching and research in the field of Turkish and Islamic art was initiated at Utrecht University a decade ago.
The congress at Utrecht brought together 200 participants approximately, with a majority of participants from Turkey. It was organised by the Chair of Islamic Languages and Cultures in Utrecht University and the M. Th. Houtsma Foundation.
Among the speakers at the opening session were the President of ICTA-xi, Professor Dr. Frederick De Jong, His Excellency Mr. Bilgin Unan, Ambassador of Republic of Turkey to the Netherlands, His Excellency Mr. Fikret Üçcan, representing the Turkish Minister of Culture, Mr. Istemihan Talay, and Professor Dr. Michael Rogers, President of the International Standing Committee for Turkish Art. A musical intermezzo featured a world première of improvisations on Bektashi/Alevi hymns (nefes) in the musical annotation of the early twentieth-century Turkish musicologists Ali Rifat and Rauf Yekta, played on the early seventeenth-century organ in the Aula Magna of the University.
Some of the recipients of the Max van Berchem stipends at ICTA-xi flanked by Professors Michael Rogers (left) and Frederick De Jong (right). The recipients in this picture are (from left to right) Ahmed Sedky (Cairo), Miyuki Aoki (Istanbul), Ismail Aytaç (Elazig), Elisabetha Koneska (Skopje), and Julia Gonella (Berlin/Aleppo).
Interest in participation in the Utrecht congress was overwhelming, while only a limited number of presentations could be accommodated. Therefore, a seven-member international evaluation committee was entrusted with the task to rate the abstracts of presentations in accordance with a procedure of blind evaluation.
Eventually, 106 scholarly presentations were accommodated in the program. These were organised in panels on Ottoman military architecture, architects and their works, religious architecture, the arts of the book, utilitarian architecture, ceramics and tiles, residential and palatial architecture, woodwork and metalwork, patronage of art and architecture, Ottoman art and architecture in various periods, textiles and carpets, printing and sculpture, and on "the Ottoman taste". Many of these panels were distinctly inter-disciplinary, in accordance with the trend which was most visible at the Geneva congress in 1995. The main venue for the congress was the so-called Educatorium, a building designed by the internationally renowned Dutch architect Anton Koolhaas. The striking design of this building, in combination with its innumerable innovative features, was a continuous source of surprise and excitement for the participants, and in particular for the architects among them. The high-tech infrastructure of the building allowed for multi-media presentations and digitised projection of slides. For many of the participants this was a unique opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new technologies and to become aware of their possibilities.
Participants were invited to several functions, including receptions hosted by the Mayor and Alderman of the City of Utrecht, and by the Ambassador of Turkey to the Netherlands. A lavish farewell dinner was offered to the participants and selected guests in the evening of the final day.
An excursion to the 17th-century Royal Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn, and to the Kröller Müller Museum with its famous collection of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh was part of the program, as was a concert featuring a selection of rarely performed music by French baroque composers in conjunction with baroque dance and ballet.
The Fondation Max van Berchem financially supported fifteen selected young scholars, allowing them to participate in the congress at Utrecht. Their stipends were handed to them by the President of ICTA-xi, Frederick De Jong, at the an informal meeting in the presence of Professor Michael Rogers, who represented the Fondation Max van Berchem, of Dr. Nico Landman, the General Secretary of ICTA-xi, and of Dr. Hans Theunissen, preator maximus of the Local Arrangements Committee.
The International Congress of Turkish Art at Utrecht lived up to the reputation these congresses have of being the most important international gathering of specialists in this field. As a major platform for discussion and review of research it is unsurpassed. Moreover, it is instrumental in encouraging collaboration of educational institutions towards joint projects and publications.