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Last modified: Monday, October 15, 2012

IU's Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center marking its 50th anniversary this week

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake Jr. speaking at IU Bloomington on Thursday

Oct. 15, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University's Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center will mark its 50th anniversary this week with a series of events that will include an address by a key American diplomat and an international conference.

Blake, Robert,O

Robert O. Blake

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IU Bloomington has one of the nation's greatest concentrations of Central Eurasian scholars, who are specialists on civilizations stretching from the Baltic region, Hungary and Turkey to Central Asia, Tibet and Mongolia. The center is one of IU's 10 federally funded Title VI language and resource centers, part of the new School of Global and International Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Robert O. Blake Jr., U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, will speak at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, in Whittenberger Auditorium of the Indiana Memorial Union, 900 E. Seventh St. The title of his keynote address will be ""Central Asia -- Great Gain, Not Great Game." Following the address, Blake will answer questions from the audience. The event is free and open to the public.

The international conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society, which is expected to attract about 400 scholars from around the world, will begin on Thursday and continue through Sunday, Oct. 21. This year's conference host will be the Denis Sinor Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, also based at IU.

A career foreign service officer, Blake has served at American embassies in Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt. At the State Department, he has been the senior desk officer for Turkey, deputy executive secretary and executive assistant to the undersecretary for political affairs.

He was deputy chief at the U.S. Mission in New Delhi, India in 2003-06 and was ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives in 2006-09. He has degrees from Harvard College and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The center was established in 1962 based on the previously existing Uralic and Altaic Studies Program at IU, which had been declared a program a few years earlier, but was actually founded during the Second World War. The name of the center was changed to Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center many years later. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the center's activities expanded considerably, with a growing emphasis on providing resources to educators and people outside of the academic community.

"I think we have come a long way since the founding of both the center and related organizations on campus that deal with the same area of the world," said Edward Lazzerini, director of the Center and Sinor Research Institute. "Interest in the region has shifted from being primarily a scholarly venture to one that has increasing geopolitical focus."


The exhibit, "The Satire and Punditry of Molla Nesreddin," will present dramatic and colorful cartoons from an early Azerbaijani publication.

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IU Bloomington is home to the nation's only Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center. During the dramatic transitions in Europe and the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the center provided critical expertise and partnerships to diplomats, policymakers, businesses and newly flourishing educational exchange programs.

Lazzerini noted that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 made it much easier for scholars to conduct field and archival research throughout much of the region. In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, the center has made additional resources available that raise awareness about the Muslim world.

"Today, we act as a voice, if you will, for this region that speaks to American society, which generally knows very little, if anything, about it," he said. "Part of our job is to enhance the general understanding and appreciation of what goes on there and the various countries involved ... and why they're important to U.S. interests."

Registration is required for the Central Eurasian Studies Society conference, but the public is welcome to two other events:

  • The IU International Vocal Ensemble, directed by Katherine Strand, an associate professor in the IU Jacobs School of Music, on Friday will perform a program of music from Kazakhstan, Hungary, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Mongolia and Xinjiang, an autonomous region in China. The program, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 6 p.m. in Whittenberger Auditorium.
  • A special exhibit, "The Satire and Punditry of Molla Neserddin," will present dramatic and colorful cartoons from an early 20th century Azerbaijani periodical in the IMU's Frangipani Room.

Lazzerini said the exhibit demonstrates how a legendary figure in Turkic cultures, the Molla Neserddin, was used as a familiar and powerful voice favoring reform prior to the Russian Revolution. The periodical, following the tradition of the Molla, took on social and political issues of the time, including education, women's rights and social hypocrisy.

Beside the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center and the Sinor Research Institute, support for the conference comes from the Center for the Study of the Middle East, the Russian and East European Institute, the East Asian Studies Center, the Center for Global Studies, the Ottoman and Modern Turkish Chair and the Islamic Studies Program.