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Last modified: Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Former president of Mongolia to receive honorary degree

IU is world-renowned center for Mongolian studies

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Natsagiin Bagabandi, former president of Mongolia, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Indiana University on Saturday (Dec. 17) in recognition of a decades-long relationship between the central Asian nation and the university.

Bagabandi, who is regarded as one of Mongolia's most respected political figures, served as chief of state for two four-year terms from June 1997 until June 2005. After a constitution in 1992 created a hybrid parliamentary/presidential state, he was elected to and became chairman of the Mongolian Parliament. He received 60 percent of the vote when he was first elected president in 1997.

He will receive the degree during IU Bloomington's 2005 winter commencement ceremonies, which will begin at 10 a.m. in Assembly Hall. He also will present a short lecture Friday (Dec. 16) at 3 p.m. in the Lincoln Room of the Lilly Library, 1200 E. Seventh St., which also is presenting a special exhibit of Mongolian materials that are part of its holdings.

Bagabandi has advanced degrees from his studies in Russia and Ukraine and is a trained technologist in the food industry. He also holds a number of honorary doctorates from Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Turkey and Ukraine, as well as from many universities in Mongolia.

He will be accompanied by the Mongolian ambassador to the United States, Ravdangiin Bold; Sukpantar Altantsetseg, the second political secretary at the Mongolian Embassy in Washington; his wife and a son; and a Mongolian journalist.

During his tenure as president, Bagabandi was actively involved in promoting Mongolian-American relations. His efforts at promoting education, especially universal primary education, were among major priorities set for his country.

Among U.S. universities, Indiana University leads in the field of Mongolian studies, with special emphasis on Mongolian history, language, literature, folklore and religion. IU is the only U.S. institution that awards a doctorate in Mongolian studies.

IU's connection with Mongolia began in 1956 with the creation of an interdepartmental Uralic and Altaic program -- now the Department of Central Eurasian Studies -- which included Mongolian studies.

Altaic studies were strengthened in 1961 with the arrival of Denis Sinor as department chair. Sinor recruited John Gombojab Hangin, an ethnic Mongol who began teaching Mongolian at IU in 1963. Since that time, Mongolian language and culture, both classical and modern, has been continuously taught at IU. At age 89, Sinor remains active at IU and maintains an office in the department.

Today, the program has three permanent faculty members involved in teaching, research, outreach and service. They include the internationally-known Mongolist György Kara, professor of Central Eurasian studies, who specializes in old Mongolian, Manchu, and Evenki texts and philological studies; and Christopher Atwood, who recently served as interpreter for President George W. Bush on his state visit to Mongolia. Atwood concentrates on Mongolian nationalism and the modernization of Mongolian culture.

Special resources at IU that support research on Mongolia are the Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies and the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center, a Title VI center. IU's presence also is felt in Mongolia, where IU alumnus Peter Marsh is the U.S. resident director of the new American Center for Mongolian Studies in Ulaanbaatar, a center supported by U.S. Title VI funds to enhance U.S. studies of Mongolia.

IU is also home to the Mongolia Society, the oldest and largest academic society related to Mongolia in the United States. It is a private, non-profit, non-political organization whose aims are to promote and further the study of Mongolian history, language and culture. When Hangin came to Bloomington in the 1960s, he brought the society with him from Columbia University. Each year, the Mongolia Society sponsors a speaker series, an annual meeting, and periodical publications related to Mongolia, and it serves as a general resource about Mongolia.