Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, 108, who has made world-renowned scientific studies in Sumerology, said choosing to work in a museum instead of being an academic was a huge turning point in her life.
She told Anadolu Agency that the work she did there brought her to the present day.
AA: How did you decide to study at Ankara University, Faculty of Language, History and Geography?
Cig: I am extremely happy that I chose Sumerology. It gave me a whole new world. Moreover, I am very happy to have unearthed something Ataturk desired. I was a teacher in Eskisehir. The Faculty of Language, History and Geography was opened in Ankara. When it was opened, the teachers asked for a one-time admission to the faculty. My father said, ‘Faculty is open, do you want to go?.’ My late father was very curious. We were immigrants then. I was giving my salary to my family. Back in our time, the children were giving their salaries to their families as soon as they received them. I thought, my father is just a teacher, what could happen to him if I go to university. I couldn’t decide because his salary was too low. My friend Hatice Kizilyay told me that teachers were going to Ankara and register just in case, and she encouraged me to do the same. If I can find a place to live, I’ll consider going.
After making the decision, I asked my mother to prepare a bed and a quilt. Then the two girls got up and left. Consider two girls at that time. There is no proper money, Hatice has a widowed mother, her father was a martyr.
AA: When you look at your life spanning over a century, what was your turning point?
Cig: Sometimes I think about the past. There were many important things. But most importantly, I graduated from the Department of Hittitology Sumerology at the Faculty of Language, History and Geography in Ankara. Our German professor wanted us to stay at the university. I didn’t want to because I was engaged at the time. I thought ‘what if my fiance can’t make it to stay at the university and become an academician?’
Afterward, they assigned me to the Istanbul Archeology Museum. That was the greatest time of my life. A big turning point for me. The work I did there brought me to today. Those were tremendous times. We started writing an article about what we found there. Foreigners began to come from outside immediately, we worked with them and wrote books.
We wrote eight books there, no one knew about it. The books belonged only to Sumerologists, to those who studied Sumerian science.
AA: Do you continue to work in the field of Sumerology?
Cig: I can’t work anymore, but I follow the books that come out. There are books coming, I look at them. There are not many people working on Sumerology either here or abroad.
Sumerology is not known in the world like in our country. There are no books for the public abroad. There is a book called History Begins in Sumer. The whole culture started from Sumer. Europe, the West, found the mother of all its culture in the Greeks.
Today, it turns out that the mother of all cultures is the Sumerians. It is very difficult for them to change, because it has been written for many years. For this reason, there is no one who knows about the Sumerians as much as in our country.
AA: How does it feel to be recognized in the field of Sumerology?
Cig: I don’t feel special because I learned, knew and did these things. I am only happy when I see that my books are being read and shown interest.
AA: What is the secret of success for you? If you could give advice to students, what would it be?
Cig: The secret to success is to work without thinking. Work without thinking things like ‘What will happen now? What am I going to do with it.’ I worked hard, really hard. My friend Hatice Kizilyay died early. We were going to write books with her, it didn’t happen. She died early, leaving the field to me. Young people should work without thinking and read a lot.
The Sumerians 5,000 years ago said: ‘What’s your free time for? What did you spend your free time for? If you know, why don’t you teach?’
You will teach what you know. Some people read, but it’s all up to them. It has no value. I think it will take that information to the grave. Something needs to be done with that information. You will write a book, an article, you will tell, you will surely scatter what you know. This is really important.
AA: When you compare the period you studied with today, how do you evaluate the position of women?
Cig: Today, we have women who are extremely successful in science, technology, art and all fields and receive awards. We have women who have won awards around the world. Sometimes I was cutting out newspaper clippings where I read them. In 80 years, we made progress that Europe made in the Renaissance in 400 years. The women of Europe became like our women only 400 years later.
We have done it in 80 years, it is very, very important. This should never be forgotten. I hope our women will continue this.
AA: What is the most important aspect of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk for you?
Cig: Atatürk said, ‘I have to teach my beautiful people that they are Turkish and show how high Turkishness is.’
What did he do? He opened Ankara University Faculty of Language, History and Geography. This faculty was to train experts who would research and learn how far the Turkish language, history and culture goes. That was the whole purpose of the faculty. Thus, Atatürk made a very important contribution to culture.
AA: You have decided to leave your home in Istanbul and live in Mersin. Are you satisfied with your decision?
Cig: I liked Mersin very much — its air and location are beautiful. If we lived in an apartment, I wouldn’t come. We came to the cottage for vacation. A few months later, I told my daughter, ‘I’m not leaving here.’ Then she said, ‘Mom, I’m not leaving either.’ So we’ve been living here for years. I am very happy with my decision.
AA: As someone who grew up with books and published many written works, how did you adapt to technology?
Cig: I am a person accustomed to technology from the very beginning. When I was teaching at the age of 20, I made an electric table to teach children about the kerrat ruler. When they pressed correctly, the lamp would turn on. I did this when I was 20. I also made a telegraph device in the classroom to explain the telegraph to the children.
I have never seen this in teachers. I did these years ago. I am familiar with technology. These were in the years 1933-1934. As soon as the computer came out, I bought a computer typewriter, and we bought a computer. After that, I wrote all my books with a computer.